Understanding Delegation

“Management is the art of delegation”, this is the often-heard mantra when referring to good management technique. To those receiving instruction it can be confidence sapping and plain nasty! Where does it go wrong? Usually it hinges around communication and lack of understanding of all concerned about the process being undertaken. Good delegation is about good communication, clear and concise instruction and trust between all parties.

Across all organisations the management of the “team” is a popular reference. There is a management hierarchy, but each individual has an important role to play in the team, each adding their piece to the overall output. This is usually spoken about in terms of the mission statement, strategic and tactical goals. If these are understood and practised by the team each individual understands their role and output to the whole. This should be reflected by the delegation and management of tasks throughout the organisation.  This gives a framework to the organisation and to its tasks and the required delegation to enable the organisation to achieve its goals.

An often quoted example of this is the management consultant visiting the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) headquarters and whilst on a comfort break, meeting the cleaner and asking him what was his role at the RNLI , “ I clean the toilets and help to save lives at sea.” “Saving Lives at Sea” is the RNLI Mission Statement.

Telling A Good Story

Delegation is like a good story or novel.  It has a clear beginning, a defined middle and a clear ending that concludes the whole exercise to the satisfaction of all parties. Once the mission is clear and the goals set, then they can cascade down the organisation. Each department should understand its role within the mission and be able to set clear tasks to be undertaken by individual teams. Each team understands the overall objective and can see clearly how the tasks combine to achieve overall success. Within this the delegation of tasks to the team can be clearly explained, understood and the final outcome easily seen. Those being delegated to know how their input will fit into the final plan and contribute to achieving the goals set.

Delegating. How Is It Done?

I once worked for a director who told me his intention was to take everything that was on his desk and ensure that it was on mine! Somewhat taken aback I questioned this, his reply was, “if you don’t see everything that I do how can I expect you to do my job?” An interesting start to one of the best jobs I ever had! The key to this approach is that delegation was happening for a purpose. To teach and train, to grow a team member into a position where they were able to be autonomous in their role. This whole teaching, training and mentoring role revolves around a process that is called “grip”.

In the example just mentioned, if I had just come to my desk every morning to find a pile of paper in my inbox and no explanation I would soon have floundered and been extremely frustrated. This is not delegation. What actually happened was a controlled and well-designed delegation of duties and roles. Each task was explained, given context and provided with detailed objectives. At first these were small and easily done. As time progressed they got larger, more complex and took a degree of input from the manager. This continued until to my astonishment I was told that we had achieved the objective and that I was now completing all work coming to my manager’s desk. My reward was to sit in his seat whilst he went on a three-month tour of our overseas operations!


So What Is Grip

Grip defines how tight or limited the delegation is.  It is a scale that slides from tight to loose with all points in between. Within a team a manager will have varying degrees of grip, and the ability to apply the right grip to the right team member will determine how successful the delegation is across the team and its output. Selecting the right level of grip, for the right job, for the right team member, is the art of delegation.

Understanding Your Position Within The Grip Scale

As a team member receiving delegated work it is important you understand how grip works and how you have to work within its parameters. It is a key indicator to how you are progressing in your role.  It can also be used to measure how you move along the grip spectrum.

Tight Grip

Tight grip is often referred to as “Dip Feed”.  It is commonly used when a new member joins a team or when new tasks have been taken on by the team and training is required. At this end of the scale a task is broken into all its various stages. The manager will probably use the first instance to go through the task in its entirety with the team member watching or taking part in very minor tasks. After this, the team member is given small tasks to complete, referring back to the manager after each step until the task is complete. This allows the manager to gain insight to the learning process and ensure the team member is progressing. The downside for a manager is that it is very time consuming.

Loosening The Grip

Combining tasks now becomes important as this will release time back into the manager’s day. It also makes the job more satisfying for the team member. Hopefully the team member will use their own initiative to begin this task as they grow more confident. As time passes more and more tasks can be combined and less reference made to the manager. The key point in this phase of delegation is understanding on both sides that mistakes can still happen and a steady hand is required to ensure all is in good order. Trust between both team member and manager is created, allowing both to feel satisfaction in completing the task.

Loose grip

Having reached this mutual trust a manager can relax and allow a loose grip on the tasks being performed.  It may be the case that the team member is now delegating parts of the task further in the team. However, an amount of grip and intervention is still required from the manager to ensure that tasks are being completed well and in a timely manner. It is important for the manager to still have control and insight to ensure that the set objectives and goals are being achieved.


The final stage is Autonomy where the team member takes full control of the task and takes on responsibility for its completion in full. The relationship changes slightly as now the manager is totally reliant on the team member to fulfil the task in its entirety and deliver as and when required.


Phased Growth

At any time a team member should expect to have a variety of tasks that have a differing level of grip.  It is entirely possible that a team member may have tasks from two or more managers with differing levels of grip. It is important to understand with each task what the grip level is and to work within those boundaries.

The function of grip within delegation allows an understanding of job satisfaction for both team members and the manager. If the structure is in place that provides a strong mission statement, aligned with strategic and tactical goals throughout an organisation that flow through to the individual goals and objectives of each employee, then delegation has a good framework and tasks can be delegated using grip. That all individuals in the organisation have an understanding of this process is vital to its success. When a task is delegated it is important that a manager ensures the team member knows how tight the grip is and what is expected.

Grip, its level and usage, is vital to building trust between managers and their teams.  That trust is then vital to the organisation achieving its stated objectives.


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