Episode 137: Reverse Delegation

The Reverse Delegation Trap and Strategies to Avoid It

Have you ever heard of reverse delegation? It’s a common problem among leaders and team members and I want to give you three strategies to combat it.

Reverse delegation is when you either intentionally or unintentionally take back a task to work on after you’ve already delegated it.

This is not what we want to happen.

As a manager, you already have so many things that you are focused on and that you are responsible for. You need your team to manage the work that you are delegating to them instead of delegating it right back to you.

That’s why, in my latest podcast episode I’m sharing:

  • 9 reasons reverse delegation could occur
  • 3 strategies for avoiding reverse delegation
  • Examples of things to do or say in each situation

Have you ever gone into a conversation with a team member about something that they are responsible for and then left the conversation with some or all of it back on your to-do list? This can happen because of something called reverse delegation, which is when you delegate a task to your direct report only to take it back, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to work on it yourself in the future. I want you to imagine that you delegate a task or a result to a team member, and they begin to have some kind of a challenge or a problem with that task. And the problems I want you to imagine are monkeys that are on your team members back. And so they come to you, whether you're checking in with them, whether they bring a problem to you, but there's a conversation that is had And when the 2 of you discuss the problem, the team member leaves the conversation with the monkey now firmly sitting on your shoulders instead of theirs. This is not what we want to happen. As a manager, you already have so many things that you are focused on, that you are responsible for, and you need your team to manage the work that you are delegating to them instead of delegating it right back to you, okay? So in this episode, I wanna talk about why reverse delegation happens and what you can do to avoid it. So reverse delegation can stem from a number of factors, and I'm going to go through 9 different reasons why reverse delegation might happen here, okay? First, your team thinks that you're more capable than them. If your team members lack confidence in their abilities, they might automatically assume that you're better suited to handle the task, and that could lead to reverse delegation.

2, your team says that they don't know. When faced with a challenge or an unfamiliar task, team members might express their lack of knowledge or understanding, hoping that you're just gonna take it back over, that you're gonna step in and take charge. Third, your team makes you aware of a problem and then assumes that you'll handle it. Team members might bring problems to your attention without actually bringing a solution or seeking a solution themselves, presuming that you're going to resolve that issue for them. They think that by keeping you in the loop, by letting you know that you're now in the loop, it's your responsibility, you'll handle it, and they feel better and have a sense of relief just because they've told you about it, but they're not actually maintaining that level of responsibility to go and solve it. Fourth, your team says that they don't have time. Overwhelmed with their existing workload or perhaps, maybe a thought error that they don't have time, team members might resort to using reverse delegation as a means to alleviate their own time constraints. So they're saying, I don't have time.

And that means they're just going to give it back to you, assuming that you have time, when we know that your time is probably far more limited than theirs. Fifth, your team thinks it's easier or more efficient for you to do something. Sometimes team members believe that you possess the necessary skills or the resources to complete a task more easily or efficiently. They see that you've done it before, They see that it's easy for you, it's natural for you, it's something that you already know how to do. And so why should they do it? It'd just be easier for you to do it. But that leads them to defer their responsibility back to you. Number 6, your team just can't get it right. When team members struggle to get something done well, you get frustrated, and you jump in, and you take over.

Number 7, you want to be helpful. As a leader, you might have a natural inclination to assist your team, And the desire to be helpful can inadvertently result in reverse delegation. You jump in, you think that you're helping, but you end up just taking over and doing it yourself to help them for some reason, but that's actually not super helpful in the long run for them or for you. Number 8, you want things to be done a certain way. If you have a specific vision or a certain approach in mind, you might feel tempted to take control of a task rather than trusting your team member to execute it according to your expectations. Number 9, you want things to be perfect. A pursuit of perfection can lead to micromanagement and the tendency to take over tasks from your team, fearing that they may not meet your high standards, okay? So those are 9 reasons why reverse delegation happens. I want you to think about how many of those you have experienced.

How often are you experiencing reverse delegation? And then let's talk about how to avoid it. Okay, To prevent reverse delegation, I want you to consider the following tips and tricks and strategies. Okay. I'm going to go over 3 big buckets, and then I'm going to give you some examples, examples of things to do, examples of things that you can even say to your team to address it. Okay? The first strategy is empowering versus rescuing. So instead of jumping in and taking over, I want you to empower your team. Okay? I want you to encourage your team members to take ownership and believe in their capabilities. You might say something like, I'm confident you can figure this out, or what could you do to move this forward? I want you to prompt them to identify their contributions and strengths relevant to the task.

So what contribution can you make? Which of your strengths might apply to this opportunity? You want to get them thinking about how they can leverage their strengths and why they are well suited to take this on. I want you to challenge them to take the next step and explore their potential. What's the next step you can take is a question you can ask. Or I know it's easier for me to do it, but it's better for you to do it because dot, dot, dot. And you really lean into what's possible when they learn how to do this, okay? You wanna highlight the long-term benefits of tackling the task themselves, especially emphasizing their personal growth and skill development and how that relates to their career growth, okay? It doesn't help your career when I do this. What's a small step you can take today? I want you to provide necessary resources and training to equip them for success. So you might ask, what resources or training can I provide so that you are equipped to handle this? So instead of taking it over, you're offering to equip them and asking what they need. Sometimes they're going to realize there isn't actually anything that you need to provide, or when they tell you what's needed, you're going to be able to point them in a direction that doesn't take up as much time.

You can give them a system that you've already created, access to training, or have them go research and learn. Next, reference previous instances where they've handled similar tasks effectively. You can ask, what's an example of another time when you did something similar? I want you to get them thinking about how they are capable. Again, this is all about empowering your team so you're getting them to see that they are capable. I want you to reinforce the importance of building competence and experience through taking on new responsibilities. You can say something like the best way for you to build your confidence or the best way for you to grow your experience or your skills is to start doing this, to start doing XYZ. Next, discuss priorities and identify other tasks that can be delegated, freeing up their time for growth opportunities. So if they're saying, I don't have time, you're going to empower them to make decisions around what the priorities are to manage their time and to delegate if that's an option.

Okay, so that's empowering versus rescuing. And none of those examples are you jumping in and taking the work over yourself. You are empowering them to hold on to that and to take the next step. Okay, the next strategy is questions versus answers. With this strategy, you're going to focus on the desired outcome rather than micromanaging every step. So you're going to align on the result that you want instead of telling them what to do. This is so much about asking and helping them arrive at answers versus telling them the answers, okay? So you'll avoid explicitly telling team members what to do, instead encouraging them to think independently. You can encourage them to answer their own questions.

If they're bringing questions to you, then ask them, what do you think? What do you think the answer is? How would you answer that? And have them reflect on the potential solutions. You can facilitate problem solving by asking what's the actual problem? What have you already tried? What documentation has been consulted? What's something you definitely should not do to help them begin to think about all of the possibilities and what they could or couldn't do and arrive at a recommendation themselves. You wanna seek their recommendations and opinions and foster autonomy and critical thinking. So to take this a step further, you would ask, what could you try? What do you think is the next best step? What do you recommend? And then prompt them to go test those theories and propose responsible actions. So what can you do to test this theory is a question you might ask and then you're going to give them permission and support them in going to take action that will help them figure out the answer or the solution. And then identify any hesitations or reservations that they might have and address them through coaching proactively. You might ask something like, what comes to mind when you think of taking this responsibility? Or what makes you reluctant to handle this? To dig into what's going on and really help them see why they're holding back. Okay, so that's questions versus answers.

The third strategy is feedback versus fixing. So with this strategy, you're going to resist the temptation to take over the task completely. You're going to remind yourself that it's more effective to provide feedback and guide your team member to fix any issues. Plus, it's better for you long term. If you keep jumping in and taking over, then that means that team member is going to be dependent on you because you're not teaching them how to improve quality. That quality level is dependent on you. Makes sense? So you're going to give them feedback and ask them to fix it. Even if that takes multiple rounds, You're going to avoid creating any dependency on you, which is created, dependency is created when you fix their work yourself, versus you're gonna avoid that by having them fix the work.

So you're not going to let them off of the hook. Sometimes I see business owners who have a tendency, even if they give feedback and ask a team member to fix something, if they jump in eventually on the second, third, fourth round and just get frustrated and take it over, their team members understand that eventually they're just going to do it, and so they don't even have to try hard. They don't even have to fully implement the feedback because they know that eventually you're going to cave and you're going to do it. So don't let them off the hook. Even if it takes multiple rounds of revisions, If you jump in at any point, you're going to teach them that they don't have to do their best work because eventually you'll fix it. You're not teaching them that you're going to hold them accountable, that you're going to follow through, and that it's actually better for them to give their best effort first because if not, they're the ones who are going to be redoing it over and over and over again. Okay. So then teach them the necessary skills and explain the reasoning behind your feedback enabling them to apply it to future situations.

So You don't want to just tell them what to do here. You want to tell them the why. You do want to give them direction that's clear. You want them to understand what needs to change, but they need to understand the reasoning behind your feedback so that they can apply that to other situations, to other circumstances in the future. And then lastly, if for whatever reason, it's last minute, something's urgent, it's a client deliverable and you've already, you know, They've already messed it up a couple of times and there's no more patience with this client. If you have to handle the task, then I want you to do 1 of 2 things. Either have them join you as you're fixing it and you're talking through it or record a video of yourself doing the work and explaining what you're doing and why so that you're teaching them as you're doing it. So you're still not letting them off the hook completely.

They still have to learn and they need to be able to apply that in the future. You're not just taking over, you are teaching, okay? And then lastly, accept a reasonable level of quality. When it comes to perfection, that's gonna keep you in this mode of jumping into fix. So instead, I encourage you to accept B minus work. I know how hard this is. Trust me, this is 1 of my tendencies. I'm going to jump in and fix even the smallest thing. But instead, I want you to look at how you can avoid expecting perfection, encourage a growth mindset, and challenge yourself to look at how you can still get a desired outcome with B- work.

Things don't have to be perfect to work to get a result, okay? The goal is not perfection. The goal is something else. So stay focused on the actual goal. So those are the 3 strategies. Reverse delegation undermines the growth and development of your team members. So as a leader, it's crucial to empower your team and ensure that they leave conversations with a sense of responsibility and ownership. That means that rather than allowing a team member to leave a conversation thinking that they are waiting on you for something, you need to ensure that they maintain ownership and know that you are waiting on them. And you're going to do that using these 3 strategies, Empowering versus rescuing, questions versus answers, and feedback versus fixing.

Using these 3 strategies, you can cultivate a team that thrives on autonomy, continuous learning, and personal growth. And you'll mitigate reverse delegation, not only empowering your team to reach their full potential, but cultivating a culture of trust, collaboration, and ultimately, long-term success that doesn't require you to get involved and take things back over. Okay. This is how you avoid reverse delegation. If you're struggling with this, try these strategies. They work.

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