The Non-Delegation Trap

by Krishna on July 9, 2009

A project operates most efficiently when the division of labor within the project is done effectively. In simple terms, this means

  1. Every person works on tasks that will maximize the benefit to the team.
  2. Even if they are good at other tasks, they focus on tasks that bring the greatest value.
  3. They delegate those other tasks to people who could do them less expensively.

For example, even though the software architect in your company could be the best coder in the company, you don’t want her to sit all day long writing HTML code. Her talents are better used in design and architecture. So although there are several things she could do better than anyone else, she is used in the tasks that bring the greatest benefit to the organization.

Unfortunately, at an individual level, many miss this point. They spend their time being busy in tasks that could be easily delegated to someone else. Usually, the reason given is that they are the best at that particular task and/or if they give the task to others, it would not be done perfectly.

In reality, this results in a huge opportunity loss. By taking on such mundane tasks, the person is unable to spend time on more value-added jobs that has greater benefit to the project and organization.

Most people do this because they are scared of failure. What if the delegated-to person messes up the task? In my view, that is only a valid excuse if there is very little room for failure. For example, if you (as a manager) have to make a presentation to a big prospective client tomorrow, it is not a good idea to simply rely on a tester — you probably should do some smoke testing yourself.

On the other hand, in many situations, you have the ability to tolerate some failures and have time to train people. And that is where you should start delegating tasks. Yes, there will be mistakes, but you can point that out. If you have a person who has the ability to learn from their mistakes and follow processes, things will get better over time.

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