1. Is taking the work back ever the right answer?
Sometimes, yes! If the project is really in trouble—and failure will have a serious impact—you should intervene. Here are some questions to help you make the determination and learn from the experience:
- What’s the risk? Can our org/team handle or recover if we don’t get a 10/10 on the project?
- Might failure actually help my staff/team grow in the long term?
- Is there a way to intervene without taking the project back (e.g., a light lift approach—like working on it side-by-side to build skills, or more structured feedback or instructions)?
- If I do take it back, how can I build skill-building into the debrief so it doesn’t happen again?
- What is my role in the breakdown and how can I grow from it?
2. Are there any equity implications with the delegation boomerang that I should keep in mind?
Consider this: Do you tend to take the work back more often with some staff than others? Are there patterns to this—along lines of race, gender, or other markers of identity? If yes, think about why that might be. Is it a lack of trust? Is it a hesitation to provide feedback and coaching? Or, are you more likely to want to “help out” some staff over others?
The delegation boomerang is a choice point—an opportunity for you to take another path that advances equity and inclusion within your sphere of control.
3. I know taking the work back is bad, but it’s my default. How do I prevent myself from acting on some very deep-seated instincts?
Get curious about what drives your delegation boomerang impulse, and then consider an alternative way of thinking about it:
If you miss getting to do the work your staff does…
- Remember that we all love doing things we’re good at. The more you lean into developing your management (and other new) skills, the more quickly you’ll have those same feelings of success with your new job responsibilities.
If supporting and helping out feels good….
- Rethink what it means to “help.” Your team might love a quick fix, but thinking back on their work in the future, they’ll really remember the managers who invested in their ability to grow and master the work.
If you hate seeing people struggle…
- Remember that falling down, frustration, and failure are all parts of growth. Rather than reading your team’s struggles as pain, recognize that they are in the learning zone—and cheer them on.
If you love solving problems…
- Recognize that you don’t have to stop problem-solving—you have to stop being the first person to come up with solutions. Put your staff in the problem-solving driver’s seat—ask them to come up with multiple possible solutions to the challenge—and back them up with your assessment of the most strategic approach, and any additional ideas you have.
If you don’t have time to let somebody learn as they go…
- Note that it may be easier and faster at this moment to do the work yourself, but in the long term, their ability to do the work saves you significant time and energy! If you still find yourself regularly hesitant to delegate to someone who really should be able to do the work, then you’re probably facing a performance problem, not a delegation problem. (And if that’s the case, the section on addressing performance problems in our Tools Library might help.)
If you end up doing the work because “it’s really no one’s job…”
- Think about what falls between the cracks most often. Rather than letting things fall into “other duties as assigned,” get explicit about the work and the skills or mindsets needed to handle it. Then add it to role expectations—whether yours or theirs—or consider a rotating schedule. For example, prepping team meeting agendas could rotate to each member of the team, and proofreading grants before they go out might need to be assigned more clearly.
If your organization is growing but you just don’t have X or Z role in place yet…
- Start thinking about what bundles of work you shouldn’t be doing (but are), and start building a list of the must-haves for the role and capacity for that role, including keeping an eye out for potential candidates.