Assign Tasks To One Person And One Person Only

I’ve learned quite a bit over my 15+ years in the workforce.  One of the things that I’ve learned is that the more people you assign tasks to, the less chance you have of the work actually getting done.  In fact, every person you add to task list will continue to decrease the chances of success.

It kind of seems like it would go the other way around, wouldn’t it?  Simple logic says that if you have something you need done, and you ask a group of people to do it, that you’re increasing the chances that someone has the knowledge, the ability, and the time.

While all that may be true, what it doesn’t address is that by asking multiple people to complete a task, you’re taking away accountability, and that is the key component that trumps any of the other variables I mentioned.

Simply put, if you assign a task to one person, you’re putting the accountability on that person.  If you assign it to a group, you’re putting the accountability on….nobody.

I’m guilty

I’ll admit, I’m guilty of engaging in this behavior when the tables are turned.  Just yesterday, someone sent an e-mail to me and four other people who were involved in a project asking a question and requesting action.  If it had been sent just to me, I probably would have given it immediate attention and taken care of it, or at least responded back saying that I would get to it, and give them a timetable of when they could expect a response.

As it was, I was in the middle of something else, so I simply reasoned that I would check back on this when I was done, hoping that somebody else would step in.

For this particular circumstance, someone did actually answer the question by the time I got back to it.  I was off the hook!

Now, in my defense, I was legitimately busy, but I know darn well that other people will employ this duck-and-dodge strategy anytime the opportunity presents itself, regardless if they actually are busy or not!  You know the type, I’m sure.  (And, if you don’t, then you’re probably very much guilty of it yourself…just saying!)

So, I’ve found that if I want something done, the best approach is to involve one person.  Even if that person doesn’t have the knowledge, the ability, or the time, they should be able to direct you to someone that does, in which case you can transfer the task…and the accountability.  The point being, that you’re holding one person accountable for the task at all times.  Depending on your environment, you might always be delegating to a manager, and even if he or she isn’t doing the actual work, if you handle it right, they will always make sure the work gets assigned and done as long as it’s clear that they are accountable for the work.

When it comes to assigning tasks, often less is more.

Readers, do you share my thought that assigning tasks with a narrow focus will yield better results?  What are your real world experiences? 

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15 thoughts on “Assign Tasks To One Person And One Person Only

  1. I totally agree. When you learn First Aid they actually tell you to be very specific when assigning tasks (such as calling 911). You are supposed to single out one person and give them specific instructions!
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    • As a former manager, I live by the rule that if I’m not going to make a deadline, I make sure the person who is expecting the work is aware as soon as I know. Nobody ever likes hearing that something will be missed, but it’s always appreciated when you communicate this sooner rather than later.

  2. It makes sense that assigning one person would work better. If nobody feels specifically responsible for the task it is easy to pass the buck.

  3. When I was in the Air Force every “extra” task that needed to be done was usually assigned to just one person. It might have been maintaining our publications or keeping track of certain radio parts but the responsibility of the job was simplified this way.

  4. Great post! I manage 3 people, and while it’s not a lot, I need to do a better job of giving specific tasks to specific people. The challenge is making sure they all get equal tasks so one doesn’t work harder than the other two.

    • In the short run, it’s impossible to keep things completely even all the time. The goal is to work toward keeping things even in the long run. If you focus too much on the short term, you’ll drive yourself crazy.

  5. My department had a Help Desk system that all staff can email a question, issue, or project to. It goes in to an “unassigned” queue. Unfortunately, sometimes things sit in that queue for too long – no one wants to take ownership of it! We try to cross-train our staff in my department (I work in IT), so we’ve expressed that we want everyone to look over the tickets that come in, and pick something that they’re not familiar with, and work with someone senior so they can learn. Unfortunately we’re so busy some times that that doesn’t happen. We actually hired someone where part of their job was to manage the Help Desk tickets, assign them out, and review aged ones to see if they have been resolved or can be closed. But he’s so busy he hasn’t been able to do that part his job in a while! 🙂 At least now our manager looks at the unassigned ones a few times a week and just assigns them to people.

    I’ll admit I’m guilty of thinking “someone else can handle that” – but if I see something that’s simple, that I know the answer to but no one else has claimed it after the ticket’s been out there a while, I’ll pick it up just to get it done.

    • Yeah, in that type of situation, a coordinator is definitely required so that things don’t sit there too long.

  6. That is so true. I’ve been burned so many times with this already. Like with the no output and deadline is a day away already. So better to give it to one person who has the knowledge and skills to do it.
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  7. This is the story of my life at the moment. Give people tasks with a narrow focus and a deadline. It won’t take long before you learn who knocks out the tasks without issue and who requires repeated prodding in order to start working.
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