One of the most contentious topics in the office is workload. Who does too much? Who doesn’t do enough? When your employees perceive an unbalanced workload, the environment can grow toxic, leading to decreased productivity and higher turnover.
However, there are a few steps that industry leaders are taking to assist in delegation, while making the office environment more collaborative in the long run.
Crossing the Minefield of Time, Money, and Resources
In some offices, company resources seem as precious as fresh water on a desert island. Managers hoard employees, and co-workers fight for project funding. This culture inevitably prevents delegation. While you might think delegating a task to your co-worker is spreading the work while utilizing their skill set, they see it as losing precious time and energy.
This kill-or-be-killed mentality has been exacerbated by our “busy” culture. Instead of talking about sports at the water cooler, we talk about how busy we are. Writer Tyler Ward believes that being “too busy” stems from office insecurities. If we’re not running to and from meetings and answering emails, are we actually important?
Personal trainer Arin Gragossian points out that “busyness” is actually a marketing tool for ourselves. No one wants to hire the trainer or writer who doesn’t have any work, so we create a busy atmosphere to seem in-demand. However, being “too busy” limits opportunity for collaboration and hurts job prospects in the long run. Eventually, no one will want to ask you for help because they’ll assume you’ll say no.
If you’re struggling to delegate a task to a co-worker, try to provide context on why it’s important. Career expert Lisa Quast says that working toward a common goal is more likely to generate positive results than assigning busywork. Explain why you want to delegate the task to them — as opposed to keeping it to yourself — and the benefits of their expert input.
Once you’ve explained the task that you’re delegating, give them the freedom to improve upon your idea. After all, if they’re the best person for the job, then they’ll probably think of an easier way to do it. Wordstream’s Larry Kim sums up the importance of flexibility perfectly. “If your product is already finished in your head and there’s no room for negotiation or collaboration, what’s the point of being part of a team?” he writes at Inc.
Remember, successful delegating isn’t about offloading unwanted tasks on your peers. Share work that will improve their skill sets by introducing them to a new part of the company. If someone feels as though helping you will grow their career, then they’ll be more willing to sacrifice their precious time, says InVision CEO and co-founder Clark Valberg.
Smart Delegating Reduces Individualism in the Workplace
If creating an aura of “busyness” hides insecurities, then failing to delegate stems from the same problem. Alison Green confronts this problem often on her Ask a Manager blog. Some employees feel as if they need to take on as much of the job as they can, proving their worth by working late and on the weekends. This gets sticky when your co-worker has the same job function as you.
Green recommends talking with the co-worker about creating a new workflow system, that way the work is better balanced between the teams. By providing a concrete delegation system, you’re offering a positive solution instead of asking to take on work.
While insecurity is one problem, ego is a whole new challenge. Some employees might stick to the old-fashioned “rugged individualism” that defined the Mad Men era, the team at The Strategic Coach writes. Historically, the ability to handle every aspect of a project was a skill, but modern offices thrive when a project is divided among specialized niches. Individualistic employees risk burnout and isolation from their peers in the long run. This is why creating an environment of collaboration is critical, but needs to be handled delicately.
Meet with your team to discuss cross-training opportunities to learn more about everyone’s daily tasks. On the surface, this creates a backup plan in case someone gets sick or takes a vacation, but it can also lead to delegation and mentoring. Consultant Marlene Chism has seen this first-hand when training first responders in North Carolina. Delegation helped team members understand the pressures the others faced, which fostered a culture of understanding and engagement.
Sandler Training CEO and President Dave Mattson explains that teamwork increases the willingness of co-workers to take risks on a project — and that’s a good thing. Your peers will become more creative and willing to stretch their abilities if they have the support of the group. This reduces the pain of failure and increases the joy of success as the whole team celebrates the accomplishment.
How the Open Floor Plan Turned Delegating into Co-Working
While teams are constantly trying to find digital ways to improve collaboration, companies are structuring their offices to facilitate teamwork and communication. Chuck Longanecker of Digital Telepathy told Business Collective that the most crucial aspect of a physical office was communal space to create a community: “You need to get people out from behind their computer screens to build an environment where there is true empathy for one another.”
While open spaces aren’t new in the Silicon Valley startup scene, the layout is starting to appear in larger organizations, too. Bourree Lam reported that CitiGroup’s brand new Tribeca office is completely open, where even the CEO lacks an office. Employees don’t have assigned desks and can move around to collaborate with different teams each day. The goal is to make people connect face-to-face and form a community with one another.
Open floor plans make it painfully obvious who is overworked, which triggers the empathy that Longanecker discussed. As a community, the office is better able to delegate the workload and check to make sure everyone understands their job.
Keep in mind that open floor plans are by no means perfect on their own. Detractors claim that employees actually become less productive because of noise pollution and distracting office gossip. Shane Ferro at the Huffington Post explains that open floor plans shouldn’t completely ban privacy, and teams should have areas to collaborate without distracting everyone else in the area. “The question is not whether we need privacy in our office spaces,” Ferro writes. “The question is how to configure the space so that workers can move to the right type of environment for whatever task they happen to be working on.”
As for combating office gossip, Dr. Frank McAndrew believes a little water-cooler talk isn’t necessarily a bad thing. From a societal perspective, sharing gossip is a sign of trust, and individuals who refuse to take part isolate themselves from the group. Complaining about a co-worker’s poor hygiene might lead to collaboration if it turns into a project discussion or workload gripe.
The Key to Lateral Delegation is a Sense of Project Ownership
We’ve touched a bit on creating a sense of ownership on projects to facilitate delegation, and some companies are using this concept as the basis of their entire business models. Eric Wallace of Left Hand Brewing recently converted his business into an employee-owned company, for example. In an interview with Westword, he explained that his goal wasn’t making money but to brew the best he could and build up the town of Longmont, Colorado. “Private-equity groups aren’t changing the world or making great beer,” Wallace said. “They’re not interested in investing in the community or growing people to the maximum of their potential.”
By handing over the company to his employees, Wallace is creating a sense of ownership in everything they do. They’re not just brewers. They’re the reason the company stays open.
The Nation’s Michelle Chen found that employee-run companies have a longer survival rate because they tend to make decisions that are better for the group as a whole. When the going gets tough, they take communal cuts and make plans as a team to pull through.
On a smaller level, fostering a sense of ownership makes delegation significantly easier within a company. If your co-workers have a direct incentive in the company’s success, then they’re going to be more willing to take on additional tasks to open your time for other projects.
When interns start at a company, they’re told that if they give 100% to everything that’s handed to them, they will succeed. Even if they’re only making coffee, if they make the best coffee in the office then they’ll stand out. This is also true with project ownership. If you delegate a project but let your co-workers make their own choices, then they’re going to own the project and see it to completion.
The difference between micromanaging your co-workers and delegating tasks is who makes decisions and who owns the results, Halley Bock writes at The Muse. By letting your team own a project and make decisions or changes on it — without necessarily consulting you — you’re giving them a sense of ownership and leadership on it.
However, Jayson DeMers explains that you can’t just dump a project on a co-worker and leave. Smart delegators set goals and a timeline, and constantly ask for feedback to make sure they’re not overwhelmed.
The Modern Workplace and the Future of Delegation
Successful managers are able to step away from their babysitting roles and let their teams collaborate to complete projects on their own. In some cases, this means completely removing job descriptions and titles within the company.
Christian Nutt knows the video game industry like the back of his hand and reports on the inner workings and strategy of it’s leading companies. Recently, he wrote about why Gabe Newell’s flat company structure was so successful. Valve was founded in 1996 and has no managers and few titles. Employees come in and contribute to a project and brainstorm ways to overcome problems that their peers are facing. Valve doesn’t even have a sales or marketing department, as employees are tasked with coming up with marketing ideas for the games they create.
More companies are embracing this lack of organizational structure to attract creative individuals and create an environment of collaboration. Punchkick Interactive CEO Zak Dabbas explains that employees in these companies seek the advice of their peers before making a decision, but aren’t held to their opinions. The biggest challenge CEOs face in flat companies is believing that their employees are inherently good, and always act in the best interest of the company.
While few companies are open to the idea of a complete restructure, creating a sense of collaboration can make your business flatter and delegation easier. Jacob Morgan, a leading Forbes contributor, marveled at companies like Cisco and Whirlpool, which have implemented flatter business models by letting employees challenge the status quo. Employees are able to work on what they want whenever they want, which reduces the amount of busywork and task-mastering from management.
Ideally, task delegation would be completely replaced by open collaboration. Instead of asking, “Why do I have to do this?” we’ll ask “Am I the best person to take on this task?” Successful collaboration occurs when employees put aside their egos and focus on the projects in front of them. When a strong team comes together to own a project, management just needs to get out of the way, or provide the right environment and tools to succeed.
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