How to Get Out of the Weeds With Your Growing Team

Do you ever feel like you’re running from meeting to meeting and never have time or mindspace to do high-leverage work? Or that, despite your team getting bigger, you still seem to be holding too much of the work?

Today I want to give you a concrete tool that you can use to get out of the weeds of managing your team as it grows and actually begin to carve out time for visioning, planning, relationships, and other work that moves the organization forward.

As long time listeners might know about me, I love a good framework or tool. Not just because I’m a Virgo and I need to categorize and organize everything in my life. But more deeply, because I’m a pragmatist — It just doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel – growing an organization is tough enough on its own, without having to figure everything out on our own.

Frameworks and tools – good ones – allow us to get up to speed faster on really important practices, and then turn around and apply those practices to our own work.

So this is a tool that I’ve used and taught and integrated into my own leadership, because it’s been tried and tested, and it works.

It’s called the Delegation Ladder. There are 5 levels of delegation, each which confer a different amount of authority and autonomy.

I created a quick cheatsheet about this, which you can download at

As a leader, whenever you delegate a task or even an entire workflow, you need to make it clear what level of authority you’re actually conferring. You need to be clear in your head and they need to be clear in their head.

So why do I love this tool? Because the practice that it allows you to execute – delegation – is one of the most critical for any leader of a growing team.

You must practice and improve your skills around delegation as your team and organization grows, or one of two things will happen. You’ll bottleneck or you’ll burn out.

I know from personal experience. I’m a complete type-A control person, mixed with a dab of perfectionism just to make it even more wonderful 😉

The way it showed up for me was in the hiring of my Director of Programs, which was my first major hire. She was incredible and I almost immediately handed over the entire program workflow (because we were tiny and I had to!), but somehow things weren’t moving along and I still felt weighed down. And I got frustrated with her because what I thought I was seeing was that she wasn’t stepping up and into true ownership – things were more muddled and slow than I wanted, which said to me that I couldn’t really delegate fully to her.

The reality, which I’ll break down in a moment with the tool, was that I was a bottleneck. A huge one. I thought I was fully delegating the workflow, but I was holding on to key decisions, which meant that she couldn’t fully own or move forward with her work.

I also see this in quite of few of the organizations in my Next Level Nonprofit Mastermind – especially founders who have been used to owning and deciding everything from day one.

I just had a coaching call last month with a leader who has been stalled at just under 700K and she was burning out and she can’t figure out why they aren’t growing and why everything feels so hard.

The problem that we highlighted was that she wasn’t delegating high enough on the ladder. She was calling it delegation but she wasn’t really letting go. So she was burning out because she was holding her own work and a not insubstantial part of others’ work also.

So here’s how the tool works in these situations.

The 5 levels are:

  • Level 1: Research and Report.The heart of Level 1 delegation is the collection of information and assessment of an opportunity, issue, or problem. This means to research the topic, gather information, and report what you discover.This is often where to start with new employees, where you are still learning about how much they can hold. This is often where inexperienced staff begin. Folks can more quickly from this level, but it’s often good to start here to test people out. At this level, you’re making the decision.

    When delegating a task at Level 1: Set expectations and clearly define the work/ task. At this level, you’re making the decision, but it’s a tremendous opportunity to learn, and to move towards more expansive delegation. Have the staff person explain their assessment and thinking so you learn how they think. You explain the decision you made and why, so they come to understand your thinking, your approach to strategy, your priorities, and your expectations.

    If you have a small team, and you’re hiring someone high up at director level, I still recommend having 1 or 2 tasks here as part of onboarding, so that you are learning as you grow together.

  • Level 2: Assess and Advise.This is the step beyond reporting — at this level of delegation, you’re expecting people to to develop possible solutions and recommend the best one. This means to research the topic, outline the options, and bring your advice about the best one.This is great level at which to deepen your understanding of the person’s judgment and decision-making process, and to refine and ensure alignment with your own expectations.Here’s another challenge with delegation — we hand things over at level 5 — full ownership to the other person – but we don’t really know or understand how they make decisions… and more often, they don’t fully understand your priorities – what you want them to give more weight to and why – or your expectations.

    So, particularly with new people or existing staff in new roles, delegating at this level can be important.

    Just as with level 1, you own the decision. Make time to hear from them, and to share your own thinking.

  • Level 3: Act With Approval.This is where you’re having people develop a plan for your sign off. This level explicitly includes everything in level 2 – . At this level, you’re expecting the person to research, develop pros and cons to back up their assessment, and to form a plan to move forward.This is the first level at which they will be making decisions and taking action. But here, importantly, you want them to share the plan with you in advance for your sign off.

    So they are doing the up front work and and they are owning execution, but you are making the actual decision about whether to move forward.

  • Level 4: Act & Inform.This is the first level at which the person fully owns and makes a decision. Here, you’re allowing the person to make a decision and then tell me what you did.I trust you to do the research, make the best decision you can, and then keep me in the loop. I don’t want to be surprised on the back end.
  • Level 5: Act with Autonomy.This means to make whatever decision you think is best. No need to report back. I trust you completely. I know you will follow through. You have my full support. You make the final call, full stop.

When we feel like we’re holding too much of the work on our team, the problem often comes down to a problem with this ladder.

For me and my director of programs, the problem was a mismatch: I thought I was delegating at level 4 or 5 — “you take this and own it. Act independently, it’s yours” when in reality I was treating her like she was at level 3 – “you go off and do the research and the meetings and the work right up to the point of the final decision, and then I’ll approve the partnership, or I’ll take a look at the email before it goes out. That’s not true autonomy. I was holding on to these small, seemingly insignificant, decisions within her workflow – I was bottlenecking.

In the case of the founder in my program, the problem was that she wouldn’t delegate high enough. There wasn’t a mismatch — she was clear that the folks on her team couldn’t make key decisions without her. So she was holding everything.

The way to use the tool is to first create a common language around delegation. Get clear with your team about the five levels generally – what they are and how they work.

Then, with each person that you need to delegate to – particularly on your leadership team – make sure you’re on the same page about what each level means for their particular workflow.

Finally, train your Directors and Managers to use the tool in their own management and delegation so that both the common language, and the practice, become routine.

The key here is standardization. That’s part of the power of a useful tool — you aren’t reinventing the wheel every time you onboard new people, as people move up the ladder inside your organization, and as new workflows are created. You don’t have to revisit questions of power, authority, and autonomy all the time. Being deliberate about naming the nature and scope of delegation up front means that there’s less friction and more ease in working together.

So that’s my tool for you today. Again, you can download the cheatsheet I created and use it to walk through this tool with your team:

The tool is part of a broader strategy bundle that I offer called: HR Policy & Document Bundle. It’s a turn key, customizable toolkit for setting up and sustaining a strong HR infrastructure – everything from how to think about your staff chart, to how hire and onboard to how, to how to create an equitable compensation structure to how to build a strong culture. Training videos and audio, templates, and worksheets. You can get that at

See you next week for more mastermind.


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