Every team needs a leader. No matter how big or small, teams rely on someone to guide, support, motivate, and galvanize resources in order to deliver what is required. This is true for any area of group cooperation: from sports to corporate, humans look to a competent leader for direction. Leaders lead by example, are inspiring and are able to bring out the best in each person in the team.
The tech space is no different. Development teams around the world follow a fundamentally similar approach to teams and leadership because the nuts and bolts are the same: a group of people performing particular tasks both individually and as a collective to create something larger, together. Leading a development team is not a simple and easy thing to do. A great Tech Lead determines a technical vision with their development team and works with them to turn an idea into reality.
As you can imagine, the role of a Technical Team Leader (TTL) entails multiple responsibilities, not only as a team leader, but also as a team member. We put together a list of qualities we value for technical tea leadership.
1. Team support
Perhaps the most important role of any TTL in any organisation is team support. It is crucial this aspect of leadership is not overlooked and should be a top priority of any TTL. Motivating individuals and an entire team as a whole is a skill that not many people possess. You could be the best developer or scrum master with incredible technical ability, but that is only half the job. Team motivation and facilitating team activities is a powerful attribute to any TTL as it makes the team operate as a single organism. This means keeping a guiding eye on each member and being able to make yourself available to discussions regarding work and processes in order for each person to know exactly what is required of them. Organising and structuring teamwork as a process is an art, and when it is running smoothly the entire operation benefits.
2. Technical excellence
A good TTL will take on the personal responsibility of ensuring each team member, including him/herself, is continuously performing technically. This means nurturing growth and development and pushing team members out of their comfort zone in order to realise their potential. A TTL must take charge and be responsible for the calibre of work being produced by their team. This often means developing a culture of understanding of each team member’s role individually, and how their role benefits the team as a whole. When teams are producing technically proficient products and services — as a team — then real innovation can begin.
Another important responsibility for a TTL is the ability to cultivate a culture of innovation in the workplace. Only once a TTL has successfully instilled team support and technical excellence within the team can the process of innovation begin. As a famous artist once mused, “…only once you’ve mastered the rules are you able to break them…”, and this is true for any technical team. When a TTL creates an atmosphere where team members are encouraged and feel free to experiment, they begin to discover unconventional solutions to pesky problems. TTLs must continuously lift team spirits and display belief in each member’s ability in order to lead teams on adventures (and misadventures) of innovation. And when a team is constantly innovating, nothing can stop them.
Every team leader, in any team, needs to be highly proficient in organisation — of people, tasks, sub-teams, performance — the list goes on. TTLs need to have these innate leadership qualities and more. Not only must a good TTL be in complete control of their personal work, but also the collective team’s processes and results. They are responsible for organising the collective knowledge and information gathered by their team and make it available to full organisation. The team process is another major element TTLs need to stay on top of as this is the driving force behind execution and product/service delivery.
What to watch out for as a Technical Team Leader (TTL)
When deciding if a career path as a TTL is the one for you, there are a few things to understand and familiarise yourself with before you put your best foot forward. Perhaps the most common problem aspiring TTLs encounter is the idea that solely their technical abilities (developing) will be enough to make them a good leader. This is false. Having amazing technical abilities can only get you so far.
Being a leader who is capable of motivating a team, setting targets and goals for both individuals and the team as a whole, maintaining a steady eye on all the goings-on in the team, while still maintaining one’s own technical and leadership proficiency is a tall order — and one that not many fully realise until they are thrust into the position. Sure, being a hands-on developer and having great technical know-how is beneficial. But combining that with raw leadership skills calls for a particular type of character.
Being hands-on as a TTL is a virtue, especially when it comes to development. But there is a line that needs to be drawn between being involved (a good thing) and being too much involved and taking the power away from your team (a bad thing obviously). Knowing when to action items yourself and when to delegate tasks is something all leaders must identify and manage. TTLs can’t do everything on their own and most newbies try to do just that, to their team’s detriment. Striking a healthy balance of being involved at a granular level as well as a holistic one takes time to realise.
As with any team scenario where people work together for a common cause, communication is king. It is vital that TTLs wanting to make an impact are natural communicators. They are the ones calling the shots, motivating their team and maintaining the path to the team’s vision.