How to Delegate Effectively

Mark Wager will be in Fiji between the 11th to 15th September. Mark has limited availability but if you want to meet him or invite him to deliver training at
05 Aug 2017 11:13
How to Delegate Effectively

Mark Wager will be in Fiji between the 11th to 15th September. Mark has limited availability but if you want to meet him or invite him to deliver training at your business contact him at



It’s an all too common scenario. A leader asking their team to do something only to find out later they have to follow up because it wasn’t done.

Teams not following the instructions of their leader is so common in businesses that in many places  it’s just accepted when with just an application of a technique that I’ve designed this can easily be resolved.



George Bernard Shaw once wrote “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

This is never more true than when a leader is delegating a task to their team. Too often a leader relates a task believing that their communication is clear yet the team hears something different and has a different interpretation which results in both parties not being satisfied.

The key is for the leader to communicate in the most effective way possible when delegating tasks.

When team members receive instructions to complete a task they subconsciously ask themselves four questions, the answers to which will give them all the information they require to perform the task.


The four questions are quite simply what ? Why? How?and  When?

If the leader doesn’t supply the information to the four questions then it’s natural for the team to assume the answers themselves and this can lead to misunderstandings if their answers are  different to what the leader intended.

This is the main reason for miscommunication between leaders and their team.

During my years of working with different teams whenever I see a breakdown in communication between a leader and staff member when delegating a task the reason for the misunderstanding is  one of those four reasons.

The staff member didn’t know what they had to do or they didn’t know why they had to do it, they didn’t know how to do it or finally they didn’t know when it had to be done by.

When a delegating a task leaders need to ensure that they answer the four questions of delegation. Follow  this and the leader greatly improves the likelihood of the task being done because any possible miscommunication is eliminated and there is no room for error or excuses.


What? Explain to the team what exactly is the result you want to see. You will notice that I said result and not task. If you go straight to explaining the task it automatically creates questions in the mind of the team and while these questions are being asked they are not focussing on what else you are saying so start with the high level result that you want – the what. The team may not see the bigger picture that is obvious to the leader so make it clear.


Why? – the second stage of communication is to provide people with the context for the task, why  the task needs to be done, the impact of achieving the task and the consequences of what will happen if the task is not done.

By this I don’t mean the punishment for not doing the task but more what would be the impact on the team, the organisation & clients if the work is not done.

If this is clear then any potential punishment is obvious.


How? – at this stage the leader needs to explain the details of how to compete the task, this is the time for detail if it’s required.

If you have experienced staff then an explanation of the task may be unnecessary but if not or there’s any doubt then don’t assume and don’t say “do you understand?”

People will say yes because they think they do understand, instead try asking them “how will they so about this” look for applied learning, if they can explain this then no problem, if not then you need to provide more explanation.


When? -The final question is to provide people with a timeframe for the task to be completed by.

Never say “urgent” or “when you have the chance” because people have different definitions of those phrases.

Be  precise and tell people a date and time that the task has to be done by.

If possible don’t make the deadline the end of the day which is  common , make it an hour or so before so that it gives you a window just in case for some reason the task is outstanding.

After the communication there is one more step to follow in order to ensure the work is effectively completed.

It is common practice for a leader to follow up to ensure the task is done yet this is not an effective use of time.

It’s better to put that responsibility on the team.

The team must be informed  that if for any reason they are unsure whether the task can be completed by the deadline,  they need to inform their leader  straight away.

This gives the leader time to identify the issue and deal with it.

The  team can tell their leader or send a brief email once the task is done which  puts the responsibility and ownership on the team and allows the leader to focus on other more important tasks.



The leader can’t do everything so delegation is a vital ingredient for success but only if it’s administered correctly.

So follow these steps and ensure that the questions what, why, how and when are clear in your communication and you will see far better and timely results.

And just hires anyone and more commonly there’s a candidate desperate for work so accepts the first offer to comes along and both circumstances are easily understandable because of the economic realities of the business world yet this is not ideal and doesn’t work in the long term.

Any short term gains will be nothing compared to the downside you will encounter in the future.

As a leader the biggest portion of your time will be spent with your team.

I know many workplaces where people spend more time with their colleagues than they do their partners so make sure you take your time when recruiting and never hire on a hunch.

If you need to interview people more than once then do so. It’s vital to ask the right questions and bring the best people on board, your success depends on it.

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