Learning & Development

Delegating Tasks: Examples vs. Templates

A key to effective delegation is providing thorough and clear instructions. Obviously, managers don’t want to have to provide details to the point where they’re almost performing the delegated tasks themselves. At the same time, though, they may be concerned about leaving certain details to the discretion of individual staff in some cases.


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Providing examples to team members can be a great way to guide their work. Unfortunately, however, team members may take a quickly constructed example and use it as a template without recognizing the opportunity for individual discretion. So what’s the difference?

Example vs. Template

First, let’s consider the difference between an example and a template, as there is an important distinction when it comes to delegation.

Example. An example is simply an illustration of one possible means of completing a task. For instance, a manager might ask a staff member to compile an overview of all current business-to-business (B2B) customers with over $30,000 in business.

The manager may give an example of organizing the report as follows:

Company Name Industry Key Personnel Annual Sales to Customer Comments Etc.

The intent is simply to give a general sense of how the employee can organize the information, with suggestions for key data to include.

Template. A template, on the other hand, is a rubric for one to follow closely when completing a task. It’s generally intended to require a specific format and elements. For instance, the manager in the hypothetical above might tell the team member to provide a report on all B2B customers with over $30,000 in business as follows:

Company Name:


Key Staff:

  • CEO:
  • COO (Or Equivalent):
  • CFO (Or Equivalent):
  • Primary Sales Contact:

Annual Sales to Customer:

  • Product 1:
  • Product 2:
  • Product 3:
    • Total:

Sales Leads for 2020:

Retention Risks and Mitigation:


In this case, the template is much more formalized, with specific requirements and format included. Presumably, someone would have taken time to carefully consider what information needs to be included in this report and what format it needs to be in.

Deciding When to Use a Template vs. an Example

Templates are more likely to be used when the same information will be requested on a regular basis, making a standard format and the inclusion of the same pieces of information extremely useful for organization, tracking, and comparison of data over time and across data points.

Why the Difference Between Templates and Examples Matters

It might seem like the difference between an example and a template is a mere matter of semantics. But the two concepts are not interchangeable, and it actually is an important distinction. To state it simply, managers don’t want employees treating templates as examples, and they don’t want them treating examples as templates.

Template as an example. As we mentioned above, a template typically takes some time and thought to put together. It’s based on a specific need, likely for a recurring process or activity. The goal of a template is to ensure consistency and completeness, no matter who is putting the information together, what the underlying subject is, or when it’s completed. Following the template should ensure that comparable and consistent results are provided every time.

If an employee takes a template as an example and creates his or her own version, that consistency is lost, and key pieces of information could be left out, as well.

Example as a template. Using an example as a template is also problematic but for the opposite reason. Whereas templates should be put together based on thoughtful consideration of what information is needed and how it should be formatted, examples are generally more ad hoc.

If an employee blindly takes a manager’s example as a template, he or she is sure to end up with a less-than-optimal end result because neither the manager nor the employee will have put sufficient thought into the end product.

Examples and templates serve two distinct functions, and the best way to ensure employees use them correctly is to clearly specify what is being provided. If it’s only an example, make that clear, and state that the employee is expected to think about the best way to organize the data. If it’s a template, make sure the employee knows not to stray from its format. 

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