Delegating. Nobody talks about it, and virtually nobody does it, either – at least not successfully. Yet it is present, good or bad, every moment in the life of every group activity, business or professional, for-profit or nonprofit, formal or informal.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if each member of an organization, at every level, were in exactly the right job, constantly receiving precisely the right amount of challenge, information and support, performing the work he/she was born to do. Wow.

You don’t have to imagine the other end of the productivity spectrum. You’ve seen it: Unhappy, overworked cubicle rats treadmilling away just to preserve a paycheck, contemptuous of their management, surly to their co-workers and indifferent to their end users. Where’s the quality of output in that, to say nothing of the quality of life?

Of course, you don’t see the worst-case situation in the raw very much … but then how often do you see the best one?

Actually, most organizations muddle around somewhere in the middle, perhaps more often favoring the negative slope of the curve. Not too bad, but definitely not models of efficiency, harmony and growth.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Once the organization squarely faces its own reality and parses out the causes, the route to the golden end of the arch becomes fairly obvious: Effective delegating.

What is delegating, anyway?

It’s a partnership, with the senior member passing responsibility for doing something to a junior partner – along with the authority to carry it out. The authority part is a sticking point, but it’s not the only one.

The idea of delegating makes people tired. They don’t want to talk about it, think about it. It’s easier to establish the proposition that it doesn’t work and can’t be done than it is to look it in the face and engage it as a do-able, profitable skill set of the business place.

So the first, and perhaps hardest, task in turning around an unproductive workplace is to get people at all levels – all levels – to be honest and take the challenge seriously. You can’t have some coalition of a couple of inspired top guns and a bunch of joyous worker bees launching a doomed conspiracy against an empowered and impervious middle hierarchy.

This is a project, a culture change – the most difficult kind of project. The major end of the effort is to rearrange the basic suppositions and daily behavior of the people who are supposed to be executing the project. Those doing the project are being done to by the project. Not easy.

For the sake of constructing an example, though, let’s say you get enough of the right people to sincerely accept the discomfort of engaging this fundamental re-examination of their way of life. What then?

Well, the hard stuff isn’t over yet. We all need to get to work on renovating our basic job concepts. Communication, that much-yearned-over commodity, is Priority One. We talk about what it would take, in the design and operation of jobs at each level, to make the organization productive.

We run up early against the realization that the people at our key decision points are task-driven and status-conscious to the point that they haven’t been able to create the environment in which the working crew can be successful. They haven’t listened very well, they haven’t been flexible at all and their processes have been very precious to them.

The folks at the top have been more imperious than collegial toward the folks in the middle, and the folks in the middle have been more directive than open to the worker bees. Those most in contact with the marketplace haven’t shared confidences with those most in contact with the functioning of the organization, and no one has paid much attention to what their reports are trying to tell them.

Delegating is, at its heart, a communication process conducted through teamwork, which is based on trust, which comes from effective communication. See? A cycle.

And you know what evaporates first when people’s workload is too great? Communication. Because of that, you need to manage the workload to earn time to communicate in ways that make it possible to manage the workload.

That’s not impossible. It just requires enough of the right people in an organization to understand that they must crowbar open enough time in their busy days to start communicating effectively about their expectations, their process and their job descriptions.

Once people know and trust each other sufficiently – a development that takes time and effort as well as open minds – true delegating becomes possible. How you do it case by case then is a nuts-and-bolts matter.