Grow, Team Leader, Big and Small

    It was a wonderful time when the company where you work began to grow, and the team became so large and slow that it lost its flexibility. Old approaches gradually stop working, and you realize that it's time to change something. The logical decision comes first: let's divide people into teams, put Team Leader (TL) at the head, and live happily and cheerfully, as before. So let's figure out where to find a beast like TL. And, of course, do not forget that we do not have time, since the company requires the growth and development of the business.


    As I wrote in another article , TLs are not born out of thin air, so there are two ways, each with its own pros and cons. The choice is yours.

    • Hiring from:
      Pros: a ready-made combat unit, no need to spend resources (time and money) on training.
      Cons: a cat in a poke - there is a chance to make a mistake, it may not share the values ​​of the team, time to gain the trust of the team.
    • Self-cultivation:
      Pros: the chance of a selection error is minimized, a large team trust credit.
      Cons: waste of resources (time and money) on training.

    Why does the TL team need to scale a business? In a growing company, TL is needed to scale knowledge in the IT department. In today's market, things are like this:

    1. Small companies that have a leader (often the founder). Due to him, everything is spinning.
    2. Companies in which they do not consider this important, and everything flows as usual for them.
    3. Companies in which they are trying to solve the TL problem. They have poor experience in hiring and growing. They try to fine-tune their processes so that they live without a TL.
    4. Large companies that are fruitfully working to ensure that they have a TL. They try to scale and organize the whole process.

    Which strategy to adopt is up to you. I realized that with the growth of the company, something needs to be changed. And success for the 4th type of company. I tried to grow TL, and the main story will be about this.

    As usually prescribed TL

    It would seem that complicated? TL is a cross between a manager and a class technician. Since we don’t have managers with the right knowledge in our company, let's make Vasya TL, he’s a cool programmer. Congratulations, you just stepped onto the road to hell.

    In my opinion, there are 2 major mistakes that the leader or the current TL makes. Once, I myself plunged out of inexperience and made one of them.

    Error number 1.It is necessary to look for a candidate for this position, not when you thought about it, but when you yourself became TL. Why should I immediately look for a replacement? Suppose you have a great team of specialists, but they have never managed people. You need to learn this skill, just as you learn to write code. Timlids are not born, they become. The same thing, in order to learn to ride a bicycle, we need to fall several times. Of course, there are exceptions to the rules, a person may already have inclinations, but let's not rely on the case.

    Mistake # 2.It is far from the fact that a good techie will be a good leader. Transferring an engineer to the position of leader, you throw him into a new unfamiliar world, pull him out of your comfort zone. Not everyone can handle such stress. The risks are great that a person will burn out, can quit altogether. That is, you can not only stay without TL, but also lose a good programmer.

    When and how to search?


    Let's see how to avoid these errors. We begin to search for TL for several reasons at once. Firstly, there is a great risk of error, you should have time to carefully look at the person. Secondly, a player on the bench will not hurt you, for example, in case of force majeure, when TL is on vacation, on sick leave or even leaves the company.

    Since we are all different, it is difficult to predict how a person will develop. Our task is to select candidates who have the makings of leadership and interest in such activities, lead them to new responsibilities and teach them. How to make this process as painless and effective as possible? First of all, I studied what smart people write and say, and how it works for them. After that I proceeded to trial and experiment.

    Before you begin to prepare someone for a new position, you must clearly understand what skills and characteristics a TL should have. You can make a list, about the following qualities will fall there: responsibility, sociability, ability to learn, motivation, a sufficient level of technical skills, emotional intelligence.

    How to choose a TL?


    Now it’s the small business: you need to find people who meet these requirements and develop the necessary skills in them.

    How to find them? Real skills are best seen in practice. Create situations for the candidate in which he can reveal these skills. For example, such:

    • Give the task without some input, explain what you need to figure it out yourself, and observe. See what approaches he will use, whether he will try to solve the problem on his own.
    • Leave him to act as a TL for a while and ask him to hand out tasks. In one of the companies, I had a period when I was completely immersed in negotiations with partners. The guys from the team did many things for me. Solving my tasks and being in the office, I had the opportunity to observe the team and their work from the inside, without interfering. I shot metrics, watched how they handle or not.
    • Give tasks and watch how he solves them. Only within the framework of the conditions, or does he think up something and take the initiative? In this situation, independence can be judged.
    • Give a task in which you need to interact with other departments and specialists. If he could, then he has no problems with sociability.

    Also, when observing potential TLs, it is useful to pay attention to the following points:

    • See how the candidate approaches the solution of the problem. It can be done in different ways: in 2 weeks or in 2 days. What is the solution to the problem? For business or for the process itself? Is his motivation correct? Do his aspirations coincide with the party line? He must understand that there must be a balance between business and development.
    • Does he manage to be an informal leader? Colleagues appreciate his authority or not? Can he influence the team without giving direct instructions? Leadership is the skill that allows you to attract people and turn them into a team, to be able to rally them.
    • Is the candidate comfortable in the new role? Constantly remove feedback: ask directly whether it was hard for him to complete a particular task.
    • Will he be able to demand deadlines for tasks and plans? The fact is that there are soft people, it is difficult and unusual for them to demand something from their colleagues. And it happens the other way around when a person goes too far and treats the team too hard.

    Also do not forget about the learning process itself: you must help a person, suggest something, discuss. But do not give ready-made answers, be a mentor for him. Ask what he will do in a certain situation? How will it solve a problem?

    Approach people and ask: “The sales department has such a problem, what do you think, how can you help them solve this?” Discuss his ideas with this person, he will tell you what you don’t see, and maybe he will throw new ideas. This will teach him to think and reason, and not just perform tasks on the machine.

    Remember that HR in your company most likely will not be engaged in the development of people, this is exactly what TL should do. You see the guys every day, understand the strong and weak qualities, try different situations, all this responsibility lies with you. Do not expect HR to come to you, look at your employee and give you a ready answer. You need a person to whom you can transfer responsibilities, and the development process will go smoothly in the normal mode and not require your attention. This will free up time, and it can be spent usefully: on planning, building business processes, learning something, etc.

    This is a gradual process, you test skill by skill. But here it is important to be able to stop in time. If training does not go, and the person has to force himself, then do not continue. It’s better to keep a talented engineer on the team.

    How to take metrics


    We are all human beings and, unfortunately, far from always we can objectively evaluate people. You need to abstract from personal relationships and take into account only professional qualities.

    In this situation, monitoring will help - constant monitoring of the necessary metrics, and this is an ongoing process. I just made a spreadsheet for myself in Google Docs, entered employees, competencies, tasks that I gave there, and recorded the results. Here the key point is that you need to do this all the time, do not stop, otherwise we will not see a clear picture. Over time, an ample amount of data will be accumulated, by which it will be easy to trace the development of man. For example, at the moment there may be 2 people with the same indicators. But if you look at such a metric as the "dynamics of development", you can see that initially one had much less experience and knowledge, that is, he is developing faster. It’s difficult to see without constant metrics. Over time, you will have an objective picture: you will see who worked on themselves, that is, such employees will not be lost in comparison with others.

    Also, an analysis of the data obtained allows you to see what else a person needs to work on to ultimately increase his effectiveness as a combat unit. Over time, you will build a clearer development strategy. In addition, the accumulated data is useful for making quick personnel decisions. When the time comes X, it will be enough for you just to look at the table, and not frantically remember who and what can.

    Experiment and develop your approaches. This will help articles, books, conferences and other sources of knowledge. Of course, there is the option of hiring an expensive coach who will help you quickly figure it out. But I believe that you can’t take it and immediately change everything in a team that has evolved over the years. And it is difficult to believe that a specialist will be able to "guess" and immediately select exactly those individual metrics that are important in a particular team. There is a great chance that everyone will nod, they say they understand, and then the coach will leave, but the team will remain, no one will develop further. The option with a coach is good when he constantly or for a long time works with a team. Or you have a special employee who is involved in building processes. The coach can give him the right direction, and then the employee will further develop everything.

    There are no ready-made recipes. Let your approaches be awkward at first, but over time you will come to optimal metrics. The main thing is that you will see the whole picture in dynamics, and this is extremely important. Growth over a long period of time can tell a lot.

    Help professionals reach a new level. Make people analyze in retrospect, then they will understand what has been done well and what needs to be worked on. But in no case in the form of arrivals. Engage them in discussions; you should be trusted and understood that you are open and ready to help. And this also needs to be done constantly, otherwise all efforts will be lost.

    Throughout the selection, try to find out in advance whether people like this work, whether they have a desire to develop in this direction. Everything is simple here: either the person is indifferent, or his eyes burn. It is also extremely important to get the opinion of the rest of the team.

    TL assigned. What's next?

    The hour comes X, it is time to appoint a new team lead. You look at the candidates and their merits and make an informed decision. Sometimes it's hard to choose, and sometimes you already know exactly who the TL will be. In my practice, usually the majority was eliminated during the selection process, and more often I didn’t even have to choose.

    Of course, it’s good when the team is ready and agrees with the new leader, but there may be a situation when you choose one of two strong candidates and refuse the other. Be sure to explain to the second why he was not chosen, what skills to tighten. Say that you appreciated it and are ready in the future to try again for the role of TL. Of course, not everything can go smoothly, but there is no universal answer.

    So, you have a new TL and its team. The work on its formation does not end there. You are still mentoring and helping him. It is important to continue to transfer his knowledge and skills to him, but in no case to decide for him. The maximum is analysis of situations with analysis, but decisions should remain with him.

    The process is started, and everything goes as it should. Finally, you can relax and focus on your affairs? No, you need to continue to keep abreast and monitor the situation. Do not treat this negligently, they say it will tune itself. TL errors are much more expensive for a company than mistakes by ordinary developers. In addition, if the process is disrupted, then problems may begin with the team. Therefore, it is better to do well right away than to break everything down and start all over again.

    Continue to discuss some solutions with the new TL, over and over again make sure that he correctly understands the principles of planning and prioritizing tasks, understands the tasks from the point of view of the business and strives to make them work specifically for the business. He should ask questions about the timing and plan the risks, and also realize that he also needs to look for a replacement TL. Explain about burnout: if he will work hard for a month, giving all his best, then sooner or later he will come out. It will be sad if you miss this moment and lose a specialist. Only after a person has mastered will it be possible to slowly release him into free swimming.

    But what if you take the finished one?

    I never did this, but based on logic, I can say that in fact you have all the same indicators, only you need to get the result much earlier - during the trial period. The only difficulty is that the person still has to join the new team, his motivation and values ​​should be on the same plane with the company. Which option is better? I have no answer to this question. One can only compare reality and expectations.


    There is no ready-made solution for growing TL, it is the same creative process as writing code. TL is the first step in management, people need to be prepared for this, and the better you do it, the easier it will be later. Start looking for a replacement right away. Conduct training, giving different tasks, and be sure to remove feedback. This process is continuous, you need to constantly work, otherwise it will fade like a flower without watering. Help the new TL and share your knowledge. Even if the company is very small and only at the beginning of its development, establish a process, this will contribute to the future. And do not lock everything on yourself, this is the road to hell.

    My other articles about IT management:

    What is being a Team Leader
    Dream team from nothing: hiring specialists in IT
    How to create and manage successful teams
    New employee - dead or alive

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