Managing Teams

How to Delegate When Trust is Missing

Black business woman, standing and delegating to her team in a conference room

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

This is a common refrain for those of us who have been in the working world for a while. We’ve experienced a lot of disappointment. Sometimes, it can feel impossible to trust others, especially with critically important tasks.

So, instead of taking that risk, we simply accept the responsibility ourselves. Sure, we may end up overloaded and stressed out, but at least we know the job will get done—and done right.

Unfortunately, this approach has its limits. At a certain point, it’s no longer feasible. Managers who refuse to delegate create problems for themselves and their staff. Besides being labeled “control freaks,” such managers truly fail to leverage their resources. They put themselves in an impossible position while, at the same time, they deprive their team of important development opportunities. In the end, everyone suffers as a result.

So, if delegating is really such a critical activity for business leaders, how do you do it when trust is missing? What steps can managers take to become more comfortable with the idea? Here are four strategies to consider.

1. Stay Actively Involved

Delegating is not the same as dumping. Most managers would love to simply assign a task to a team member and forget about it. But that’s a surefire path to disappointment, even when working with the most trustworthy individuals.

Stay involved in the process by checking in frequently and verifying that the individual is on track. Make yourself available for questions and offer reminders. While this requires an investment of time on your end, it also ensures things don’t go off the rails or get stalled out.

Remember: You’re training the team member and working to build trust. Once you and your delegate become more comfortable with the process, you can take a more hands-off approach, which most employees will appreciate. However, even when trust is strong, you never want to be completely removed. Delegation is a partnership. As soon as you check out, it inspires others to do the same. 

Also read: The ROI of Delegation

2. Start Small

What you delegate is just as important as how you do it. Don’t start by delegating your most critical or complicated tasks. This puts a lot of pressure on the situation (for both you and the delegate), and there’s too much risk that things could go spectacularly wrong. Instead, start with small, simple and fairly inconsequential tasks or projects. This allows you both to test the waters in a way that is comfortable and relatively risk-free.

If things don’t go well, stop, evaluate what happened and try again using some revised techniques. If things do go well, continue the practice by delegating slightly more significant items. With each success, trust will grow. And with each failure, you’ll both get smarter. It’s a win-win.

3. Don’t Let One Misstep Break Trust Across the Board

Remember that your team is made up of humans and, sadly, they will disappoint you from time to time. Don’t turn one misstep into a sweeping generalization about what your team is or isn’t capable of. You may have a bad experience (or several) but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your team isn’t trustworthy.

People make mistakes for all kinds of reasons. Use every situation as an opportunity to expand the conversation. When problems arise, ask your team what happened. Look at your own part. Turn it into a lesson for everyone by articulating the things that must be done differently to be successful next time.

Also read: 5 Ways to Lead by Example

4. Adjust Your Expectations

Take some time to re-evaluate your expectations. When we delegate a task to others, we have to be willing to accept some compromise. Maybe they won’t do it the exact same way YOU would do it—but much of the time, that doesn’t even matter. Their way is different, but perfectly acceptable. Give them some leeway to make it their own.

This doesn’t mean you have to accept low quality work. Just make sure you’re not holding others to unnecessarily high expectations just because that’s what you’d expect of yourself.

Finally, recognize that, in order to build trust, you first have to give it. Yes, that’s a risky proposition, but the potential reward far outweighs the danger. Managers who can successfully delegate have a distinct advantage. They not only expand their own ability to get things done, they also build a more engaged team of contributors. Don’t fool yourself into believing that it’s not possible. The strategies above will ease you into it one small step at a time.

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker who believes work can be a nourishing part of the life experience. Her website, Eat Your Career, is devoted to this mission. Chrissy is currently a contributing career expert for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the book, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!), available on Amazon.