How Leaders Can Use a Delegation Framework

Great leaders understand the value of delegation. When a team leader delegates responsibilities to individual contributors, it illustrates the leader’s belief in their potential—this can save nearly 79 percent of team members from quitting. This also frees up time for leaders to focus on more critical and important areas of the business.

As your organization and team grow, so do your responsibilities. To alleviate that weight, execute a delegation framework. This framework should serve the dual purposes of focusing on your leadership responsibilities and providing your team members with growth opportunities.

What Is a Delegation Framework?

A delegation framework is a set of tools that simplifies delegation by steering you through its decision-making process.

For example, a delegation framework may help you decide which tasks to delegate during specific roadblocks and situations. It can also guide you on how to delegate different levels of responsibility to your team members.

Why Delegation Is Challenging

  • Time. Leaders may face tight deadlines and believe doing the work themselves will be faster. Or they may simply believe delegating takes more time than spearheading the project themselves.
  • Skepticism. Some leaders feel skeptical about a team member’s ability to complete the task well. Similarly, if a leader is fairly new in their position, the team leader might not understand the unique skill sets team members possess, which can hinder their ability to delegate the right tasks to the best-suited individuals.
  • Micromanagement. When leaders don’t know their team members very well, this leads to trust issues; a lack of trust can create micromanagers. Micromanagers have a difficult time letting go of responsibilities. When they do, these leaders often take back the assigned tasks at the first sign of trouble.

Learning to let go and delegate in the workplace is easier said than done. Using a delegation framework can help you ease into it and feel confident about your decisions.

Better yet, you can craft a robust pathway for your team members to develop their skills through the right assignments—a crucial process in establishing an agile and innovative team culture.

How to Use a Delegation Framework

The biggest question you may face when delegating is when to delegate.

Delegation can be looked at through the following two lenses:

  • Task importance/urgency: How urgent and important is the task? This will help you decipher how much time you have to train and how many missteps you can afford. If the task is especially important and urgent (e.g., your organization is faced with a PR crisis that needs immediate and expert attention), avoid delegating responsibilities to someone.

Framework 1: When to Delegate—4 Quadrants to Consider

Bring the two components above together to map out a delegation framework like the one below.

Zones of delegation rated from zones 1 to 4, with zone 1 rated as low urgency and low importance, to zone 4 as high urgency and high importance.

Identify which quadrant your project falls into so you know when to delegate.

To better illustrate the proper use of this framework, we’ve included general example situations for each quadrant.

Zone 1: Low Importance/Low Urgency

Work that fits into this zone is ideal for delegation. In this zone, you have ample time and you have a situation with low risk and exposure.  If the outcome is off target, you will have the time needed to make adjustments if necessary.

Before you delegate, your responsibilities as team leader are the following tasks:

  • Define goals. Review what needs to be accomplished and set expectations for acceptable performance.
  • Divide up responsibilities. Clearly outline how/what each person should contribute to the project. Even if you are delegating to only one person, you need to set a boundary between what they must do and where your oversight or involvement is required.
  • Set milestones. Milestones should consist of small deadlines, in which each team member must have a specific task completed. These milestones will help you get closer to your goal and the final deadline. It should also allow room for feedback, developmental coaching, and project revisions.
  • Establish a deadline. While urgency is low, there should be a firm date where everyone has completed their share of the project and it is ready to be implemented.

Zone 2: High Importance/ Low Urgency

When the project due date is not imminent, but the project is crucial and has high exposure, this is a great development opportunity for others as long as you maintain quality control and oversight. If you have a team member who is less experienced but eager and willing to learn and grow, you are safe to involve them and utilize their assistance.  You can delegate certain aspects of the project based on the team members’ abilities and interests. You will need to factor in more time to develop and build capability as you ensure that project requirements are met.

The development opportunities in this zone entail:

  • Regular coaching, feedback and monitoring
  • Detailed guides on how to perform specific responsibilities with quality check points and milestones (outlines, tactics, etc.)
  • Coaching with relevant in-house processes and procedures
  • Videos and articles that offer a deep dive into best practices

Zone 3: Low Importance/ High Urgency

This zone provides an opportunity for the leader to step back and let a team member drive the project as long as they understand the critical deadlines that must be met.  This zone is also a good place to delegate responsibilities, tasks, or assignments as the quality expectations and requirements are lower.  As long as you have team members who are capable of completing the project in a quick and timely fashion you should seek help and support. Because this zone is more about speed than quality, your role here is simple – make sure timelines and milestones are on track.

As a leader, coach to these timelines and request status updates or frequently check in and evaluate progress.  Offer guidance if needed to keep the work moving along.  Remember, the focus here is to get the project out the door. Stay involved so you can direct the work if the timeline begins to drift off course.

Specifically, you should:

  • Clarify specific tasks and time requirements. Check for understanding on the critical timelines.
  • Offer immediate support if the team members encounter roadblocks, setbacks, or begin to feel stressed with the approaching deadline.
  • Provide feedback and direction if the project timeline or team members experience delays.
  • Frequently check in to make sure everyone is on track and accountable.
  • Encourage team members to reach out if they need assistance.

Zone 4: High Importance/High Urgency

This is a zone where delegation should be limited with the leader retaining ownership of the situation. Circumstances like this require experience, knowledge, and skills to effectively execute the task or project in a timely manner because there is a need to deliver quality solutions or service. There is limited time to permit teaching, training, delays, or challenges.

Therefore, if you are in an important and urgent situation, it is best for you to retain full responsibility and ownership for this task.

Framework 2: How to Delegate—4 Levels of Responsibilities

You may understand when to delegate but not how to delegate. This is where you can refer to this second delegation framework—the four levels of responsibilities.

As a team leader, it can be challenging to determine how to divide your assignments and to whom you should delegate specific tasks. The key is tapping into each person’s expertise and skills to assess the degree of authority and autonomy they should have.

Use the following four levels to sort this out:

Graphic displaying the 4 levels of a delegation framework

  • Level 1—Research/admin tasks: Someone who is new or does not have the qualifications can begin with level one. Level 1 is when you have a team member help you or their teammates make a decision. You might have them conduct some research and produce options for you to choose from.
  • Level 2—Decision-making: Instead of simply researching competitors and/or performing administrative roles, your team member would take the next step—present the recommended decision to you. Because responsibility ultimately still resides with you as the team leader, you would give the green or red light on their decision.
  • Level 3—Empowered Authority: Depending on their expertise, you may grant your team member the authority to make decisions and proceed with those decisions without your approval. They report their findings and results to you, and you offer feedback and guidance along the way.
  • Level 4—Autonomy: Your most experienced team members can fall into this level. They have full autonomy to make decisions and take action. You don’t need to offer feedback or guidance because you have full trust in their ability to execute the project’s vision.  As the leader, you may not possess the specialized knowledge, skills, or expertise yourself. You may even consider assigning one of them as the project leader so you can focus on matters where you can add more value.

Why a Delegation Framework Matters

There are three main reasons why you need to adopt a delegation framework:

  1. Speeds up the Delegation Process

Using a framework can speed up your delegation process. Over time, the process can become more streamlined and adapted to your team’s needs. You will have a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses among your team, which can expedite your decision-making process.

Better yet, you will have more time to focus on tasks and projects that need your immediate attention. Even if you thrive under pressure, you can’t do everything on your own. You need to understand how to rally the troops and better utilize talents.

  1. Empowers Team Members

Thirty-seven percent of employees would leave their job if they are not given opportunities to learn new skills. Delegation plays a large role in providing development opportunities that increase employee engagement and job satisfaction.

When you delegate tasks, this illustrates your belief in your team members’ potential. By entrusting them to take on more responsibility, you’re giving them the chance to make new and impactful contributions to the team and organization. Ninety-two percent of U.S. employees say learning something new makes them feel more motivated in their roles.

  1. Drives a Positive Business Culture

Leaders who are strong delegators can drive up to 112 percent higher growth rates than those who are weak delegators.

By engaging employees, you are nurturing a positive workforce that is more likely to stick around for the long run. Happier employees also produce better results—engaged employees are 27 percent more likely to score high marks in performance.

Build Your Delegation Skills

Start empowering your team members by adopting effective delegation techniques—sign up for CMOE’s Delegation & Accountability workshop.

Be sure to also download your delegation checklist to stay on track with your delegation efforts until they become life-long habits.

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About the Author

CMOE Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.