If you’ve seen an Olympic relay race, you’re familiar with this concept. Four runners work together to win a race by running one segment each. Each runner carries a white plastic baton as they run, and must pass it off to the next in line before he or she can take off.
As I learned in high school gym class, this was easier said than done. I remember running full speed to the end of my 440 in the mile relay, and there was a specific zone on the track where I was allowed to make the handoff. The next runner started increasing speed as I approached, then turned forward and offered his hand backwards to receive the baton.
My job was to slap it into his hand and hold on until I felt a firm tug letting me know that he really had it. But I let go too soon, and the baton dropped to the track. It bounced around as he tried to pick it up, and the setback ruined our chances of winning.
I’ve found that delegation works the same way. When you give a task to someone, it makes a big difference in how you hand it off. There should be a clear objective (where is the finish line?); a good 2-way discussion about what needs to be done (2 hands holding the baton); and a firm tug when the delegated says “I got it.”
Without taking a little time on these critical steps, you risk dropping the baton and setting your team back on the project. You can’t just throw it 10 yards forward in the air because you’re tired or impatient… and hope it gets caught.
Look at the business processes in your organization. Where are the batons usually getting dropped? Fixing the problem may require some adjustments in tracking or project management software. More importantly, it may require an attitude adjustment… instilling the practice of not letting go until you’re sure the assignment has been successfully handed off.
Make it graceful, and your team will keep running at full speed.