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Assigning Tasks - Management Magic

Never-Ending Work Basket

Have you ever worked somewhere with a work basket for the group? It may have been a joint in-box or shared work room. A certain type of work gets dumped there or even different types of work get put into one place. Each worker is supposed to go there whenever they finish the prior task and grab the next item. This is taking factory-type work process and applying it to knowledge or service work. Does it sound good or pleasant to you? Do people enjoy factory work?


Offices, law firms or service environments use this technique because they think it produces higher productivity. It does not. In my experience, the hardest, best workers, will do most of the work. In the process they will resent their co-workers who can hide behind the work of the group. This is true for all ‘group’ projects without assigned responsibilities.

The Great Disappearance

With group work, managers are hard pressed to identify a problem in the work and correct it. Who exactly does not seem to know what to do with x type of problem? Do I retrain the entire team? And what about work I swore I put in the basket but now, no one seems to know where it is?

True Team

A team is not created magically when you put a group of people together and call them a team. A true team is created when each person does their part and then some. When they communicate and coordinate their activities such that what is created is the best that each person could contribute with the support and help of the rest of the team. The sum is greater than the parts. You can see this today, in action, watching any team sport. A group of athletes can be called a team. But it is only when they act like a team that the word has meaning. And everyone watching can see the difference.


When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible. Assigning specific tasks and responsibilities is the job of management. When each person can come to work and know exactly what is for them to do, and that they have all the tools and training to do those things, they can feel good about their job. They can excel. They will respect their peers more, knowing that each person has their own work to do, and they are each accountable. When training supervisors and managers I have often been surprised that they were not instructed (before me) that this is part of their job. They lament, why don’t employees just see the work there is to do and do it? Often, these beginning supervisors and managers were those workers who did the majority of the work before their promotion. So, we talk about human nature and the need for clarity, open communication, and task assignment with responsibility.

Example when Collecting Money

Once you have sorted your clients by type of problem they represent (see blog post Categorize for Better Action Plans), talk to your staff and partners. Divvy up the specific tasks based on the strengths of each person and their relative relationship with each specific client. One of your staff loves detective work. Great! Assign them the tasks of finding the people who have moved. If you need to find out how clients are doing that were out of work last time you spoke, have someone warm on your staff call them to check-in. Maybe they are working now and can begin a payment plan. This becomes the detailed action plan for improving your collections. And you might find that when everyone does their tasks and works together to tackle the problem, you end up with a true team.

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