I had been a good technical developer for a good portion of my career until I became a technical team leader and a senior team member. This transition was not a smooth one for me for the fact that leadership was a new concept to me. It is like the transition that one has to undertake first time he drives a car and he realizes that everything that he took for granted doesn’t exist anymore. He does not know for instance that his decisions on the road determines whether or not he and the rest of the car passengers arrive safely home. This blog entry is based on my experience because when you are a senior team member of team-leader, you need some basic “driving skills” that determines the safety of your team members and sometimes, the future of your company. So, you can imagine what kind of responsibility falls on your shoulders. This is why you have to be more proactive, more alert and I will convey you some basic guidelines that I learned the hard way.
1) Defend your team members. Your team members need your support and protection. Convey a positive image for them in front of the customer and do not fight against them. You want to build a team and you have to lead by example. Otherwise, your team gets broken and once you don’t have a team, you can forget about the success of the project.
2) Be honest in conveying problems to the project manager and the rest of your team. Don’t be brutally honest, but state facts as you are. Don’t convey personal comments and make it a habit to disturb everybody’s sweet dreams. There are so many projects that failed because the team-leader failed raise the red alert. Raise as many red alerts as you want but not to the point as to make people discouraged to work. Give people around you hope that this can work if only we can do this even if you are not so sure!
3) Stay focused on technical problems. Scope issues should be covered by project manager. You do your work, and let the project manager do his work. Don’t try to over-discuss with the customer or with the project manager whether this is in scope or should we do this or not? It reflects that you are not able to do it. As a technical team-leader, you get judged on whether or not you are able to solve technical problems.
4) Take ownership. Be in charge. Don’t try to hide away when it feels like the ship is sinking. If you hide, everybody in your team starts hiding and you lose your fighting edge. Customers like it when they can see that you are in charge and it feels to them that you are able to solve the problem. If they have this hope, they would be willing to extend the deadline and co-operate with you. If you are escaping they start attacking you.
5) Customers are the ones who pay money and they like to feel this way. Customers would like to feel that they are special, do not treat them as if they are a part of your team. Give them this extra respect and show them that you are there to make their wishes come true. Of course, real life is different, but they like to feel this way.
6) Stay focused. Be focused and don’t scatter your and your team’s efforts. Have this laser-focus on whatever you want to accomplish and never leave behind loose ends. Loose ends are going to hunt you later on. Have this determination to get rid of problems and pains.
7) Keep a friendly attitude. Don’t be bossy. Don’t make your team members that you don’t listen to your ideas and that you have the upper hand over them. Be nice to them and accept their ideas and then put your final touches. Don’t make everybody constrained and incapable to put his input in the project. Take two steps back and accept everybody’s faults and never expose their downfalls. Encourage them to talk, speak and have some say in the project.
8) Appreciate the efforts of good team members. Be sure to promote the superior team members, this gives them always the incentive to put more efforts into the project. Don’t be afraid to disturb the team members that are not performing as well. They would be encouraged when they see the rewards.
9) Don’t expect the perfect atmosphere. This is real life, so don’t follow theories. When you are working as a technical team leader, your position is based not just on your technical skills, it is based also on your political skills. Try to be creative in solving the problems without expecting the perfect work environment. Don’t make it a habit to dictate to the customer how they are supposed to think and what they are supposed to do. Don’t criticize the customers because they are not knowledgeable technically.
10) Always, defend your company. You can have so many internal problems with your company, but you are coming to the customer as a company’s representative and your customer is looking at you as if you are the company. Do not convey the internal problems that you have in your company to the customer.