Meetings— you can't get work done within them and you can't stay aligned without them. Most of us are familiar with the average team/department/leadership meeting: information is exchanged, priorities are evaluated, and tasks are assigned. It's a necessary practice that keeps team members informed on current projects: what is left to do and, most importantly, who should be the person to do it?
For a team leader, this can create pause. The ever-present question of how to proceed in seeing a project to completion is dependent on multiple factors: Who has experience? Who is reliable? Who has bandwidth? And in an industry where resources are limited and positive output expected, it is essential that these important impact-generating initiatives are planned and executed as efficiently as possible.
So how can leaders ensure that everything comes together seamlessly while valuing the talented individuals they’re working with? The answer lies in the delicate balance between delegation and collaboration. Let’s take a closer look at both approaches and the benefits of each.
Strategic delegation prompts team members to prioritize their task lists, with high-priority assignments taking precedence over lower-level concerns. Employing this strategy and carrying it out effectively sits primarily with the team leader. We know that it is easy for many tasks to surface (usually all at once), and that each is seemingly urgent and important. Therefore, as a leader looking to apply the delegation technique properly, you must communicate priorities clearly, establish clear expectations, and then let go. Yep, I said it - let go. A primary benefit of the delegating process is that it requires time and attention of only one or a few team members, therefore allowing you and potentially the rest of the team to turn your focus to other important matters. In order for this to be successful you must loosen your grip on the work and trust that your team has things under control. When implemented correctly output is increased, focus is established, and your team can utilize their skills and shine in the process.
Delegation definitely has the potential to serve an organization well. As team members plan their to-do lists for optimal efficiency, they are able to concentrate their efforts in areas of expertise, building a stronger skill-set that will benefit everyone in the long run. However, while it makes sense to divide the workload according to everyone’s strengths, the practice can become a hindrance over time if not managed properly. With team members cultivating highly-specific competencies, the remaining professionals may only have a minimal understanding of their coworkers’ responsibilities, as well as the organization's objectives. Unable to flex their muscles in different areas, projects can be left at a standstill should adverse circumstances arise, like a team member leaving or their bandwidth becoming too limited to take on more work. This uneven distribution of duties leaves the group at a deficit, forcing others to assume a dexterity they are unaccustomed to in an effort to relink the chain. With that, the organization’s productivity is compromised, with the quality of the output being negatively affected.
Herein lies the power of collaboration. In an era where team relationships are the building blocks of success and essential to establishing progress, collaboration allows team members to look beyond the scope of just "their tasks" and engage with their coworkers in meaningful ways. When tasked to work together, the emphasis is shifted from a simple to-do list to a big-picture mentality: how can everyone contribute their skills for the best possible outcome?
The paradigm shift taking place in the professional world emphasizes the individual over the bottom-line; the heart over profit-margin. Keeping up with such an evolution means implementing a complementary leadership style that reflects the changing dynamics of the business industry. The trickle-down effect of such changes means that employees will have the opportunity to develop a diverse skill-set, allowing everyone to have a seat at the table. This partner-like mentality prompts each person to take part as a project lead and holds each individual accountable for the success of the initiative. Instead of being concerned for their own work alone, a collaborative team member is active in helping ensure the success of their fellow team members as they work towards a common goal.
That said, the question remains: how does a team leader choose which approach to take at what time? Here are a few things to consider before entering your next team meeting:
1. How big is the project? Consider the workload and how quickly the deadline is approaching. For urgent needs you may want to delegate out the list of tasks, whereas long-term initiatives with due dates farther out may be more suitable for a collaborative approach.
2. What kind of culture are you looking to establish within your organization? If you aim to elevate employees from ‘coworkers’ to ‘partners,’ collaboration is a great tool to accomplish that goal. Done well, a sense of trust and comradery arises, giving way to a shared sense of accountability.
3. What are your team's strengths? A crucial factor in determining whether delegation or collaboration is the right direction for your upcoming project is to assess the skillsets and needs of your team. How do they communicate? What type of support do they need to be successful? All of these questions will help you understand the approach best suited for each team member. And while a complex task may benefit from being assigned to a group of individuals for consistency and preparedness, you should not discount the possibility of one strong team member being able to accomplish the work on their own, allowing them to grow their responsibilities and experience.
4. Can you incorporate both delegation and collaboration techniques? The key to finishing any team-oriented task well is communication. Doing it all can be overwhelming, inviting the potential for burnout and compromising the quality of an organization’s output. If it’s not good for one person, chances are it will not benefit the team as a whole. There is no rule that says you cannot move from delegation to collaboration or vice versa. Stay connected with your team and their needs and be ready to pivot operations if needed.
We can learn to work with concepts and deadlines, but working with individuals is infinitely more difficult. Above all, as professionals we must remember to prioritize ourselves and our colleagues above abstract expectations of efficiency. The decision to approach a project using delegation or collaboration will not always be cut-and-dry — it takes knowing your organization, team members, and making decisions based on what is best for everyone involved. Striking a balance for your team will not only see your projects to completion, but create a positive office culture that will remain long after all the items have been crossed of the to-do list.