Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to share his architecture and design ideas through speculative projects. His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

Lessons learned on delegating work

Lessons learned on delegating work


Think back to a day when you were coming up with ideas with your group on a project and everyone came up with a list of tasks to accomplish by the next meeting. While putting together this action item list, everyone was excited and contributing more ideas that would strengthen the project. Each person stood up and continued adding to the list until it went off the page! However, when it was time to delegate the tasks, the group quieted down, shrunk into their seats, and a few members quickly chose the simplest tasks to pursue.

As a leader, it’s now up to you to guide and delegate tasks to everyone in the group; all while being mindful of each person’s skills and comfort with the task. How do you pair each person with their respective task(s)? Do you know if there’s a task that someone would be thrilled to have but is afraid to speak up? This past week, I encountered this situation twice and handled each of them differently which I share in the stories below.

Delegating tasks in my 4x30 competition group

This past weekend, I met with 4 students to review the design brief, site, programs, and photographs of an architecture competition that we’re pursuing together. So I went to my firm half an hour earlier than our meeting time to print out the competition brief and put together a few discussion items. In my mind, this plan would lead to a smooth meeting with an energetic discussion about the design and delegating work to each member.

As you can imagine, things didn’t go as planned and I read through the first few pages of the design before the doorbell rang. Immediately, I reformulate my plans for the group, which actually worked out in our favor. As each member took a seat, I passed out the design brief, gave them an outline of our meeting, and took some time to individually read through the packet. Why did I decide to have everyone read through the entire design brief?

From past experiences, I’ve learned that many students generally don’t read through an entire design brief unless they’re the ones who took on the leadership role of the project. By making this the first group activity, each member would have the opportunity to at least skim through the packet and develop a general idea of the competition. As I read, I underlined key points, ideas, and noted any design opportunities that came to mind.

Lesson 1 – Don’t have discussions after a silent independent activity

Once we were done reading, we had a brief discussion where I asked each group member to talk about main ideas and opportunities that they were able to get from the design brief. In my mind, this was going to be the most exciting and energetic part of the group meeting. However, it took a few minutes for everyone to get out of their reading mode and into their creative thinking mode. Most of the group looked tired or zoned out and it took lots of effort to gain momentum as a group.

My first lesson learned is to never have a group discussion after a silent independent activity such as reading or meditating. In the past, my teachers in middle school would have a 15 or 30 minute silent reading session followed by a discussion. If we think about the order of these activities, it logically makes sense to have everyone read the same book and then have a discussion on what they learned as a group. However, when a person reads a book, they enter a relaxed state of mind where they’re either absorbing the information or simply rereading the same lines because they have no interest. During the discussion, most people might have answers, but they’ll keep it to themselves out of the fear that they misread the information.

So in the future, I’ll follow my plan and make sure that I’ve read through the entire design brief, developed a list of key points, and present the competition to the students in a fun and exciting way. By explaining the design brief, reviewing the site and programs, and asking design questions to the group, I’ll be able to lead an energetic discussion where all group members start and remain in a creative mindset throughout the meeting.

Lesson 2 – Ask each person which tasks they’d be comfortable leading

After discussing the project and reviewing site photographs, I lead the discussion towards our next meeting and asked the group what tasks they think we should be focusing on over the next week. We began developing a general list of activities that focused on developing site research for climatic conditions, precedent studies for projects with a similar site or programs, and developing a Revit model of the site.

To assign these tasks, I asked each person in the group which tasks they’d be comfortable leading and each member chose a different task from one another. This worked surprisingly well because they’ll have to hold themselves accountable for the tasks that they chose over the next week.

Lesson 3 – Check your schedule before taking on tasks

Out of the 3 major tasks to focus on for our next meeting, the biggest lift would be creating a site model in Revit. Most of the group has some familiarity with Revit, but they probably wouldn’t be comfortable creating the site model from scratch. I had a feeling that this would probably take the group members a lot of effort to produce, so I spoke up and took on the task.

I quickly realized that I should’ve checked my own schedule of projects, meetings, and work before taking on this big task. Over a 1 week period, I have roughly 15 hours to create a Revit site model for this large competition. It’s midway through the week and I have the existing building forms modeled… 

4x30 Competition Revit Site Model Progress

What the 4x30 Competition Site Model should look like

Delegating tasks in my 3x30 One Seneca Tower Renovation group

Immediately after assigning tasks to the 4x30 competition group, my two students for project 3x30 rang the doorbell and it was time to start the second meeting. After saying my good byes to the first group and wondering how I’ll get this Revit site model done in a week, I sat down with my second group, cleared my mind, and got the meeting started.

Since 3x30 One Seneca Tower Renovations is a personal theoretical project, I already know the project site, adjacent buildings, possible programmatic ideas, and design questions that are sure to get the two students fired up in a fun discussion! So I pulled up google maps on the large touch screen TV and navigated to One Seneca Tower in Buffalo, NY. I explained all of the exciting architectural project developments happening in the area, major public areas, and a brief history of the building to the students.

Then, I posed some of the design problems to the two students and asked them for their opinion on having a retail/restaurant on the ground floor, offices above, and then condominiums. We began a fun discussion about the possible programs and dividing the buildings and came up with the idea of having an architecture museum on the bottom few floors of the skyscraper. This was a fantastic idea and the discussions continued to the building façade.

After the design discussion, we gathered around one of the student’s laptop and I gave both of the students a brief tutorial on how to use Revit. I went over simple commands and showed them how I would begin constructing One Seneca Tower in Revit. By going through the modeling process step by step and using the project as the example, the students were able to follow the tutorial and had so many great questions!

3x30 One Seneca Tower Birds Eye

Lesson 4 – Before assigning a task, teach the necessary steps to the group

Oftentimes, we volunteer ourselves to take on a task that no one else in the group would be able to complete because we think it’ll save everyone time and energy. However, it’s important to ask ourselves whether or not the skills for completing the task are necessary for the group to learn. For example, by taking on the creation of the site model for the 4x30 competition, it’ll save the group time and effort, but the students won’t be able to learn how to create a site model in Revit. This skill is essential for their future careers and would’ve been better to delegate among the entire group.

With the second group working on project 3x30 One Seneca Tower Renovations, I took the time to teach the essential Revit skills for constructing a Revit model of the building and asked the students if they would be comfortable creating a full Revit model by our next meeting. Both students were excited and started on their Revit models using the floor plans that I provided.

Lesson 5 – Assure the group that it’s okay to ask questions or make mistakes on their tasks

From my past experiences, I’ve found that people are afraid to take on tasks because they’re afraid of making a mistake and being scolded. This issue stems from the traditional work environments where the upper management either yells, fires, or says some harsh things under their breath at their employees who completed a task incorrectly. However, I’ve noticed that people are more likely to energetically take on tasks when it’s clear that they’ll be able to make mistakes and learn by asking questions.

My group for project 3x30 One Seneca Tower Renovations was excited to take on the task of creating the Revit model of the existing building for the project because I made it clear that it would be a learning experience for them. I also made sure that they understood it would be okay to make mistakes while learning and that I’ll answer any questions that they have about creating the Revit model throughout the week.

Next steps for the upcoming week

Aside from all of this exciting project development with my two groups, I’ll be heading over to my good friend’s building to create an existing conditions survey and Revit model for a full renovation. This will be my first real architecture project and it’ll be an exciting learning experience. I’m currently teaching myself about contract documents, developing a fee proposal, and also a design-build relationship for this project!

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