You already know the drill. A new and important project arises and you want to delegate it to one or more staff members. The problem is that you know that the entire team is already swamped. If you go ahead and dump it on them anyway, in the hopes that they’ll find a way to fit it all in, that’s a recipe for a frustrated and demoralized staff. But the fact is that new work comes up that’s legitimately important and must be done. Here are a few tips.
1. Re-prioritize – Just because someone is busy doesn’t mean you can’t delegate to them. But it does mean that you probably need to help them re-prioritize the rest of their work. People’s time doesn’t magically expand to fit an ever-increasing workload, so be realistic about the fact that other items will need to be pushed back. Are there other tasks that can be assigned out to someone else, have their due dates adjusted, or be removed from their plate altogether? If the person’s plate is already full when the new project arrives, you’re going to have to help them rearrange other work.
2. Be Specific – Tell your team explicitly that you’re aware that they’re swamped. People are far more likely to get burned out and frustrated when their manager seems to have no awareness of their workload, so let them know that you do.
3. Flexibility – If possible, consider scheduling the new project as a “when time is available” project. Be explicit that it doesn’t need to be done until their workload is at a more manageable level. You must use your judgment as to how much flexibility you can allow your team.
4. Reassess – If your team is really overloaded and plates are full, this might be a time to step back and reassess the workload altogether. Teams must have breathing room in their schedules, so that they can take a sick day, go on vacation, have time to think about the bigger picture and not constantly putting out fires. This quickly leads to “burn out” and high turnover.
5. Skills – If the team is frequently too busy to take on new work but you don’t believe that it is solely caused by the workload, there may be another issue. Determine if the team is overwhelmed because their skills or work habits need to be upgraded. Another potential is goal and performance alignment. In other words, what does “good enough” looks like? Regardless of the possible explanations, this is a sign that you need to do an analysis of job descriptions, goal setting and training to ensure that your organization is ready to move forward.
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