Delegate goals, not tasks, in order to get things done.

February 16, 2015 - 6 minutes read

Job allocation conceptDo you need help? Delegate.

In our last post we talked about some ways to get help, but what about getting the people you pay to help you? They already know that they should be helping you… right? Unfortunately, you may not always be asking the right person for the “task” you have in mind.

Let’s refer to the story from my last post. My client struggled to get everything done but couldn’t, including hosting his guest speaker. He was overwhelmed and couldn’t seem to find help. The irony was that he had a technician working for him.

I asked him to assign his technician the job of marketing their guest speaker. Let him post the flyers, I suggested. But, my client didn’t think he could delegate that task to his technician, because it wasn’t in his job description.

He was kind of right. “Posting flyers” wasn’t exactly in the job description, but the responsibility of handling “operational and administrative management tasks” was. However, if he had delegated this task to his tech, he could have devoted his remaining time and energy to the guest speaker’s content.

This is just a single example illustrating how clearly defining your goals will prove to be a better use of your time and energy than focusing on individual tasks. Delegating responsibility and allowing your team to focus on the little things will allow you to maintain your view of the big picture.

Delegation is a necessary skill for any leader to have, and its an attribute which many researchers struggle with. They may bark orders or assign vague tasks, such as, could you “organize the lab?”, or ”fix this mess”. If the task is not completed to their liking, the junior researcher will stop delegating and shoulder the burden themselves.

If you’ve never delegated before, it can be a little more frustrating, but be patient. Consider these five ways to help you get started on your way to becoming a better delegator, and a better PI:

  1. Delegate a specific tangible goal.
    Setting tangible goals for your team to achieve will allow you to create your vision. For example, create an ordering system that will allow the lab to purchase and receive weekly orders. You will be confident, knowing your team will create a dependable ordering system to reach your research goals.
  2. Delegate the right job to the right person.
    Writing a grant proposal is a task more suited for you to do, not your tech. Stocking supplies is a better task for your tech to handle rather than your postdoc. Experimental designs are better suited for your postdoc rather than the PI. Realizing who is best suited to handle a task is critical to maximizing your team’s research potential.
  3. Delegate with the assumption of imperfection and measure for improvement.
    Completion precedes perfection, always. Supply your team with a simple goal. Allow them to discover the steps or tasks necessary to achieve that goal. These steps then become your lab’s standard operating procedures. This system will create a platform to develop future team members and continually improve your lab operations.
  4. Maintain a follow up system.
    In order to develop your operations, schedule regular meetings where you and your team can go over the results from projects and tasks. This is a forum where everyone can discuss what was accomplished and ways to improve upon the system.
  5. Trust your team.
    Building trust starts by clarifying your goals with your team, and allowing them to develop the system. You can further build that trust by creating a safe environment where everyone can freely contribute their ideas of improvement, without the fear of rejection. If the members of your team feel secure in their work environment, they’ll be more likely to take the initiative to complete tasks. In turn, this creates a culture of accountability, where everyone is proud to give a 100% effort toward the unified lab goals.

You’re going to be working with a highly talented and educated team. Treat them as such. Give them the opportunity to help you, by allowing them to strategize the best course of actions to complete their assigned goals.

Delegation is never easy at first, but taking it slow helps.

How do you delegate to your team? Leave a comment.

Do you need help to set up your lab? Reach out to us.

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