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My coworker is struggling with a task. I know that if I do it, it will take about 40 hours. I estimate that at the current rate, it will take my coworker at least three times that. So the first argument for stepping in is efficiency.

The second argument is result quality. She got the task "per default", because it is part of a larger project she is responsible for. But the specific skills required for executing the task are mostly from the field I specialize in, and she lacks the knowledge and experience needed for it. My knowledge in her field is limited, but still sufficient for me to complete the task and achieve better results than she could, even though she gives her best.

The third argument for it is simple compassion. Doing it is hard for her, she struggles a lot only to end up with mediocre results, and this demotivates her. It has no benefits for her to go through it, she is not learning a skill she would need elsewhere. I could spare her the trouble, without suffering myself.

But there is also a good reason not to do it. Investing 40 hours in her task will endanger an important deadline I have, while she has no deadline for her task.

When I know I can do a task far better than a colleague, how can I evaluate whether or not to actually step in, or whether to let them struggle?

  • Is there anything specific here to software development? I think you have a great question here if you remove a lot of the details! – enderland Nov 6 '13 at 23:36
  • Hey Rumi, and welcome back to The Workplace. I made a very large edit to your post removing a lot of the details that distract from the core of your problem and to get you better answers. If you think I missed something critical, please feel free to edit the question with whatever you think is relevant. – jmac Nov 6 '13 at 23:39
  • @jmac I can see why the more general form is interesting for the site. But in this case I think that her lack of skill is a very important factor, not just the efficiency. I think I will edit that part back in. – Rumi P. Nov 6 '13 at 23:42
  • @Rumi, ah, good point, feel free to add it in. You don't actually need a general form for questions here, it just tends to get you better answers. When there are a lot of technical details, people often focus on the technical part rather than the general issue (how to decide when to take over tasks from a coworker). It is totally up to you how much detail to add, I just like starting from the core and letting you add the relevant details to get good answers. Thanks for the question! – jmac Nov 6 '13 at 23:45
  • I'd love to answer something like this question (how can I make sure the right person performs the task), but I can't answer it as asked. The reason I say this is that I think you should raise these concerns with your boss and, yes, you can do this without totally panning your coworker. – Amy Blankenship Nov 6 '13 at 23:48
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You need to find a "middle path" , I would not recommend either extremes ....blatantly stepping in & getting it done or letting her struggle. Both will potentially worsen her confidence.

How is your relationship with your co-worker ? i.e. can you approach her from a soft mentorship perspective ? will you boss be ok with this ?

Personally I use the yardstick of balancing ,investing time into people's development vs hard short-medium project deadlines. Can you pair up with her to help her achieve some easy wins & also delegate some of your existing work so that your deadline is met ? Since she is not under a deadline pressure,set some goals & targets for her to achieve and then gradually focus her on learning & improving.

There seems to be a leadership vacuum in your team & seems like your are taking that initiative to set that right. I would focus on not just doing the job better than her but also making her better.

good luck

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Do you have the capacity to do it without impacting your work? If not it needs to be pushed to someone who can help manage that aspect too (PM, managers etc).

If you do have the capacity I'd simply ask your colleague about her work load and let her know that you can have some capacity to help out if she needs any help small or large.

The point is that, lots of times we are afraid to ask for help as it feels demeaning to ourselves. The best thing to do is the let them know you are there to help and rather than doing the work for her you're probably in a good place to help her prioritise her load so that she may be able to delegate tasks to you.

As long as she doesn't feel threatened by you helping her (as opposed to to you stepping in and taking her work) then I think it's likely that you can build up to letting her know the areas where you are strong and could help her ask for help in the future too.

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