I bought a small company a few months ago and I'm finding that one of the teams is struggling because of the lead. Rather than supporting their team, the lead is automatically taking care of problems they find or, even worse, they are just assuming responsibility for the work. The team lead is overloaded, people don't have enough work or they don't know what to do and make mistakes. I might need to demote the team lead, but they really want this responsibility and so I am trying to figure out how to help them be successful in this role. Any recommendations on how to encourage the team lead to delegate responsibilities and support others?

  • I am trying to mentor, but not sure it will work because their behavior hasn't changed after several conversations. For example, I have asked several times for the lead to train and delegate specific tasks to a new employee, and they say they will, but the lead keeps doing the work themselves - even after I tell them it's time for them to focus on being a lead and letting others do the work.
    – Lazor
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 16:11
  • @JoeStrazzere Thanks for the advice. I'll follow-up with them to see if they understand how to delegate and follow-up on the work. I very well may have assumed they knew how to train, so I want to make sure they are comfortable and understand how to approach this.
    – Lazor
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 21:26

4 Answers 4


The first time I was a team lead I had a great team that didn't need much guidance. Unfortunately that was not true the second time I led a team. I had three young men working for me who were in the military (so firing was not an option), what we did was not their normal professional specialty and they definitely didn't want to work for a female civilian employee and they weren't making much of an effort. I was in way over my head.

To meet the deadlines we had (and they were very firm, not moveable deadlines) I first thought that I would have to simply redo everything they did. It seemed easier than confronting them with their problems and getting them to do their jobs. It seemed like it would take less time even if I would be more stressed.

To me, at first, it seemed to be the only viable solution if I wanted to deliver on time. Further, people tend to get promoted to team lead because they passionately care about their work and want to do the best job they can, so they often have higher standards about acceptable work than people who are not the team lead. Your team lead likely feels as if he is in a similar situation.

Luckily for me, I had a boss who chose to help me learn what to do instead when I complained to him about the team. He sat me down for a blunt conversation where he told me that I would burn out and be of no use to anyone if I went down this path. He told me that the ultimate final deadline could not change but that the first few phases could be moved out because things would go faster once I solved the team problem.

He told me that people hate it when you redo all their work and the end result of that is that, over time, they put less and less effort into it because their boss is going to redo it from scratch anyway. He told me that the longer you let people do nothing while you work like crazy, the harder it is to turn them around. He told me that the problem was often that they didn't know what they were doing wrong, so they would see my fixes as arbitrary. He told me that I needed to decide what was good enough, not what was perfect. Then together we sat down and made a plan for how I would turn this around.

The plan involved a daily meeting on progress and a reassignment of planned work if someone was not on schedule to someone (not me) who was free or close to finishing their part. As is common now in Agile development and daily standups, it becomes difficult to say day after day that you haven't made any progress, so people reduce their slacking to be able to say they accomplished something.

It involved a 100% review of their work. And, this is the key part, I was only allowed to comment on what was wrong and why it was wrong, but not suggest solutions (although I could hint on where to find the best solution) or fix it. The first time I made review comments, I was to go over them with my boss and he would help me structure them so that they were expecting just enough and giving just enough information that the person could fix the problem if he tried. Then he made sure I gave the work back to them to redo.

I had to send the work back to the originator to fix every single time until he got it right. Further, I was to spend 100% of my time helping them get better skills and managing their work; I was to do no direct work at all until their skills improved to an acceptable standard. My job had now been redefined as training them up to the standard we needed. If I wanted to get back to doing the more fun stuff, I needed to train them well.

Another critical item was that although my manager was willing to accept a short-term delay on the early deadlines, I was not to let them know that the deadline had some flex until it was much closer to the deadline. This was to keep some pressure on them during the initial turn-around period. If they knew the deadline was going to move, they could have continued to skate.

The first iteration was as horrible as he had warned me it would be. It seemed as if I had something wrong on every line. They were very upset at getting the work back to redo (with no deadline change in sight as far as they knew). They were even more upset when I rejected the first set of revisions. With each revision I sent back to them, I got better at explaining what they needed to do differently and helping them learn the techniques they needed to be able to fix the problem. I sat with one guy who was particularly bad for hours and hours and asked him leading questions to get him to find the answers on his own.

By the third iteration, I knew my boss had been right (and it was truly a good thing he warned me that the first few times I did this would be painful.) because they were making fewer mistakes.

In the next phase of the project, I only had to send things back for correction a couple of times. By the third phase, I was back to managing them only part of the time and doing some of the technical work. We easily met the overall deadline without having to work overtime. In the end, they got very good because I had passed my knowledge on to them. Having four of me instead of one of me made the project start to progress very quickly indeed.

So you need to be like that boss I had about 37 years ago. You need to sit down with the guy and bluntly tell him that his methods are not working and need to change. You need to let him know the first priority of a team lead is to make the team do a better job and that success for him would be defined by how well the other team members accomplish the work.(That is why I wasn't allowed to do direct work, my job was no longer to do that but to manage the work of others. Their questions, their training, their progress were my primary responsibility not an interruption in my trying to get everything done myself.)

Then you need to sit with him and make a plan for turning things around, for building skill levels and for rearranging the project plan to make it work with the short-term delay for teaching them factored in.

Then you need to watch what he is doing and help him get better at mentoring. You need to catch him doing the right thing and make sure he knows it is noticed. You need to teach him to catch his people when they do the right thing and make sure he lets them know it is noticed. You need to help him put something positive in the code reviews so that it doesn't seem overwhelming when he sends it back. It is absolutely critical that he acknowledges improvements as well. You want his people to feel as if they are getting better and that success is possible. A comment like , "This is much better but this part still needs..." will work better in the second iteration than a comment like "This still needs fixing. Do it right this time." Tone is important when sending work back for rework.

  • 3
    Thanks HLGEM. This is a great answer. I really appreciate the full history of what you went through and how it all progressed. There is a lot to learn here, so I will continue reading through it and let you know when I come up with questions.
    – Lazor
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 18:19
  • 3
    It is critical to know that to get better faster performance, you will need to plan for a period of slower performance and he needs to not be held responsible for it being slower.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 20:30

A team lead doing this is bad for business. They hold other team members from achieving and learning and make them lazy to fix issues themselves.

You need to discuss this with the lead, assuming he/she has been in that position for a while there may be other underlying reasons that you are not aware of. I've been a team lead who was forced to work like that because most of the team were incompetent and couldn't be trusted to do the work properly. It actually sounds a bit like your team lead may have a similar issue.

It depends on the tasks being allocated and the sorts of mistakes being made. If they're simple tasks and mistakes are still being made it's indicative of a lack of possible work ethic or competence amongst other staff with the team lead trying to mitigate against it so that projects actually get completed successfully.

As a boss you need more info from the team lead. In my example the bosses ignored my feedback and when I eventually left, their team, their projects and half their business collapsed shortly afterwards.

  • 2
    Listening is always good, and I know I can always do better at it. Thanks for the advice. I did ask the lead if they feel confident people can do the work. They said some of the tasks are so basic and simple that anyone can do them. I asked why they don't delegate then, and they said they would - even though it doesn't happen. I'll try to ask more questions and see if I can figure out what isn't being said (or heard).
    – Lazor
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 16:32
  • If they're not following through then discipline, business comes first
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 16:41

Any recommendations on how to encourage the team lead to delegate responsibilities and support others?

You are this person's boss.

One of your responsibilities is to make your expectations clear. If you're making your expectations clear and this lead isn't living up to them and isn't asking for help in meeting them, you may need a new lead. If you're not setting clear expectations, start.

One of your responsibilities is to mentor and help your employees develop the skills you need them to have. You know how to do these things, someone likely taught you how, or you learned through trial and error. It's time to pass that knowledge on to the next generation.

It's not at all uncommon for people to be promoted to lead/managerial roles and never given any training or mentoring in how to actually do that role. Good individual contributors often aren't used to delegating, and will fail to do so. Many find delegating uncomfortable. We're often not accustomed to telling other people what to do. Others believe that they're the best resource to fulfill a given task (sometimes due to confidence in their abilities or a lack of confidence in the team).

Help the employee delegate. Talk to them about delegation. Encourage them to delegate. Give them the freedom to let a team member try, fail, and learn.

When you delegate to the lead, follow-up and ask who they delegated it to, or ask them to cc/bcc you on follow-on emails divvying up the work.

  • I agree completely about setting clear expectations, while also holding people accountable and doing everything I can to help them succeed. I will encourage them to delegate more and listen to see if there are any reasons why they are uncomfortable with delegating that I might be able to help address. I especially like the idea of the follow-up questions.
    – Lazor
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 16:40

"they really want this responsibility"

In a meeting, point out that if they won't/can't delegate, then you can't promote them away from the position. That way, you're telling them what to do, but offering a carrot also.

  • That is assuming that the lead wants to be promoted. There are people who prefer not to be promoted for various reasons, one of which is that they prefer doing their current work. In case of this lead, that might well be the case, since he seems so obssessed with the work even when he is overloaded and there are other people sitting idle.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 2:39
  • @Masked Man, I keep wondering why they say they want the lead role when all of their behavior suggests otherwise. I suspect they feel pressured or that this is somehow expected of them. I've encouraged them to pursue whatever path they want, but they insist on this one. We've even joked that they are a tough cookie and need to start letting their team help them - to no avail.
    – Lazor
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 16:47
  • @Lazor You need to ask why he doesn't want to delegate. If he hesitates to answer, dig deeper till you get an answer. I suspect that this lead may have burnt his fingers in the past when he assigned some task to someone and that was done poorly. If I delegate a task and end up having to redo it myself days before the deadline, I would prefer doing it myself in the first place when there is less pressure.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 16:50
  • That would definitely make sense, and I can certainly appreciate wanting to make sure things are taken care of when delegated. I'll do some digging and let you know how it goes :D
    – Lazor
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 21:33
  • @Lazor - Thanks for accepting my answer, but I fully believe that HLGEM has a much (much!) better response. I wouldn't feel bad at all if you removed the acceptance from my one-liner to her excellent summary.
    – PeteCon
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 23:44

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