How to Use Delegative Leadership To Empower Team Success

Updated: 05 Jul, 2018 | Emily Roner

Conventional wisdom says that the more autonomy employees have, the more engaged, happy, and motivated they are. However, if granted without proper planning, lack of structure can be a double-edged sword that degrades team morale and effectiveness.

What is a Delegative Leadership Style?

Employee autonomy is the key to the delegative leadership style, and yet studies often show it is ineffective. The issue is that, while giving employees complete autonomy is great in theory, managers still hold employees accountable for the results they want - regardless of whether or not their teams understand the vision and are equipped to deliver.

For many employees, this leads to role conflict, role ambiguity, and other forms of workplace stress that have a lasting negative impact.

READ MORE: Are you Delegating Work to Your Full Potential?

If planned intentionally, giving your team the ability to use their talents freely enables you to maximize their productivity and engagement. The key is to provide employees with the structure and vision they need to remain goal-oriented without managing how they do their work.

Here’s how:

People shaking their hands over a table after one delegated a task to the other

1) First, Be Sure Your Team is Ready for Delegative Leadership

One of the top reasons delegative leaders fail is that they don’t first ensure their employees have the skills and the tools to complete their projects without close guidance. Before giving your employees free rein, do a survey -informal or formal - that tests to see if they have all the skills they need. If they lack anything critical, either add someone to the team who fills in the gap or train current key staff before launching the project.

But, don’t make this daunting for yourself: The training can be as simple as walking your team through a new process, instructing your team to take online courses, or creating videos of someone doing a task while sharing their thoughts aloud.

If you train your team, clearly explain how you will hold them accountable for implementing what you teach. Research shows that employees retain more information from training when they understand how they are expected to use it.

Remember, the worst thing you can do as a delegative leader is assign projects to teams that are ill-equipped to take them on.

Read more: Delegating Tasks: How Do I Know If I Should Delegate A Task Or Not?

2) Set Crystal Clear Objectives

Gallup found that giving employees clear expectations keeps them engaged. Without a clear sense of direction, employees often work somewhat aimlessly on a variety of tasks and get frustrated because they don’t know if what they’re doing is valuable. 

At the start of projects, give your team a scope of work that clearly defines all of the deliverables they are expected to submit and when. To increase engagement, discuss the deliverables with your higher-ranked employees to incorporate their opinions about the project before finalizing expectations.

As a delegative leader, you shouldn’t outline how you want them to complete the work. Instead, make sure they understand your goals then, give your team the autonomy to assign the work among themselves.

3) Remind Your Employees That You are Proud of Them

One of the biggest complaints about the delegative leadership style is that individuals feel disconnected from their leaders. Though most talented individuals thrive when given autonomy, they still need positive feedback to feel valued and know they are on the right track. 

According to Harvard Business Review contributors Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer, making progress on meaningful projects is one of the most powerful drivers of employee motivation.

If planned intentionally, giving your team the ability to use their talents freely enables you to maximize their productivity and engagement. The key is to provide employees with the structure and vision they need to remain goal-oriented without managing how they do their work. 

Even if you have a laissez-faire leadership approach and prefer to let your teamwork without interference, checking in on your team periodically is a simple way to acknowledge their progress and show you care.

Planning team meetings when deliverables are due is a great way to remind your team that you’re proud of them for the contributions they’ve made so far and to potentially incentivize them to continue their momentum towards the end goal.

4) Pivot Strategies, Not Processes

Following significant milestones, meet with your team to discuss if their results are in alignment with your project’s objectives. If not, this is the time to step in, see where they are struggling, and help them develop more effective solutions.

As a delegative leader, your role in these meetings isn’t to shut down people’s ideas or tell them how to do their work. Instead, you should provide critical feedback about how they should pivot. This will help them produce the agreed-upon outcome whether that’s a new product design, advertising campaign, investor report, or whatever else your team is working on.

After all, if you’ve given your team substantial time and resources to invest in a project, you can’t afford to wait until the end to realize the deliverables your team created fail to meet the project’s goals.

5) Host a Post-Mortem With Your Team

As a delegative leader, you are focused outcomes and have little involvement in your team’s day-to-day activities. Hosting a post-mortem gives you an opportunity to gain insights about how to better support them.

A post-mortem is a meeting at the end of the project where everyone comes together to discuss the successes and failures of a project.  It is an open meeting where attendees share their opinions about the quality of work, how the team cooperated and anything else relevant to the project.

Use this as a time to grow as a team. Inevitably, a lot of mistakes were made, and tensions arose. Post-mortems create a space where groups can unpack their experiences working together to learn how to be more cooperative and productive moving forward.

Listen carefully to the concerns people share and follow-up with solutions. Also, pay close attention to the actions and resources that enabled the team to achieve their greatest successes. From those comments, you can gain insights into what you need to support your team moving forward. By the end, you and your team will have a deeper understanding of how to effectively collaborate.

Remember, as a delegative leader, your job is to provide the support your team needs to thrive, not tell them how to do it. By following the tips in this article, you can give your team the autonomy they need to utilize their creativity without interference while keeping them motivated and on-track to achieve your goals. 

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