Effective Communication

How to Delegate Laterally

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Delegating responsibilities to employees often presents challenges for managers. As a manager, you are ultimately responsible for how a task turns out, but to delegate effectively you can’t micromanage. Your employees must own the project even if you own the responsibility. But, what about when you have to delegate laterally to a peer, rather than a subordinate? It’s one thing to delegate to someone you supervise on a daily basis, it’s quite another to delegate to a peer.

How to Delegate Laterally

This type of situation can present an entirely different set of potential landmines to avoid. What if the person you are trying to delegate to becomes frustrated? How do you hold them responsible for their work when they don’t report to you? What is the best way to approach a peer with a task?

Have Clear Direction

One of the most common scenarios when lateral delegation occurs is if you and several of your peers are assigned a project. In this situation, it’s essential to have a clear direction from upper management. What are the goals of the project? What is the timeline? What should be prioritized? And, who is the project lead? It’s tough to lead a project without the above information. If you are made the team lead on a project, and upper management clearly articulates this fact, it’s much easier when it comes time to delegate responsibilities to peers and make decisions. You need to be empowered, and your peers need to know that. In such a situation, don’t be afraid to ask upper management exactly what their expectations are. If it isn’t a situation where you are being handed a project from leadership, create your own business case laying out goals, expectations and benchmarks and proceed as though this outline were a directive.

man speaking to peers

Provide Context

If you are asking a peer to tackle a task, there’s a reason. Most people are willing to help or take on responsibilities if they understand the thinking behind it. Calling someone up out of the blue and telling them they need to do “X” without explaining the “why” can draw a negative reaction. Also, there might be reasons this peer can’t take on the task or is reluctant to do so. You have to understand their situation, too. If it’s a peer, you might only have a cursory understanding of their current work situation and projects. An open dialogue is key whenever delegating a task.

Effective Communication

When delegating to a peer, make sure you are communicating effectively. That means listening and not just talking. This person is a peer and a fellow manager with their own set of responsibilities. Taking the approach that you are going to tell them what to do and how to do it is a recipe for failure. Lateral delegation should be collaborative. The best work environments are teams with open communication. Your peer might have some suggestions on how to approach the project, or they might have some thoughts on how the work should be divided up. Perhaps there’s another team member who should be involved who you didn’t happen to think of, for example.

Establish Follow-ups

Unlike an employee you supervise, there might not be a built-in structure for you to check in with a peer regarding a project. Usually, with a subordinate, you have regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings where you can check on the status of a project or task. That might not be the case with a peer. Make sure to create that structure when you delegate the task. If you are a project lead, have regularly scheduled meetings with all pertinent parties. If it’s a one-off task, talk about the timeline and build backward to key dates to check-in with them. If you have a meeting regarding a project, always end it with takeaways. That way it is clear what everyone has to do by the next meeting. It’s a great way to help people stay clear on expectations, and it builds some structure as the project or task progresses.

women in leadershipBenefits of Lateral Delegation

Respect plays a significant role in lateral delegation. Respecting the views and responsibilities of the person you are assigning a task to, and being sensitive to their thoughts and needs, is an important factor. Lateral delegation can help build and strengthen teams, improve communication, and ensure that the best, most qualified people are tackling the right tasks. If you are a project lead, make sure to acknowledge the contributions of your team. Give credit where credit is due. Don’t take credit for someone else’s work or minimize contributions.

When a project or task gets completed well, it should benefit all of those who were involved. The success of the people you delegated to only helps make you look good, too. Remember, you were the person ultimately responsible for how the task got done – even if you delegated it to someone else.


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