Friday 11 September 2020

Delegate to build trust and investment


As a lead, it can be all too easy to want to do as much as possible yourself, feeling that unless you are constantly going above and beyond or demonstrating your worth at all times, you must be failing. 

It is common to see a new lead take on much responsibility to prove to themselves and their team that they are the correct person for the role. 

There are several pitfalls to this, aside from the obvious stress and potential burnout that could arise. 

Ask yourself: How is this approach benefitting the team?

The short-term view would be something like: “I’m helping the team by taking less valuable work off them, so they can focus on achieving the valuable stuff”. Well alright, but a red flag is raised here – you have decided the value of the work, without consulting the team. Don’t assume what you consider low value work (such as configuring that nasty third party application that no one else wants to touch) is going to be also considered low value by ever member of your team.

The important thing here is to give the team the opportunity to either volunteer to pick up that work or agree indeed that is low value. This does several things: 
  1. Demonstrates that you respect your team members opinions
  2. Gives the opportunity for team members to take on work that they otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to 
  3. Prevents the view that as lead you are deciding who works on what

Delegate even more!

We can build on those 3 benefits further by identifying more opportunities for delegation. Research around this will surely uncover quotes advising to “Delegate until it is uncomfortable”. Why?

As leaders we have an opportunity to bolster team members’ confidence and self-worth by giving them work. This can be a bit unnatural as a lead may naturally want to know more than anyone else, seeing that as part of their role. Ultimately, this will hold team members back in several ways. A lead should empower the team and instil trust. By delegating work to a team member, you are saying “I trust you to go and get this done”, but it also leads to something more, which is building investment.

Build investment

Once you ask the team to go and do something, they are immediately invested in that area of work. As an example, we’ll say we’ve delegated how to implement a logging solution in a new project. What would happen if the lead did this instead?
  1. The lead would know more about the logging solution than anyone else
  2. The lead would be handing down the solution, rather than the team discovering it 
  3. Chance of “The lead always gets to decide everything” attitude 
We want the team to decide on the best way forward, not a single person. Now going forward, the team is the authority on that logging solution, not just the lead. All expertise around it that future changes may rely on is now sitting with the team, and not a single person. Additionally, the team feels empowered about it, and that they own it and want it to succeed.

If it does end up that one person completes a piece of work that the team would benefit from the knowledge of, handover sessions should be actively encouraged. 

The team should own and be invested in everything as much as possible. It should not just be up to the lead.

If you can achieve this, you'll quickly see colleagues be more keen to help if things go wrong, and also become a lot more involved in decision making. This is good for everyone; use all the brains, sure, but you'll also help to foster a more open, inclusive team where trust abounds.