Leading A Team Of Diverse Personalities – Part 5: Delegating Work

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Delegation can be difficult, especially if you are delegating a task that you are used to doing yourself! This can cause issues around not wanting to let go and it can be difficult to think what the other person needs to know to do the task, some of which may seem obvious to you as you have been doing it for a while.

Make sure they have all the information they need

This can be especially difficult to achieve for those with an intuition preference who can come across a little vague when asking others to carry out tasks. If you have this preference, it might be helpful to write yourself some kind of ‘crib’ sheet asking questions such as “why are we doing this?”, “what specific tasks do I want the other person to do?”, “is there any background information that they need to know?”, “when do I want it by?”, “do I need it in a certain format?”, “who might they need to talk to?”. It may help to ask colleagues for suggestions of other questions to ask yourself.

Of course you don’t want to go too far down this route and end up giving the person no flexibility to do the task in their own way or to use their initiative. In addition, if you have a sensing preference, try to distil down only the information that the other person needs to know as you could end up frustrating them with unnecessary details, especially if they are busy! Ask yourself the same questions above but try to be concise.

What support do they need?

Whenever you are delegating a piece of work, make sure you think about what support or tools the person will need. This is especially important when it is something you normally do yourself as it may be obvious to you who the key contact is or which piece of equipment to use but it won’t be to them. Make sure you also give them opportunity to ask questions and make it clear to them that you are happy for them to do so.

As mentioned in part 1, some people appreciate encouragement and recognition of effort during a piece of work (feeling preference) while others sometimes prefer to be left alone to do the task and be recognised at the end (thinking preference). Try and take this into account for your team members.

Give people space

A common criticism levelled at team leaders, particularly in academia where they are often experts in the field, is that of micromanagement. It is important that you pass on your knowledge and expertise in order to ensure that your researchers don’t make too many unnecessary mistakes. However, it is also your role to nurture these people to become independent academics. If you insist on them doing everything in a specific way, you can stifle creativity and prevent innovation – they may have good ideas or ways of working that you haven’t thought of and they need to feel free to try these out at times. Obviously, you need to balance this with not leaving them too much to their own devices when they are doing something new and if you are aware of how your own personality preferences may come into play, you should be able to find a good way of tackling this balance.

I like an approach that a colleague once told me that he took when teaching PhD students new techniques. He told them that he wanted them to learn and perfect his way of doing the technique first but that once they had done that, they were then free to try new ways of doing it. This ensured that he trained them to a level of competence and yet allowed them to innovate and refine the techniques they were using.

With busy schedules, and pressures on working, it can be hard sometimes to give space to those you lead but if you can master the balance between ensuring competence and allowing initiative, you will nurture a team of more independent researchers with an enthusiasm for innovation which is surely what academia is all about!

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