Tips to effectively delegate assignments - Focus Communications
Sue Heuman

Sue Heuman

Principal at Focus Communications

Tips to effectively delegate assignments

“You, what’s your name?”


“Tom, call 911.”

Many, many years ago, at a first aid training course, the instructor said that when you happen on an accident scene, it’s important to be specific when asking for help. Ask the person’s name, look them in the eye, then say their name as part of your request. If you just shout “someone, call 911,” chances are no one will do it because each assumes someone else is on it.

Dispersed work teams – whether WFH or multiple locations – can be a lot like a group of strangers huddled over an accident scene. Some are highly involved, others are bystanders, some are completely tuned out just waiting for the event to be over.

Engaging this group, particularly over Zoom/Teams/Google can be a challenge. It’s harder to read the body language on a computer screen than it is in person. Heads might nod, but who’s really listening?

If you are leading the group, it’s important to make sure people know when they’ve been tapped on the shoulder for an assignment, and what it entails.

Here are some tips for effective delegation:

  • Get people engaged. When discussing the assignment, watch the body language of the key person(s) to whom you will be delegating tasks. If they’re not engaged (looking down at a phone, or perhaps their camera is off), get their attention before going much further. Something like, “Mary, I know you’ll be interested in this since you’re going to lead this project.” Now you have her attention!
  • Be specific. When assigning a task be sure to identify who is being assigned, what the task is, and when it is due.
  • See and be seen. Ask people to keep their cameras on during the meeting. If someone has to turn off for a few moments, make sure they come back on screen as soon as possible. Why? This is how you are able to look someone in the eyes when assigning tasks.
  • Be prepared. Have documents and assets ready to share on your screen. Being able to seamlessly move to a shared screen document underscores your own preparedness and sets expectations for your team. Leaders who fumble around looking for the document to share not only waste time, but also give a signal to your team that it’s time to tune out, if even for a few minutes. Will you get them back?
  • Note action items. Even saying something like, “folks, please make note of this action item which is due to me by Friday,” triggers people to take notice. And, hopefully write it down. Including a deadline is also an attention-grabber.
  • Keep a tight agenda. People are becoming “zoomed out.” Too many meetings, and meetings that run too long, are increasingly a problem. You can help. Make sure agenda topics are only those which require discussion or elaboration. Otherwise, send an email.
  • Respect people’s time. Closely linked with the above point, assign time limits for each agenda item and stick to them. Keep dialogue moving and don’t let one or two people dominate. Ask, “does anyone have anything new to contribute to this discussion,” so that folks don’t just repeat what’s already been said.
  • Follow up. Send a quick email to the team to remind them of their assignments and due dates. After that, the onus is on them to follow through.

What have you tried?

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