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Oops! Delegation goes wrong

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My son goes to swimming lessons with his friend. So we and the friend's parents alternate taking them. This week it was their turn.

Being a mum who believes in raising my kids to be independent, I delegated the task of getting swimming things ready to my son. I quickly checked his bag when he said he had everything. He did. The bag was placed in the hall and he picked it up when his lift arrived.

Fast forward an hour, and his friend's Dad is explaining how he coped with my son having no towel, no goggles and no clean pants. (He did very well I think!).


How could this be? I saw the bag packed full of the right things before he went? Simple. He had placed his swimming bag next to the almost identical bag of his sister which she had dumped in the hall after netball, and picked up the wrong one! Thankfully he was wearing his trunks under his trousers, or there'd have been no swimming at all.

So, my attempts at delegation failed. I got it almost right, I delegated authority (to decide what to pack) and responsibility (for doing the tasks in a timely manner)  but I should never have delegated accountability - yet. That should still have been mine for a little while longer. If I had held on to that, someone else (i.e. the friend's father) wouldn't have had to sort out the problem.

It's a timely lesson about how tricky delegation can be, even in seemingly simple situations. Of course, that doesn't mean I go back to packing everything for him. It simply means I take more care (and build in more checks) next time, until I'm happy that I can fully step away. Managers can also find it hard to delegate, and when things go wrong (as they often do at the start), they decide that they can't, and go back to doing everything themselves. That's when they get overwhelmed. Delegating takes time, and perseverance, and we have a bite-size training session that can help them to learn how to delegate effectively.

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