Dynamic Delegation: Today’s Leadership Power Tool

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The language of the day is collaboration – and for good reason. Collaborating gets more things done faster, stronger and often better. The We>Me philosophy reins Queen. Yet when it comes to delegation, our actions don’t always mirror the collaborative mantra. Here’s a new solution: dynamic delegation. By Frieda Edgette (Founder, Novos)

It is easy to fall into the trap of DI(A)Y (Doing It (All) Yourself). [Insert “I’ll just do it” here.] All too often, this results in an overwhelming to-do list, burnout and even resentment.

Not all to-do's are created equal. Not all situations are created equal. When able to delegate actions to other team members, we not only free up time and space for ourselves but also invest in a key competitive advantage: enhanced collective capacity.

The Hard and Soft Advantages of Delegation

  • Cultivates and retains talent. Two of the leading causes of burnout are emotional exhaustion and not seeing measurable accomplishment in one’s work. Keep your team motivated and challenged. Delegating project leadership responsibilities stretches them to self determine, increasing competency all the while freeing up your time and energy.
  • Builds trust. Delegating sends a strong non-verbal message of trust – and trust is a link to profitability. In The Leadership Challenge, authors Posner and Kouzes cite that high-trust organizations out-perform low-trust organizations by up to 286%.

“Yea”, you think. “This all sounds great, but how do I effectively delegate responsibilities when conditions are constantly changing? I don’t want to end up redoing something because it is not done right. This just creates more work for me.”

A solution: dynamic delegation.

Delegating Dynamically

One approach medical trauma teams use that is transferable to tech startups is dynamic delegation. Both operate in high stakes environments. Both can support a learning culture. Both rely on crystal clear objectives and constant communication to get the job done – or run the risk of fatal consequences.

Katherine Klein at the University of Pennsylvania studied medical ‘extreme action teams’. She and her fellow researchers found that teams whose senior leadership dynamically delegated the active leadership role within the team (meaning: senior leaders rapidly gave and withdrew leadership roles given conditions) met greater performance, increased team member reliability and strong skills development. In short: enhanced collective capacity.

5 Steps to Creating a Dynamic Delegation System

New to dynamic delegation? Below are five steps to setting up a system that feels right for your team:

  1. Commit to common goals. Unite your team with a defined process and ideal outcome before testing out dynamic delegation. Have team members specify their individual goals in addition to a shared team objective.
  2. Define roles and responsibilities. Clearly outline what responsibilities (and accountabilities) are when empowered to lead: project management, communication, motivation, progress reporting, etc. What role will the usual C-team member take when the leadership role is delegated - observer, mentor, etc. and what does that role look like in reality?
  3. Establish operating principles. Specify the types of projects that are ripe for dynamic delegation and under what conditions delegation will be withdrawn – such as urgency and increased risk. Think team relay race. When is it time to pass the baton (and to pass it back)? Agility and adaptability are key.
  4. Commit to being ego-free. Dynamic delegation is a true exercise in the We>Me. As situations change, team members must be honest, open and willing to leave their egos at the door if stakes are raised and a C-team member needs to reclaim the baton. It’s not personal. Celebrate successes and give kudos when earned.
  5. Test it out. Think Lean Startup. Create a minimum viable product for your dynamic delegation system. Put into action. Gather feedback. Adjust – and try again.

Delegate the “I’ll just do it” confidently across the team. Over time and with practice, your team’s collective capacity will thrive.

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr. About the guest blogger: Frieda K. Edgette is Founder and Principal of Novos, a change management and coaching consultancy that helps individuals and organizations through strategic transitions. Frieda is also Founder of Courage to Run, a leadership initiative dedicated to mutually developing female professionals in business, on boards and to public service through, yes, running, brunching and collectively inspiring. She holds a MSc in Organizational and Social Psychology from the London School of Economics.

Women 2.0 readers: How have your sculpted your startup's culture to be high-performing AND fun? Let us know in the comments.