7 IT delegation mistakes to avoid

CIOs are burdened with far too many responsibilities for a single individual to competently or productively handle on their own. That’s why it’s important to know how to efficiently delegate tasks to carefully selected team members.

Unfortunately, many CIOs are reluctant to assign any important task to a subordinate, believing that the job may not be handled properly or, worse, completely botched. Such concerns are often baseless, however, as it’s likely that the designated individual has already proved their ability to successfully handle critical workloads.

Still, mistakes can happen. If an important task is delegated to the wrong person, or for the wrong reason, a critical assignment may partially or completely fail. To ensure that every assigned task is fulfilled efficiently and painlessly, it’s important to avoid the following seven common delegation mistakes.

1. Handing tasks to unqualified or unprepared staff

One of biggest delegation pitfalls is handing a job to an individual who lacks the skills needed to successfully complete the work. Remember that the buck always stops with you, as the leader and delegator.

“It’s you who’s responsible for the outcome, and if the quality is subpar it will reflect badly on you and, at the worst, it could result in an outage or cyber incident,” says Jeff DeVerter, chief technology evangelist at cloud computing firm Rackspace Technology.

DeVerter says he’s a strong proponent of the apprentice system, which teams junior team members with senior experts who will ensure all assigned work is up to par. He adds that the approach also helps build teamwork while breaking down the wall separating recent staffers from seasoned pros.

2. Delegating beyond your direct supervision

IT leaders should avoid any delegation that cedes authority to a nonsupervised party. Delegation doesn’t exonerate responsibility.

“If a leader delegates to a party they have no direct authority over, it creates a scenario where there’s accountability without control,” explains Andrew Riem, vice president of IT at Euna Solutions, a cloud-based solutions provider for public sector organizations. “It can also be viewed as ‘getting someone else to do your job,’ which is detrimental to your credibility and respect as a leader.”

Delegation is a skill that demands confidence and trust on the part of any leader looking to become a mentor and not simply descend into micromanagement, Riem states.

3. Delegating only minor tasks

Assigning only lower-level tasks and responsibilities signals a lack of confidence and trust in team members. It also prevents your staff from facing real-world challenges and assuming progressively greater responsibilities.

“This can lead to employees seeking better alternatives to learn, grow, and advance their career elsewhere,” warns Ola Chowning, a partner with technology research and advisory firm ISG.

One of the most important skills IT pros need to master is relationship building, Chowning says. She observes that CIOs and their teams are often called on to work with groups of diverse stakeholders to arrive at decisions that all parties can support.

“This often requires both influencing and negotiating skills, with more than a touch of real emotional intelligence,” Chowning explains. “These are the leadership qualities we should look to enable in our subordinates to help them get ready for more senior leadership roles, and to take truly impactful work off of the CIO’s plate.”

4. Delegating oversight of mission-critical tasks

IT leaders should avoid delegating oversight of business-critical tasks, especially those prone to misuse or malfeasance, advises George Gerchow, CSO and senior vice president of IT at Sumo Logic, a cloud-based machine data analytics company. As an example, Gerchow points to asset ordering and inventory management,

Misuse can arise when an IT leader isn’t directly involved in the asset inventory and management program, and can lead to hardware waste, and even potential insider theft, Gerchow warns. “If asset management doesn’t have proper oversight, it can also potentially lead to sensitive data exposure, since critical data wiping steps may be missed.”

Gerchow recommends deploying an approval system for onboarding and offboarding IT assets. “Have a balance of IT and InfoSec audits and approvals.”

5. Providing cryptic instructions

Failing to provide clear, concise instructions when assigning a task can lead to frustration and failure. It’s not uncommon for an IT leader, swamped with multiple projects, to hastily delegate a task without clearly outlining the desired outcome or providing specific objectives and deadlines, says Richard Baker, CTO of managed solutions provider TWC IT Solutions.

A lack of clarity can lead to grave consequences. “Unclear instructions create a breeding ground for misunderstandings and wasted resources,” Baker explains. In such situations, team members will waste precious time attempting to decipher what’s expected of them, only to discover they’ve veered off course. “The frustration and demotivation that ensue can be detrimental to the team’s cohesion and individual morale,” he notes. Moreover, the absence of clear instructions opens the door to errors or subpar results, ultimately undermining team productivity and quality output.

When delegating tasks, IT leaders should supply team members with detailed, well-defined instructions. “By clearly communicating the desired outcome, specific objectives, deadlines, and other relevant information related to the task or project, leaders can set their team up for success,” Baker says. “Furthermore, establishing an open channel of communication, where team members can seek clarification or ask questions, ensures that everyone is on the same page and understands their responsibilities.”

Clear instructions give employees a solid framework in which they can operate and make informed decisions. “It helps them understand expectations, align their efforts accordingly, and work more efficiently towards the desired outcomes,” Baker explains. The likelihood of misunderstandings or errors is greatly reduced when team members have a comprehensive understanding of what’s required of them. “Moreover, clear instructions foster a positive and supportive work environment, boosting morale and motivation among team members, which ultimately leads to greater collaboration and success.”

Baker adds that by setting clear expectations, maintaining open communication channels, and empowering team members, IT leaders can effectively delegate tasks and projects while cultivating a collaborative and thriving work environment.

6. Partial task delegation

A major delegation mistake is delegating tasks while continuing to micromanage, failing to give team members the authority and autonomy necessary to fully execute their work.

Once a task has been delegated, meddling is never a good idea, says Jesse Stockall, chief architect at software developer Snow Software. “When a leader is still heavily involved in a task, it defeats the purpose of delegating,” he notes. “The person who receives the task will still be doing most of the work, but with heavy oversight they will not get a chance to develop and grow.”

Confident leaders provide the guardrails and checkpoints necessary to avoid possible catastrophic failures, while providing a degree of autonomy to the individual handling the assignment. The guardrails’ width can be adjusted in accordance with the individual’s experience and success track record, Stockall says.

Stockall explains that the goal should be to empower team members to take ownership of their work and accept accountability, no matter the outcome. “This, in-turn, frees leadership to focus on other activities,” he explains.

7. Refusing to delegate

Perhaps the biggest delegation mistake is never delegating. “This can lead to burnout, inefficiency, and missed opportunities,” warns Brenton Thomas, founder of digital marketing agency Twibi. Additionally, when an IT leader steadfastly refuses to delegate, they may not have time to focus on more important tasks, which can lead to persistent inefficiency. “They also miss out on the opportunity to develop their team members’ skills and abilities,” he adds.

The solution is delegating tasks intelligently and effectively. “This means giving team members the right tasks, providing them with the necessary resources, and setting clear expectations,” Thomas says. “It also means being willing to let go of control and trust that your team members can do the job.”

IT Leadership, Staff Management