A few days ago a friend emailed asking if I had any advice on some issues she is seeing in her organization that she attributes to the scaling up that is happening. She works in a non-profit setting. But neither of us like to let something like a tax designation get in the way of spreading good ideas related to small but growing teams.

The issue she sees related to ineffective communication internally and externally along with a sense of micromanaging by the leadership. I thought she summed up the situation well by saying they are in the midst of going from a small staff of generalists to a larger staff of specialists.

Here’s my lightly edited reply. Read it and let me know what else you would recommend.

People walking in Lafayette, Indiana

Oh wow, yeah, big question. Anything I’m involved with certainly haven’t nailed it. But I do think about it a lot. Most important thing is actually probably that you realize it. A few thoughts, FWIW.

The generalists to specialists move is the right one. The thing is some people aren’t good at morphing. So sometimes you have to get new people in the organization and old people out. That is always hard, but I think especially in a setting like yours. It’s not good or bad people, it’s about fit. It’s also complicated because you probably need a mix of people as you make the transitions. Generalists that can handle multiple smaller areas while starting to have specialists focus on important/growing areas. That mix of styles can be difficult as well because everyone has different expectations for their own work and the work of others. I don’t know how to fix it other than acknowledging it can help reset expectations.

How big is the staff team now? Do you have key volunteers or part time staff that functionally are part of the “staff”? Make sure you don’t leave them out. Too many people focus on where the paycheck comes from and now how things really get done in an organization (in a small business this might be a key vendor who is like staff versus a key volunteer at a non-profit).

Leadership is going to have to learn to delegate. Here’s a snippet of a transcript from a podcast that got passed to me awhile ago. Wish I knew the source.

The Five Levels of Delegation

Our level one delegation is where we’re saying, “Do exactly what I have asked you to do. Here’s the plan. Please do it. Please don’t deviate from it.”

Then level two would be, “Research the topic and then report back to me. So don’t make any decisions, don’t execute, but get me some information and bring it back.”

Level three is, “Research the topic, outline the options, and make a recommendation to me. If you were me, based on the research you’ve done, what do you want me to do?” Yeah, totally. You can just say yes or no on that recommendation, which is great.

Then level four is “Make a decision and then tell me what you did.” That’s awesome. That really communicates trust in your team, and it gets something fully off of your plate, which is great, but you still get that report back.

Then level five, which is probably my favorite, is “Make whatever decision you think is best. I’m taking this off my plate. I’m giving it to you. Get it done.”

Again, having appropriate expectations on both sides of the types of delegation is key. I probably too widely swing from level 1 to level 5. And that’s not healthy either. It’s finding the right level of delegation for the situation and people involved and then being clear about communicating it.

I don’t know that I have a great book. But a pretty decent is a book called Scaling Up. There’s a section especially on scaling up people.

Happy to chat more if it is helpful. In a weird way, I love this stuff. Small (but growing) teams of people in whatever context (church, non-profit, business) are just so powerful.

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