Caylin White

No matter what you do for work, chances are you sometimes (or often) feel overwhelmed by what's on your plate. If you're finding that you have too much work to complete, lateral delegation can be a valuable tool.

Yet most of us have trouble delegating — especially among colleagues. We either wind up doing the work ourselves, or, if we do delegate, we realize the task is done poorly. Sometimes our co-workers simply refuse to help out.

Here's what you should do if you're totally swamped:

Decide What Tasks to Delegate

You should not delegate a task simply because you feel like it or you’re not in the mood to work. If you are unable to perform the assigned task, whether due to overwork to lack of skills, then delegating is necessary. For example, if work comes across your desk that involves programming, of which you have no knowledge, you might approach a colleague who has the skill to get the job done.

Identify the Right Person to Delegate to

Obviously you need to know your coworkers in order that you delegate properly. The task should be in their area of expertise so that it can be completed properly. The assignment might be slightly advanced for their level, but it may help develop their skill or competence in the specific field.

Apart from this, it is important to ensure the person will complete the job in its entirety on deadline. Avoid delegating tasks to colleagues who have shown a problem meeting due dates, unless you are able to schedule several interim dates as progress checks.


The way in which you communicate your request for help is very important, especially if you are not in a position of power, but rather asking a favor. Be polite and avoid any hint of making this a demand, since the person you’re asking can reject your request out of hand.

You should communicate your request as early as possible. This will allow the other person to weigh in and also to have ample time to perform the task.

Negotiation may also prove important in this conversation, as you may have to convince your co-worker to help you out. Let them know the reason you are turning to them, mentioning why you think they are the right person. It is important for them to know that there are potential benefits for them when they help you out. With this kind of approach, your request stands a better chance of being accepted.

Define the Task Clearly

Let the person know the specifics of the task. Always avoid over-explaining, which might offend the other person. And be very clear as to when the task is due.

Depending on the task, you may suggest a follow-up program in which you can check the progress of the task. Adopt using "we" in order to make the person feel that you are involved and interested. It is also important to assign all the relevant authority and tools that they will need to complete the task.

Let Go of the Task

You do not want to offend the other person by micromanaging a task you delegated to them. Lateral delegation should be accompanied by an element of trust between both parties. You trust your co-worker to execute the assignment and they trust that you believe they will accomplish it.

Letting go of the task also helps avoid reverse delegation. This is when the person you delegated the assignment to for one reason or the other decides to delegate the task back to you.

Appreciate and Publicly Acknowledge Your Colleague

Delegation should be an empowerment tool in the workplace. Throughout the follow-ups, make sure you constantly appreciate the work done. Once it is complete, acknowledge the person publicly. Don’t be afraid that co-workers will view you as weak because you were unable to do the job. When you acknowledge others, it paves the way for future collaboration and delegation.

Lateral delegation could go sideways for you, especially when asking a person you do not have authority over to help you out. But if you do it right, it’s an important tool to have in the workplace.



Caylin White is a writer at StockHax, a blog about personal investing that has trading news, tips and strategies for investors of every level.


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