Remote working has been tricky, hasn’t it?
Organisations have faced many challenges.
One of those difficulties has been the way leaders manage their teams. Almost overnight, they went from managing them in the office to trying to do it remotely.
And few would have had any training to prepare for the rapid transition.
Managing a remote team can be complex even without a pandemic entering the mix. But doing it when everything around us is in turmoil increases those complications.
It can be particularly troublesome for managers to feel they can trust a team they can no longer see. Are they working? Can they produce work at the same level? Can they still meet deadlines?
When a manager has these doubts, it can be easy to fall into a trap where they do more of the work themselves, delegate less to their teams and micromanage any work they do pass down.
And that’s a recipe that can lead to disgruntled teams and exhausted managers.
So, how can leaders overcome these issues?
The first thing to make clear is that delegation is a challenging balancing act regardless of whether we are working face-to-face or remotely.
The virtual element adds further complication to that equilibrium.
A manager who delegates a task and then has little contact with that employee could easily find that person is going down a different path and is not delivering the required work.
This is probably the greatest fear a manager has about delegation. And that anxiety can increase in the remote world where those opportunities for informal check-ins and meetings do not occur so naturally.
To counter this, many managers fall into one of two traps.
The first is to delegate only simple mundane tasks that offer people little chance to develop their skills.
And the other, more common, pitfall, is to carry on delegating tasks but to give those employees too much attention.
This happens when the manager becomes afraid the employee will do the task wrong and that it will reflect poorly on them. They also worry they will have to pick up the pieces - effectively making the whole delegation process pointless.
As a result of that fear, they feel compounded to constantly monitor and check on the progress being made on the task. They end up effectively micromanaging a task they gave someone else to lead.
This can be particularly damaging to the employee’s morale and motivation and can lead to resentment.
Neither of these outcomes is desirable. The key is for managers to find the correct balance where they can delegate tasks to their team members that will keep them happy, while freeing up more time for themselves to get on with other things.
Finding this balance is a skill that comes with training and experience. The best managers go further and recognise this balance will shift with different tasks and the personality of the employee.
The best way to find that balance and know how to adjust it is for leaders to develop their business coaching skills.
They can then use those abilities to determine the capabilities and suitability of their team members for different tasks, the level of support they will need and how they can be empowered to complete the work and overcome problems and obstacles they may face along the way.
This approach means managers will not improve their delegation abilities overnight. It is the short-term pain for long-term gain approach.
But it is a crucial investment to make, particularly if you consider a return to the workplace appears to remain some way off.
But is there anything leaders can do in the short-term to improve their delegation to their remote teams?
Well, a good starting point is for managers to be aware they do not need to delegate a complete task.
Those managers not comfortable with delegating to others will often focus on a project in its entirety and the potential consequences of it going wrong.
However, instead of giving the whole thing to someone else, they could assign tasks or functions necessary for its success. This provides assurance that the entire task does not rest on whether the employee gets it right or wrong.
That approach can result in improved teamwork, as well as making the employee more comfortable when talking to the manager. And that can be extremely beneficial when there is a need for effective communication in the future when there are problems or issues to resolve.
Additionally, if delegating part of the task goes well, the manager should feel confident about assigning more of one to the employee in future.
Well, managers need to be clear on knowing when to delegate.
Just because they are busy and feeling under pressure to meet a looming deadline doesn’t mean it is necessarily the right time.
During our management training courses, we stress the importance of leaders understanding whether it is vital they complete the task; whether there is someone else with the skills, experience and passion to do it; whether someone in the team could learn new skills and develop from being given the task; and whether they have the time to provide all the necessary detail and context to the task.
That last part is, again, more difficult when we are working remotely and those natural communication channels are not there.
Delegating can take time because the person taking on the task needs good instruction and detail to do it successfully.
And, while you don’t want to micromanage, regular communication needs to remain in place for the duration.
Don’t check up on them. Check-in with them to provide a regular flow of information, guidance and support.
On our business coaching and management training courses, we tell our delegates to think about delegating as a gift.
When you buy a present for someone, you normally look at who they are, their age, capability and relation to you, so that you get something that suits them.
And once you have given it, you don’t try to take it back.
The same basic principles apply to delegation. Who am I delegating what to? Have they done something like this before? How experienced are they? Are their skills suitable for the task? How keen are they to take this on for their own personal growth? How have I positioned this with them? What are both our understandings of expectations around the outcome? What will the impact be if they can’t complete the task?
Tasks should only be delegated once leaders have explored these questions with themselves and their team member.
And once they have delegated it, they must not take it back.
Leaders should remember that delegation was a decision they made as the manager and that their overall aim should be to help someone grow into the new task and role and that they should feel empowered by the event.
The BCF group has been helping organisations develop their talent, inspire their people and overcome obstacles and challenges for the past 25 years.
Keen to find out more about business coaching? Get in touch to see how our Institute of Leadership and Management business coaching courses and bespoke training options can help. Or, click here to learn more about becoming a business coach to others.
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