Four Tips for Effective Delegation

Four Tips for Effective Delegation

Save your sanity and strengthen your ministry by delegating well.

Do you ever feel like you have more to do in a day than you can accomplish? You're not alone. Small-group pastors have a lot to do from big tasks like planning campaigns to minute, yet important, details like tracking small-group sign ups. As point person, your responsibilities range from very people-oriented tasks to very organizational tasks—sometimes in the same hour.

One of the best things you can do for your sanity and your ministry is delegate some tasks to capable people. But I admit, delegating may not seem like a time saver at first glance—especially if you like to do things yourself (like me). When you delegate well, though, you'll free yourself to work on those things that only you can do—like cast vision—and at the same time, you'll empower other people to use their skills and strengths in ways that truly help the ministry. It's a win-win, unless your delegate poorly.

Set Them Up for Success

Effective delegation requires clearly explaining the task, providing the needed tools, and transferring responsibility and authority. In a nutshell, it's not just about handing off tasks, but empowering people to effectively complete the task.

But even before the handoff, delegation can be doomed for failure. Sometimes leaders try to delegate tasks they have no business delegating. A pastor, for instance, who has been hired to provide vision and strategy for the small-group ministry shouldn't delegate those tasks to focus on coaching a single leader through a tough time.

To avoid handing off the wrong tasks, we must decide those things we must do and those things that could be done better by someone else. That also requires taking a hard look at our strengths. For instance, perhaps you decide that one of the things you do best is train leaders. On the other hand, working within the church's tracking software to update group member information is mind-numbing. Or perhaps you find that you're happy providing structure for the ministry, but planning connection events is not your forte. Know what you alone must do and what could be done better by someone else, freeing you up to do more of those things you do best.

Another thing that can derail delegation before it gets started is choosing the wrong person to delegate to. If you're delegating that tracking software work, for instance, don't choose a person who isn't good with details. You'll both be unnecessarily frustrated. Think strategically about who you delegate to. Is the person gifted in this area? Is he or she respected in your ministry? Does he or she have the time and energy needed for the task?

Once you have the right task and the right person, you'll need to take some steps to hand off the task properly and set up the person for success.

1. Decide how much oversight is needed.
Gavin Adams, Lead Pastor of Woodstock City Church, a campus of North Point, recently shared four levels of delegation on the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. Each level of delegation—investigation, informed progress, informed results, and ownership—requires a different level of oversight. His point is that various jobs require various levels of oversight. For instance, asking someone to post about small groups on the church's social media or to plan the food for your next training event may need very little oversight. On the other hand, coaches need a little more, and people planning the next group campaign may need a lot.

Another point Adams makes with these four levels of delegation is that we can actually bring people through a process, delegating more to them with less oversight over time. Adams suggests starting people at the level of investigation, asking them to research and gather information to help solve a problem. This will help you measure their capability and interest before you delegate more important tasks. So for instance, you may ask someone to investigate Alpha to learn how it might fit into your context. This will help you gauge whether they're the person who you may later ask to lead the Alpha initiative at your church.

The second level, informed progress, asks the leader to own the task yet report regularly to you for updates on the progress. One example would be how you work with new coaches. They should own their role but also let you know regularly how things are going and how you can help them be successful.

The third level, informed results, asks leaders simply to inform you when the task is completed. In other words, they're given full authority to complete the task as they see fit. Rather than check in along the way, you'll check in with this person at the end to debrief the experience. For someone who has proven themselves with the previous levels of delegation, this allows a great next step. You might, for example, delegate the planning of a leader appreciation event to a capable coach in this way.

The fourth level is ownership, and requires the leader to fully own the task without any oversight. Essentially, the leader comes to you only if there is a real need or issue. In small-group ministry, this might be delegating to the person who leads Alpha, or it might be handing off all tasks related to the tracking software. The idea here is that the person is fully capable of the task and can be trusted to complete it.

Understanding the level of oversight needed for the person and the task is key before moving on to the next step of effective delegation.

2. Clearly explain the task and expectations. That means explaining exactly what needs to be done (order pizza for the leader training event), what they need to know to be successful (check in three days before for how much to order, and order a gluten-free pizza for Tim), and when it needs to be done (next Saturday at 10 am). There's no need to bog down people with unnecessary details, but you do need to give them the information they need for success—including who they can go to for help (coaches). Be clear on expectations, too, like who's paying for the pizzas and who needs the receipt from the purchase.

The difficulty with this step is finding the balance between not telling enough, which leaves the person feeling unprepared, and telling so much that your direction feels like micromanagement. It can be a hard balance to strike. One thing that has helped me is separating out must-know information from my personal preferences. For instance, someone who is contacting people for me needs to know the correct contact information, but he or she doesn't need to know that I usually call people between 5 pm and 7 pm. Instead, I can empower the person to figure out the best way to reach the people on my list, finding what works best for him or her.

Another way to handle this is to explain the must-know information, and then ask, "What else do you need to know?" Then follow up at some point during the project to ask again: "Do you have any questions for me?"

3. Provide the needed tools. I've had multiple negative experiences with delegation, and this is often the reason. Without the proper tools, we set up people for failure. Sometimes providing the right tools simply means handing over a book, website link, or contact information for someone who can help. Other times we need to pass off files, e-mails, or other background information. Pass it off and let the person have everything he or she needs. Don't be a bottleneck that requires the person to keep coming to you for help.

Another tool often overlooked is adequate time. Once a pastor delegated the planning and executing of a small-group event and gave me five days to complete it. There's no way around it—that was simply not enough time. When delegating, we must assess the time needed for the task. Ordering pizzas probably needs a few days' notice. Putting together a ministry event probably needs more than that. Preparing notes for a meeting may need a few days, while preparing a training talk needs a few weeks. Set up people for success by providing the amount of time that allows them to do the job well.

4. Transfer responsibility and authority. Years ago, I offered to help with an event at our church. I was given the task of decorating the room we'd be using. The woman leading the event told me to come up with an idea and "run with it." I was excited, and I started scanning the craft stores for deals. After I bought the supplies, I put together a few of the decorations and brought them to our next meeting. With a week left before the event, I was excited to unveil the decorations to the rest of the team. But the woman leading the event disapproved and told me to change the decorations. I was stunned. I'd already spent money on the supplies, and with only a week left, I knew I didn't have time to start over. She'd given me the task, but she hadn't given me the authority to do what needed to be done—make a decision on the decorations.

We do this so often in the church. We ask people to lead a small group, but then we don't allow them to make decisions about how to best disciple their group members. Or we ask someone to handle our administrative tasks but don't give them a church e-mail address to respond on our behalf. We let a coach choose the curriculum they use to develop leaders, and then critique it every step of the way. When we delegate, we give our support. We give our authority to them so they can complete the task. We stand by their decisions.

Once you've delegated a task, let the person have the authority to do what needs to be done. Then debrief afterward. If it didn't go as you'd hoped, talk through it. Here's the truth: when delegation goes wrong, it's usually on the delegating side. We haven't been clear about our expectations or provided what was needed. Rather than point fingers, celebrate what did go well, own your mistakes, and come up with a solution to make it better together.

As a ministry point person, it's easy to feel overwhelmed with the amount you need to do, but there's no need to do it alone. In fact, I'd say you should intentionally share the load. Delegating will lighten your load definitely, but more importantly, it's a matter of discipleship. Delegating tasks empowers capable and talented leaders in your ministry to develop their skills and serve and meaningful ways. Do the work of delegating effectively and your ministry—and the people within it—will be stronger.

—Amy Jackson is managing editor of SmallGroups.com.

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