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The Key to Delegation: Task Relevant Maturity

Any effective leader understands that they can’t do it all on their own. You need to learn how to divvy out tasks to your team. However, it can be difficult to find the balance of what to delegate to who, as well as how much to delegate. I have struggled with this myself an emerging leader. I don’t want to be the dreaded micromanager, and yet I don’t want to just throw my team to the wolves. How can you find that balance? The answer: Task Relevant Maturity.

Team Projects Stink! Or They’re Awesome! Or They Stink…

The word “delegation” was a bit of a four-letter word for me in my youth. Team projects in school made me cringe – there was always someone on the team who wouldn’t pull their weight! There were even a handful of times when I was the only person on the team who did my work. It was extremely frustrating and caused me to default to working on my own. I simply didn’t trust that others would get things done.

However, as I began my career, I experienced a paradigm shift. My first team was full of powerhouses who was on top of their game and executed. If something needed to get done, they didn’t have to be told twice. I felt so lucky to have a team who knew what they were doing. I finally felt supported, and trusted my team.

As I progressed through my career, I fluctuated between these two sides of the coin. Either my project teams were on top of it or … needed some help. I began to think that the project leaders were at fault. We simply didn’t have the right guidance. I vowed that, whenever I finally had the opportunity to lead team projects in my career, that I would make sure to let my team do their thing, while at the same time providing them support wherever they needed. Easy enough, right?

The Dilemma

A few years ago, I was asked to step into a leadership role with a volunteer organization. I was already volunteering for this organization and was used to executing quite a bit of work on my own. Now I was expected to let all of that go and rely on my team. That on its own was hard enough! Especially when I already knew what I was doing and, wow, it would just take so much work to explain the nuances to someone else. Or multiple someone elses!

Slowly but surely, I began to learn how to let go. I developed the habit of empowering my team to work on their own projects and initiatives, and encouraged them to provide feedback to me as a leader and let them know that they could reach out to me with any questions. I thought things were going well, as I often heard “Everything’s fine” and “No questions here.”

After awhile, I began to notice that things weren’t getting done, even though my team was not reaching out for help or feedback. Oh no, I’m getting flashbacks of high school all over again! I began suspecting that, perhaps, my team wasn’t as comfortable working on these projects as I thought. There was simply a lot they didn’t know, or they didn’t know how to do. So I recognized my dilemma. I had either tried to do too much, or didn’t provide enough guidance. I knew I needed to strike a balance, but wasn’t sure how.

Enter Task Relevant Maturity

I vented my frustrations to my coach, who recommended this method: task relevant maturity. Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, coined this term in his book “High Output Management.” Grove says:

“How often you monitor should not be based on what you believe your subordinate can do in general, but on his experience with a specific task and his prior performance with it – his task relevant maturity

As the subordinate’s work improves over time, you should respond with a corresponding reduction in the intensity of the monitoring.”

Essentially, the more someone has done a task, they more comfortable they are going to be. (Duh.) Ergo, the less guidance they are going to need from management.

So, not rocket science in concept. However, where most leaders get tripped up is confusing someone’s overall competence level with their exposure to a certain task. Just because someone is good at Excel doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to be good at Word. Managers might feel that because someone is a strong employee, they don’t necessarily need to explain a new task assigned to them. Queue the “Let me know if you have any questions.”

Task Relevant Maturity in Action

A few weeks ago, I had to pair up with a new member on my team to conduct a training. I was not sure what she was familiar with and what she wasn’t. Instead of defaulting to a certain management style, I simply asked her how often she performed certain tasks and how comfortable she was doing them. If she had done them numerous times and felt good about it, I knew to let it go and move on. If not, I knew I needed to provide a bit more guidance and review her work to make sure it was done properly.

So Task Relevant Maturity goes beyond leaving the door open and allowing employees to ask if they need help. It encourages a proactive approach that identifies how effectively something gets done, while also building safety with your team. Task Relevant Maturity says that it’s OK to not know. But it also implies a level of employee responsibility where, at a certain point, they should be able to do something on their own. And do it successfully.

Splitting these tasks out individually with my coworker really struck a chord with me. It prompted me to assess how I handle my own Task Relevant Maturity. In the past, I often felt embarrassed asking for help because I was the “smart kid.” I could just figure it out on my own, right? Now, if I’m open about what I need help with vs what I’m comfortable with, I can show my team that they are allowed time and resources to learn new things as well.

Myranda Whitesides is a Performance Support Specialist for the Interior Business Center, the Department of Interior’s Shared Services Center. She conducts personnel and payroll systems training for over 50 federal agencies, as well as providing training in Diversity and Inclusion for her peers. Myranda also volunteers for the Mile High Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), working with the chapter to provide educational content for Human Resources professionals in the Denver Metro area. Myranda also enjoys singing, camping, and exploring local breweries and restaurants with her husband, Daniel.

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