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Task vs Delegate

TLDR; Delegate to teams; task within them.

I find that people often use the terms task and delegate interchangeably. This can lead to team failure both from inside and outside the team. I now try to understand which term should be used to ensure we are not damaging the team.

Let's Get Pedantic

To start off let us just look at the definitions.
Task (verb): Assign a piece of work to.
Delegate (verb): Entrust ... to another person, typically one who is less senior than oneself.
Ok lets go one more level ...
Assign (verb): Allocate
Entrust (verb): Assign the responsibility for doing something to (someone)
This gets to the heart of it for me. One tasks work; one delegates ownership. Ok, Erik thanks for making me read a dictionary, but why should I care?

Tasking, Delegating, and Teams

When we see high functioning teams, whether that is a SEAL Team, an executive team, a sports team, or a project team, responsibility is shared. The agile alliance sums it up well with:
The notion of team entails shared accountability: good or bad, the outcomes should be attributed to the entire team rather than to any individual.
So one cannot delegate inside of the team. We can allocate parts of the work to different members of the team but we all own its success.
When there is delegation inside of a team it breaks the collective accountability and starts finger-pointing, and that is ... bad.
On the flip side if you ask a team to do something without ownership then the team is not complete. Back to the Agile Alliance:
The team is expected to possess all of the necessary competencies, whether technical (programming, designing, testing) or business (domain knowledge, decision making ability).
(emphasis added) Agile Alliance
If there is any huddle to the task, they cannot move forward, they have to stop and throw the issue over the fence to the tasker.


One can often hear the difference in the language used.
"We will fix it by Friday."
"We don't understand the problem we need to dive deeper. "
"That's out of the scope of our mission."
"We will figure that out."

These are all delegating phrases. With each one, the we in each phrase is accepting responsibility for completion or discussing what their responsibility is.

I will explore how to solve this?
Let me play with that for a while.
I can test that out.
I will work on that today.
If you have that done today I can start on this tomorrow.

These are all tasking phrases the I in each phrase is signaling, informing the team about their action, not committing, not accepting ownership but informing so the team can move forward as one.

Finishing up

In the end, this clarification between tasking work and delegating responsibility ensures our teams have things they can achieve and ensures they work together to achieve it. Delegate to teams; task within them.

One more thing

It is much easier to delegate problems, this is because it is a clear way to ensure you are giving ownership. Please solve this problem.

One can view delegating as a process of defining the problem that needs to be solved, where tasking is the process of building the solution.

©Erik Summerfield 2022 Last Updated: 3/22/2022