The rubber ball trick – how to break your fear of delegating

Many managers and leaders find it difficult to delegate work to their direct reports. Many will admit that it is a trust issue more than anything else. They may even own up to being “a control freak”. It is also often true that team members want to be given more challenging work where the complexity and ownership and visibility are higher.

In the long run, not delegating will trip you up as you get busier and busier while your team members get more and more disillusioned about their stagnation.

Delegate the ownership with the task

In many instances, people delegate the task but not the ownership and so they still lie awake at night worrying about delivery of that task. This means you have only given away the work but not the accountability for a quality delivery. The person who is executing the task should also take accountability for it and they should be the one lying awake at night worrying about delivering to the right quality and timelines.

And this is exactly where things get tricky because many people see all tasks as fragile glass balls that will smash beyond repair if dropped. They are afraid to hand the ball over to someone because they don’t trust that the ball won’t be dropped.

Some balls are made of rubber

A useful trick here is to consider a task as either a glass ball or a rubber ball. A ‘rubber ball’ task can afford a mistake to be made because the ball will bounce. People will know that it dropped but nothing breaks and the mistake can be rectified. The person who dropped the rubber ball task learns a lesson that they are unlikely to repeat (Adults learn more from failure than from success). The person who handed them the rubber ball starts to trust the person more and more over time as fewer rubber balls get dropped.

Glass ball tasks definitely exist. A glass ball task is a task that cannot afford any mistakes (sub-par delivery / late delivery / misinterpreted expectations). Categorise your tasks into glass and rubber tasks and then start by delegating the rubber ones. In time you will build up sufficient trust in others to let them carry your glass ball tasks.

They will thank you for it.

By Robert Farndell

Pin It on Pinterest