Delegating Decision Making in the Workplace


Delegation of decision making is a gradual process for both the manager and the employee. A manager and an employee will both require time to "feel" each other out in this and be comfortable. The skills to delegate decision making are not easily acquired by the manager, or by the employee.

The manager has to recognize how employees are currently being involved in decision making. In other words, the starting point. Next, he must look at his team and evaluate his confidence in them to make decisions and what skills might need to be developed. Not only are their prerequisite skills needed, it is important to look at the personal attributes or characteristics of your staff. Knowledge, experience, desire to take on more responsibility, and the ability to work within general boundaries, as opposed to specific assignments.

Both the manager and the employee will have to exercise good communication skills, trust, and understanding.

Focus Points:

1. A manager who delegates decision making effectively must step into it gradually.

A manager who makes all, or most, of the decisions in his department by himself, will need time to not only change his own habits, but to develop appropriate skills in his staff. By examining the various kinds of decision-making processes, you will find you can put them on a continuum.

On the far left of the line, you might put the label "order." In other words, the boss tells everyone what to do and they do it. He would get no input from his team, maybe not even give them much consideration. When you simply give orders, you have one eye on the clock and the other on the end of production, cracking the whip to make accomplishments in a certain amount of time. There is little value put on those who are actually involved in the production, and even less on what they think.

On the far right of the continuum, a label called "leveled" might be used. On this end, the manager treats his employees with the same respect and trust he would treat another manager. This can happen when both the manager and the employee develop an interactive relationship that is equally empowering. Ego, control, and closed minds are left at the door or this company.

Between the two labels "order" and "leveling," could be "tell and sell," then "listen and direct," with "shared involvement" right before "leveling." Orders is fairly well understood without explanation. "Tell and sell" happens when the boss tells the employees what to do, but offers why he makes his decisions, in order to get their buy-in. "Listen and direct" might make some staff feel they are part of the decision making, and in some ways they are, but barely. The boss calls her team together, or an employee into her office and asks their thoughts, then listens to what the employee has to say. However, the boss will then dismiss the employee or team and make the decision alone.

Shared involvement brings the manager close to delegating complete decision making. In shared involvement, the employees are asked what they might do, even asked to show the boss their ideas. The boss listens and expresses her opinion and then suggests the way to proceed, giving the employee more input, which is good and makes the team member feel more valued, but the ultimate direction is pushed by the boss. Everyone knows exactly what the boss is thinking. The decision is heavily influenced by the boss.

In totally leveled decision making, the boss will turn the issue or project or problem over to his team or employees to figure out how to solve. He gives them the responsibility of exploration in order to make a good decision. The manager might be consulted but he is happy to let them go their own way with it. It is easy so see how delegation of decision making is usually done in steps. It is difficult for many people to let go of all control of others, especially a manager in a company who is over a large staff and will still be responsible for their people.

2. A manager who delegates the authority for making decisions to his staff must know and understand himself.

If a manager is committed to delegate decision making, he needs to be willing to take an honest look at himself and get a good understanding of his own basic needs. Having another manager work with him to explore his management style, habits, and personal beliefs is a good place to begin. Knowing why you prefer to give orders, listen, and keep the final decision making to yourself is important. Knowing how to let go of the power, to trust others, and to have the confidence in the staff will lay the foundation for building this kind of delegation.

A manager should lead her group toward increased skills, confidence, and practice trusting with small things first. As the manager, you must open yourself to knowing your employees on a more personal level, allowing them to start with less important decisions and, together, discuss the need to see failure as learning. Only then you will begin to empower your staff and build your own confidence in them. Make it okay to fail, by giving another project to that team that has failed right away. Let your team know that risk will sometimes result in failure. This is the best way to communicate to them that failure is part of the process and you understand that.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Delegation Skills course?

No one achieves much without some failure. This is a great training topic. The study of any and every famous or important person in life has been a failure along the line and probably more than once or twice. For your employees to know that you see failure as the road to success will lead you to more success in your delegation, as a whole. A good manager has to be able to laugh at himself, share his worst moments, and become real to his team.

When a manager is willing to face his own imperfections, it is easier to accept them in others. So managers, take a hard long look in a mirror.

3. A manager who delegates the authority for making decisions to her staff must know and understand them on a personal level.

Who are these people who work for you, day in and day out? That is a question you must answer. Knowing the answer will help you build their confidence in themselves right along with your confidence in them. You will find a level of trust with them. You will find out their ideas have credibility, too.

Knowing your staff allows you to travel their pathways of thinking, working, and belief. Knowing what your people value is insight into who they are. Seeing the workplace through their eyes, listening to it through their ears and experiencing it with them will lead you to a place where you can level the playing field. When this happens, not only will your team be empowered, but they will demonstrate increased motivation, communication, and production.

You will be freed to do other types of work. If you could spend your time training, monitoring, and building your employees to the skills of the management level, there is nothing you won't accomplish together.

4. A manager who delegates decision making will eventually find their people are more responsible, content, motivated, and effective.

Quality and quantity of production responds well to an area of a company in which the management is able to move into the confidence of shared decision making with their employees. A team that is allowed to move, mentally process ideas, as well as act on those ideas independent of a boss, are more likely to gain the experience needed to grow a depth of skills. The team will demonstrate a higher work ethic and responsibility to succeed, because it is really their work and follows their own decisions. Instead of working with puppets, you will cut the strings and allow your people to become intelligent human beings.

People who work in any company that delegates some authority, decision making, is willing to risk the workers to take the lead in what they do, will be more content, motivated, responsible and effective. Management in this same company will find more contentment, will be able to be more productive, actually spend more time in the management of the people instead of controlling them, and will find a great reduction of stress.

The benefits of delegation of decision making, after it has become an established practice will far outweigh any negative aspects.


In the Box Company, the management was trained in the aspects of delegation of decision making. During the training, they were each asked to examine their own ability and skill to let go of power in order to move the company in a more effective direction. The heads of the company wanted to take the management toward a broader approach with more guidance of projects, as opposed to the "hands on" approach of the past.

In the training, the managers were told to draw up a plan that would increase worker production in his area of the company by rethinking the way the employees were physically placed. However, they had to do this to another area that was managed by someone else. They were told they could choose who would plan their area. Managers chose people they knew, people they trusted, and managers who'd been around for a while and had some experience. They were allowed to observe, as the manager of another area planned his space, without any input. After that, the managers discussed their feelings of letting go, of their ability to accept what someone else did to his own area, and how their ideas were similar and different. They learned that the ideas of another were usually just as good as their own, and the fear of letting go was unfounded.

Next, each manager had to draw the name of another from a hat. That person got to choose what the other would eat from the buffet provided. No word could be exchanged. Because the managers were serving other managers they did not know well, the choices were difficult to make for most. The one thing most managers did, was to overcompensate and get something of everything, which demonstrated the need to go over and above when you know what you are doing affects a co-worker.

A third activity involved each manager in making a list of any decisions he had made during the last month that he thought he could not hand over to a staff. Then he had to list the reasons he could not. Usually the reasons consisted of an inability of trust or lack of experience in that area. At that point the managers came together and made a list of training for employees that could instill more trust by the management.

The third activity required each manager to create a list of his teams and write everything he knew about them that was not wholly personal. The managers were required to go back to their teams and get to know them, let them get to know him, and then report back in a month. This company was stepping up the delegation of decision making, but starting with management, their own abilities, characteristics, and biases.

Set up your physical or computerized notebook:

As a manager, it is important for you to know how well you might be able to delegate decision making. In your notebook, make a set of tasks, starting with something that is easily released up to something that you don't think you can release to an employee.

Beside each of the items, write down what it would take for you to give that decision over to each of your employees. This will give you some ideas about who you trust, who you see as having skills, confidence, and the desire for such responsibility -- and how far you and your team have to go to make this delegation of decision making work well.

Once you have this in hand, it is your responsibility to communicate exactly what you are doing. Your staff needs to know that you have this goal, and the activities or changes you present to them are for the purpose of the team being able to level the decision making in your area. It is important for them to know that you understand you must have a deep level of trust for each of them, a level of confidence in them, and they must find the same in you.


1. Consider a decision you could easily give to any employee.

2. Consider your own decision-making habits and place yourself on the continuum.

3. Consider what the most difficult decision would be that you might have to give up.

4. Consider times when you felt you had no control, and how it felt.

If you are unsure of these considerations, go back and review the material.