Types of Delegation

Formal, Informal and Specific Delegation.

It is customary in management literature to distinguish between: (a) formal and informal delegation; and (b) general and specific delegation.

As concepts the groupings have some merits; in practice, they overlap, as they are bound to do, the structural and human dynamics being what they are.

In a formal delegation, the delegated assignments and the accompanying authority for each delegate are spelt out, on a piece of paper. In the informal type, the delegation goes by a climate of understanding between the superior and the subordinate. As a crude analogy, in a household, the husband knows what is expected of him, so does, perhaps the housewife without so much as a charter of distribution of tasks and authority.

Whether a delegation is formal or informal, it ought to be clear. A lack of clarity as to who will do (and decide) what and who wields what authority – is a breeding ground of confusion. Confusion denudes management efficiency through consequential delays, inaction, wasteful file-shuttling and misunderstanding.

It is the merit of a formal delegation that it makes for clarity. It is all spelt out there, for all to see; it is circulated; everybody knows who is what, what he must do and achieve and what authority possesses. It clears operations of doubts and ambiguities. A comment is often made that a formal delegation is rigid. It hamstrings initiative, curbs talents, stunts vitality, erodes adaptability to change. Even if these were true, and the alternative was uncertainty, confusion, they are better tolerated. But the fears of inflexibility in a formal delegation, and the consequences that are postulated, need not be true. The delegation charter is the body of outline in a field of sports which helps discipline and adherence to the rules of the game. Provided the supervisor-subordinate relations are warm and healthy, no manager need suffer inhibition in the full play of his talents and initiative merely because he is known to possess certain well-defined tasks and authority.

Delegation can also be general or specific. It is said to be general when the task is broadly set, leaving it to the delegate how he would work out the details. A sales manager, who is given charge of a sales territory with broad targets and authority, without being told in so many words as to how he should go about it, has a general delegation. A general delegation would perhaps remove some of the inflexibility claimed against a formal delegation but could add some of the uncertainties of an informal delegation in the field of operation of the delegated task. These contradictions have to be carefully balanced in framing a charter of general delegation.