What are ways you can assign work to your employees?

General Principles

Work assignments often fall into one of three categories:

  • Orders: These leave no room for guesswork, and they typically match the dictatorial approach discussed below. These should only be used for emergencies. Example: “Shut off that tap, now!”
  • Requests: These types of assignments leave the employee some room for interpretation. These are the work descriptions you will want to use most often. Example: “John, please turn off that water.”
  • Suggestions: These types of work assignments leave the most room for interpretation and should only be used if you don’t care how the work gets done, or if it’s a low priority task. Example: “Susan, it would be nice if we could come up with a different format for that report.”


The Dictatorial Approach

The easiest short-term work assignment method is to simply assign tasks to individuals. However, this generates the least job satisfaction and independence.

This method should be used when a task needs to be completed urgently, or if it is a task that no one wants to take on.

For best results, make sure that you explain the importance of the task and the rewards to the individual, the department, and the organization.


The Apple-Picking Approach

This method gives employees more freedom in choosing their tasks, although it does not emphasize team problem solving or collaboration. The basic idea is that the team member chooses a project that they would like to work on from a list of departmental tasks.

This is a good method to use when there is a small group of tasks to be assigned, a very small group of employees, and not enough time for a meeting. In this case, make sure that the tasks are equal in value and workload. This method can also be used when the department has a list of low-priority “fillers” and an employee needs a short term project.

Be careful when using this method if there are just as many tasks as people, as employees’ choices will be reduced as you move through the team members.

The Collaborative Approach

With this method, the team has a meeting to decide who completes which task. The list of tasks is posted on flip chart or whiteboard. For maximum effectiveness, all team members help establish objectives and deadlines for each tasks.

This is the most effective method because giving team members a say in the way the work is distributed, and giving them the opportunity to choose more meaningful tasks, will enable you to get more out of your employees and to help them grow and develop.

However, this method is not appropriate for a list of menial tasks, or if a task needs to be urgently completed. It is most effective when used with a mature team (a team that has worked together for six months or more).