How do you delegate when your team is overwhelmed?

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We know delegating is key to success as a leader. But it isn’t always easy.

Sometimes our team members are simply too busy. Adding anything more to their bursting plate could prompt them to run screaming in the opposite direction. This is often when we think, “I might as well just do it myself.”

Thankfully, you do have other options.

Step 1: Acknowledge

Begin by acknowledging their full schedule. If you don’t do this, your team will feel even more isolated, frustrated and demotivated. Agree to work together to reconcile the excessive demands on their time.

Step 2: Defer

Nobody expects new work to be magically absorbed into an already-full schedule. Something has to give. Work with team members to prioritize their work. What can be postponed? Is it really necessary to do everything today / this week / this quarter? Are there any tasks that are not as important due to shifting needs?

Don’t wait until a crisis to review their workload. Do this regularly during your one-on-one meetings. The net result will be less squandered energy and more capacity across your team.

Step 3: Simplify

We’ve all experienced the frustrating situation of spending oodles of time on something that ultimately ends up in the trash can. Sometimes this is unavoidable. But more often, proactive and creative thinking can avoid this squandered effort.

How can you apply a lean mindset to simplify your work? Consider what you would do if your workload suddenly doubled:

  • Scale back on scope: Can you eliminate some “nice to have” components while still achieving the overall goal?
  • Eliminate steps: Are there reports no one reads? Meetings that don’t add value?
  • Simplify the output: Can you have a conversation instead of a multi-page report?
  • Strive for “good enough”: Do you really need multiple reviews and edits?
  • Reduce the number: The more people we involve, the slower the progress. Enable your team to make decisions and own the process without consulting too many others.
  • Automate: What can you re-purpose from similar projects?
  • Standardize: Can you minimize customization and establish a recurring process?

Step 4: Empower

One of the most powerful management techniques is to ask. Ask your team how to manage the volume. They are closest to the work and will likely have some suggestions you haven’t considered. The more you engage your team, the more you empower them. Add your suggestions and establish a new plan together. The key is for them to own the process – give them autonomy with the safety-net of your support.

Invest the time to help your team perform at their best.

Step 5: Develop

Sometimes people feel overworked because they don’t have sufficient resources, experience or training. Or they need to pause to recover after an intense stretch of work. Stephen R. Covey talks about the importance of sharpening the saw. Invest the time to help your team perform at their best.

We – and our team – are not mere victims to heavy workloads. Yes, once in a while, it’s helpful to model team solidarity by doing tasks we would rather delegate. But this should be an intermittent approach to trigger action. Use these five strategies to avoid making this a pattern. Otherwise, you’ll be the one left running from your team.

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