Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Creating A Culture That Promotes Problem-Solving Delegation

In my coaching work, one common issue I see – especially in newly minted managers – is learning how to be successful in delegation. That’s not to say that these managers aren’t comfortable or are unwilling to delegate; most are more than happy to hand off assignments to their various team members. The problem is more of learning not to simply delegate tasks, but to delegate responsibility to those they lead.

One clear example of this form of delegation is problem-solving. Given how most managers are promoted to these positions based on their past accomplishments and level of expertise, it’s only natural that they feel responsible for trying to solve whatever problems their team encounters. Besides, it’s hard to turn people away who come to you asking for your help as this is a sign that they not only value and respect your insights, but that they trust your abilities to help resolve the situation.

Unfortunately, what this inevitably creates is a culture where, at best, your employees have an unwanted dependency on management to fix problems when they arise, or at worst, employees who basically clock-out when they arrive at work because the organization’s culture has removed any expectations on them to contribute their own problem-solving capabilities to the process.

Instead of being the go-to person for when your employees encounter an obstacle, why not be the leader who empowers them to solve it on their own? Why not give them the resources to solve the problem instead of allowing them to leave it on your plate? By implementing the four steps below, you can create a culture that not only promotes delegating more than just basic tasks, but one which encourages your employees to be active participants in your organization’s problem-solving process.

1. Be the first to show trust in the relationship
When leaders don’t hand out responsibility for solving issues to those they lead it’s often because they don’t want to risk losing control. And yet, if one thinks about it, empowering your employees to take charge for solving a problem doesn’t abdicate you of your role as their leader. Rather, it serves to free you from having to address one more detail that draws your focus away from the bigger issues that you should be addressing.

So how do we let go of this need to solve all the problems your employees come across? The first step is to trust them to solve it by giving them both the resources and latitude to tackle the problem. Granted, for someone whose used to putting out the fires, this can be a scary proposition. That is until you remember that you hired your employees to do this job. So why not let them do it?

2. Tell your employees to offer some possible solutions when they bring up problems
While trusting your employees to solve problems on their own is a major step forward, it’s also important that you follow this up with the clear message that if they bring problems to your attention, they also need to have at least one possible solution.

The reason for this is two-fold. First, it’s important to remember that like you, your employees are used to simply going to you with their problems and then expecting you to solve them. So, simply telling them that they now have to solve their problems on their own will feel like you’re just adding more work to their plate.

On the other hand, if you welcome their bringing problems to your attention – along with a possible solution for how to address it – they’ll not only have an easier time making this transition to solving problems without having to run it by you first, but both of you will begin to appreciate how capable they are of solving these issues on their own.

3. Give your employees space to do things differently and make mistakes along the way
We’ve all read about how we need to shift our perception of failure from being something to avoid to being an opportunity to gain a sense of clarity and understanding about what’s missing in our assumptions.

If your organization is to gain any benefits from failure, you need to show your employees that you trust their ability to figure out how to address the problems they’re facing. And if things do go wrong, rather than simply blaming them for ‘screwing up’, use it instead as a teachable moment where your employees can learn why the failure occurred and what you can collectively do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

4. Show your employees that they can manage just fine without you
In his book “Management Challenges for the 21st Century”, Peter Drucker wrote that “most of us, even those of us with modest endowments, will have to learn to manage ourselves. We will have to learn to develop ourselves. We will have to place ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution.”

As leaders, one of the most effective ways we can facilitate and encourage our employees to reach their full potential is by empowering them to not only see that they can come up with viable solutions to the problems they’re facing, but by showing them that we’ll provide them with the necessary resources and support to implement their ideas.

In so doing, leaders can instill a sense of confidence and assurance in their employees that they can manage things just fine, without having to call upon those in charge to figure out what they have to do next.

As organizations begin to shift from the rigid hierarchical management of the past to the more open and collaborative models going forward, the time is fast approaching where leaders can no longer presume that they alone are capable of addressing the problems their organization is facing. Instead, what’s required from today’s leadership is creating a culture where delegation goes beyond simply handing out tasks to providing opportunities for others to take the lead.

Such cultural changes will prove to be a critical factor to determining an organization’s long-term viability and chances for continued success in the years to come.

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12 Comments
  1. On February 28th, 2012 at 2:44 PM vikas said:

    Great post.Its very important to give employees space and create a confidence in them for solving the problems.

    In the process they can make mistakes but they will learn from it and in this way they can acquire the skills for problem solving.

  2. On February 28th, 2012 at 4:10 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Vikas; glad you enjoyed it.

  3. On February 29th, 2012 at 12:44 AM Kevin said:

    Hi Tanveer, you have shared an outstanding post. You points of participating in problem solving process is really need of every business, no matters whether it is big or small. Because I too believe that participation leads to innovation. Thanks a million for sharing. Keep posting such gratifying work.

  4. On February 29th, 2012 at 9:02 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Kevin; appreciate the kind words and I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this piece.

  5. On February 29th, 2012 at 8:07 AM Sylvie Dale said:

    I appreciate the information, which is sensible advice for any company regardless of size. Would like to hear more about what resources to make available so that employees are better able to solve problems.

  6. On February 29th, 2012 at 9:06 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Sylvie,

    The kind of resources you would offer to your employees is subjective to the problem they are facing. For example, in some cases, it might be assigning other people to help them address the problem or it could be that they need to be given time during the workday that is specifically marked for working on testing possible solutions (for those who would with time codes to identify which projects they spent time on during the pay period).

    As you can see, it's not a generalized, one-size-fits-all resource that leaders need to give their employees to allow them to fix these problems on their own. Rather, it's a matter of those in charge assesssing what needs their employees have, what resources they have at their disposal, and what they can provide to help their team correct this issue.

    I hope that helps to address your query, Sylvie.

  7. On March 1st, 2012 at 1:33 AM Jim Matorin said:

    Creating a learning environment key as you state in #3, but candidly in today’s turbulent economy I think people are still worried/insecure about making mistakes and losing their jobs. It takes great leadership and resources as you clearly outline in your post.

  8. On March 1st, 2012 at 9:46 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Jim,

    I concur that, despite the positive outlooks being pushed by economists, people and organizations are still wary about what lies ahead. And yet, allowing the sense of fear and apprehension to persist in your workplaces only serves to hold your employees back from taking initiatives to address gaps in what's being offered in your market, or pushing for new ways to do things as a possible means to improve processes.

    By holding control over such decisions, instead of delegating it out to your team who often have a better understanding of the various variables in play, organizations are only holding themselves back, rather than keeping their organization afloat while waiting for the sun to break through.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Jim.

  9. On March 3rd, 2012 at 5:24 PM Mads said:

    I have seen the problem as well – From my point of view when you delegate you ask for a result, let people figure out how to get their themself! Be happy to support, but let people develop by figuring out how to do it.

  10. On March 3rd, 2012 at 5:35 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Exactly, Mads. Sharing responsibility with those you lead not only allows your employees to develop and refine their skills, but it also takes some of the load off your plate so you can focus on some of the larger impact issues beyond the day-to-day ones.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this piece.

  11. On March 4th, 2012 at 3:28 PM Becca said:

    Very informative post … i think showing only the support you trust your team that they can handle problem – may help them boost their confidence to solve any problem.

  12. On March 4th, 2012 at 9:37 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Absolutely; it's hard not to feel confident when those around you demonstrate that they have trust in your abilities and are driven to help you succeed. Fostering such sentiments in your employees is the mark of real leadership.

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