“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.” ~African Proverb

Here’s a typical conversation I have with my clients who struggle to delegate – particularly when they’ve taken on a new, more involved role and they need others to step up to fill the resulting void.

“What can I say? She’s dropped the ball. More than that, she’s thrown it back in my lap. She said she’d do it – she agreed on her own to do it. Now she’s acting like she’s too busy and surely, I can squeeze it in. What should I do?”

“What would you like to say?” I ask.

“You agreed to do this. I have other tasks on my plate; I can’t pick it up. [We the team] need you to follow through. Can we count on you?”

Seems pretty straight forward. But easy? Think about it.

My frustrated client has a lot here to deal with.  To get to the ideal scenario, where he’s comfortable with responding how he’d like, he must be willing and able to bear whatever anxiety goes along with confronting the conflict. He must give feedback without judgment or condemnation. He must stay neutral. All of this, in the face of the dueling emotions of not expressing his needs and fear that the other person will be hurt if he does.

This may sound familiar.

As your responsibilities increase you quickly realize you can’t do it all. There just aren’t enough hours in the day or enough of you to go around. At first you find ways to manage the time you do have more carefully. Despite all the time management techniques you employ, you find you still can’t do it all.

The curse of being good at what you do is that you are rewarded with doing more. And more. And more. In an ideal world, a job promotion comes with praise and a team of able-bodied others assigned to do for you and at your request.  In an ideal world, you’ll inherit or recruit others with skills, time and the right work ethic to whom you can delegate many of the things you used to do and who will report back with the results.

In the real work, this is not always the case.

Formal position power does not come with guarantees. Delegation is an art in and of itself. Effective “command and control” even in the military and in hierarchical cultures that recognize power, status and hierarchy depend on a legacy of relationship rules, values, norms and beliefs.

What if you don’t have or feel you have the formal authority? What if the team or board you work with is comprised of your peers?

That’s when “delegation” becomes “collaboration.” In the absence of position power or formal authority you must depend on collaboration.

Simply put, collaboration means working together to get things done. Simple to define, an art to execute.

Peer collaboration relies on five key values and the behaviors that bring them alive:

  1. Focus on collective results
  2. Commitment to decisions
  3. Exercising accountability
  4. Trust
  5. Engaging in constructive conflict

In the example above, my frustrated client is called on not only to engage in constructive conflict but also exercise accountability.

What does exercising accountability look like? People exercise accountability effectively when they set clear standards for themselves and others and make those standards explicit. They do what they commit to and are accountable for and they don’t make excuses. But it also means that when team members fail to meet those standards, the person with the biggest stakes must address it and call attention to any gradual weakening or disregard for the standards.

This is all tough stuff, collaboration.

So yes, what can she say to her peer? “You agreed to do this. I have other tasks on my plate too. So no, I can’t just ‘squeeze it in’. [We the team] need you to follow through. Can we count on you? Yes? No? Counter offer?” And then listen, take in feedback, and go back in for another round of developing trust.