Leading in 3-D: Looking at 3 Levels of Delegation

Assigning tasks can be one of the more difficult issues leaders face.  The choices you make as a leader will determine the quality of the task’s outcome and will have an impact on the amount of stress (positive and negative) an employee/teammate faces. When it comes to the issue of task assignment I want us to think about it in terms of the 3D hierarchy. At some point we utilize all 3 of these D’s. That being said, the D’s are not equal. As we go up the pyramid we become more focused and thoughtful in our task assignments which in turns lead to better results.

Dump: This is the least desirable and least effective of task assignment strategies. Dumping duties on people requires little to no thought. Dumping asks the question: “Who can take this load off my plate?” Granted there are times when tasks get dumped from above and as leaders we share the dumpiness with everybody else. There are instances when unfortunately this is unavoidable but most of the time we can find a better way. Dumping usually implies a power difference between the dumper and the dumpee. Leaders who employ this method are usually trying to deflect unwanted duties on someone else. More importantly, it communicates the message of “I am in charge, I don’t wan’t to do this, so you do it.” Leaders should be conscious of not dumping on teammates they rely on heavily or those they are not particularly fond of.

Also consider: Dumping leads to increased workload stress, an decrease in employee engagement, and a general sense of not being valued.

Delegate: There is a fine line between dumping and delegating. In my definition delegating entails that the leader has thought about who would be best for the task and assigns it accordingly. Delegating asks the question: “Who would be best suited for this job?” Still, there is a power dynamic issue here but thoughtful placement is more likely to communicate strategic planning rather than shedding unwanted duties.   A major detraction of this approach is that it is still one-way decision.

Also consider:  Assigning tasks to those who are best suited is a strong practice BUT make sure that you are not pigeon holing teammates and that tasks assignments also factor in challenge and growth. While giving Sandra another accounting task is logical because she excels at accounting, in the long run it may do little to enhance her abilities and motivate her.

Devise.  The most enlightened and productive of the three strategies. Devising means you sit with your teammate or the team and collectively try and agree upon what needs to be done and by whom. Devising asks the question ”What tasks do you want to do that can help both the team’s and your personal growth?” Devising can be more time consuming which is why it is not always done. Moreover, devising may be a strategy that is used on an annual basis. I suggest quarterly but time is not a luxury we all have in the workplace. By devising task assignments that help the company and excite the individual we accomplish we are able to align organizational and teammate needs much more closely. This increases the chances of the job being doing and the team member enjoying her/his job.

Also consider.  Devising is more art than science and should be seen as an evolutionary process in some cases as people’s talent’s increase and their goals change.

Final Thought.   Assigning tasks is challenging. In the daily grind of the workplace it is very easy to make well intentioned snap decisions. These snap decisions lead to the job getting done but not always at the highest level. While there are times when we all need to put our heads down and do what is asked, it is far more advantageous to take a minute, survey our team and our environment and make an intentional thoughtful choice.

If nothing else remember, CHUMPS DUMP but the WISE DEVISE!


Paul Artale is a Michigan based keynote speaker, trainer, and presentation coach who helps organizations retain talent. Please visit www.paulartale.com for more information