Companies That Run Themselves

Stop Delegating Tasks and Start Delegating Opportunities

We’re fortunate to work in an industry of great passion and pride. It makes inspiration easy to find and excitement gratuitous. But this is still hard work. There are tight timelines, heavy hurdles and long days. The truth is, for me, punching a clock isn’t satisfying. A guaranteed 5 o’clock departure sounds nice in theory, but I don’t always know when I’ll hit my stride. I’ve got to get in the zone. And the zone is like non-committal teenager – you never know when it’s gonna show up. I want my results to rock. That’s what makes what I do more than a job.

Our team recently finished up a body of work that I couldn’t be more proud of. The thinking, integration, team work, dedication and results were outstanding. I can’t begin to describe how each person on the team owned the project as their own. But I’m going to try:

  • We stayed late. Not because we had to. We weren’t asked to. We wanted to. And staying late is a pleasure when the camaraderie is flowing and the progress is satisfying.
  • We brought great ideas to the table that we weren’t tasked with. In my previous post I talk about seeing the big picture. If you can lay out the vision with enthusiasm, people are less likely to get distracted with unfocused details and you’ll have more people contributing useful ideas instead of too many cooks throwing dry noodles at the wall.
  • We argued. Literally. I argued with people. Other people argued with other people. But more importantly, there were no hard feelings because the arguments weren’t about ownership. They were about the work we made collectively. We critically dismantled without tearing down and this lead to better work and bigger passion.
  • We celebrated. We high-fived. We congratulated each other because everybody played a meaningful part.
  • We followed up. For days people asked our presenters how the work was received. We didn’t just care about completing our task. We cared about the outcome. We didn’t need the affirmation of the quality – we already knew it was good.

I don’t believe this type of behavior is  status quo at the average office. In fact, shows were born out of the lethargy and to-the-second clock punching of the average workplace. The TV series “The Office” bid its farewell in May last year, but unfortunately typical office culture has not. If you find yourself in a weary workplace, take heart. Here are a few ideas to increase excitement and productivity, by switching the focus from delegating tasks – to delegating opportunities.

  • Identify your key influencers and get them excited. People with persuasion and leadership abilities (not constrained by title) can start a snowball effect of excitement and opportunity.
  • Open up the floodgates. Kick-off the project with your top and entry level people in a room together. It communicates trust and gives your people in the trenches a guaranteed eye on their abilities and ideas and it communicates that their roles are important to the big picture.
  • Describe the entire ask, opportunity and/or vision. The more every player knows, the more targeted their solutions will be. Confining them to simple and specific set of tasks without revealing the big picture communicates to them that they are hired to do said tasks and nothing more.
  • Emphasize the opportunity and consequences. Whether it’s a saving throw in a crisis situation or a new business opportunity, make sure people understand the weight of the project. Don’t forget to mention what the rewards are for them. Financial incentives are great while not always a reality but there are plenty of other motivators such as praise, visibility, work showcases and recaps, promotions, time off and don’t discount reminding people that this opportunity could be a great portfolio/resume builder. Sometimes hearing that your projects and opportunities are portfolio/resume worthy from a hiring director really goes a long way.
  • Hear everyone’s ideas. Agree to a meeting that provides everyone an opportunity to weigh in on all aspect of the presentation or project. And make sure that your decision makers are present.
  • Celebrate. Win or lose, when your team puts in the blood sweat and tears, celebrate it. Because when the team grows stronger, people get new opportunities and everyone feels valued it’s entirely possible to lose but still win.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


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