Sunday, 18 March 2012

Notes to a Software Team Leader

Team leading is hard. It is important not to fool yourself that it will be all about the technology and that you won’t have to deal with the dynamics and personalities within the team. Your team may be made up of highly professional, highly skilled and highly experienced individuals, but fundamentally it is a team of people.

Someone, somewhere, maybe even you, has made you the team leader. It may be because you were the first member of the team, because you are the most experienced, because you are the most highly skilled or for some other equally valid reason. Whatever the reason, don’t set yourself above your team. You are still one of the members of your team. Listen to your team and speak to them as another member of the team, Don’t expect people to blindly follow just because you’re the leader. Your team may be full of highly professional people, but don’t assume that means they don’t need to understand the reasons when asked to do something, even by somebody ‘superior’ to them. Expect to justify yourself and welcome the opportunity to share the reasons with the rest of your team. They may be able to see something invaluable that you can’t and the work they do will benefit from the understanding. Never, ever dictate unless you absolutely have too. Allow the discussions to continue as long as is necessary for the team to understand. In extreme cases if you cannot get your team to agree with you don’t force them. There are two possible outcomes from this; either in time they will gain the experience they need to see why they were asked to do what they were asked to do or you will see that they were right to challenge you.

Your team members will have lots of different experience and lots of different levels of experience. You are likely to have two or more people equally capable of completing a particular task to the same standard, but one may enjoy the activity far more. Equally you may have a team member who really enjoys a task, but cannot complete that task to the same standard as someone who enjoys the activity far less. Know your team. Understand not only their strengths and weaknesses, but also their motivations. Play to the team’s motivations as well as their strengths. Give members of the team the opportunity to work on their weaknesses. Consider a persons motivation as well as their strengths. You’re running a team, not a group of autonomous individuals. Consider pairing people up to get the best results.

There will be occasions when someone in the team is not performing as well as they could be. My experience is that broadly there are two types of people in the workplace. There are those that are there because they need the money and those that need the money, but are there as much because they enjoy the work. Developers generally fall into the second category. The issue with an under performing team member is unlikely to be addressed by discipline. As well as enjoying their work, most developers want to do a good job and want to learn how to do a better job. Address under performing within the team with understanding and appropriate coaching. Build your team by enhancing its members, not by replacing them.

There will be times that you want to improve the overall performance of your team. These times may coincide with individual members of the team under or over performing relative to the rest of the team. Be careful about making positive examples of individual members of your team and never make a negative example of a member of your team. Rather than motivating the rest of the team to do better this can cause division within the team and in the case of a negative example, have a bad affect on the moral of the whole team as well as the team member being made an example of. This not to say that when a member of the team excels it should go unnoticed, but the praise must be genuine and not a thinly veiled attempt to motivate the rest of the team. Under performance should be handled with understanding, individual coaching and discretion.

Most important of all trust your team. Don’t micromanage them. In most cases they will have a raft of experience from which they can draw. They know what they’re doing because they’ve done it before. Trust them to do the right thing and make sure you understand it by talking with them.

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