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Why Tech Leads Are Not the Way to Go

DZone's Guide to

Why Tech Leads Are Not the Way to Go

Giving everybody an equal chance to contribute and be heard often produces better results, and creates happier development teams.

· Agile Zone ·
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If you think about a technical lead, up springs visions of a superhero developer. He has his black belt in JavaScript, Java, Angular, you name it. In every team meeting, he talks the most, gives the most opinions and makes the final decisions. When the awards are handed out, he gets it without fail. No job is too big, no fee is too big (to quote Ghost Busters).

How many people do you know that can fill these shoes?

Reality Looks More Like This

The other team members leave the Team Lead to make the decisions because they can. When a piece of code doesn't work, or when the team doesn't know what tech to choose for the next project, they go and ask Team Lead to make a plan and produce the magical answer. Need a design or to resolve some dependency? Team lead to the rescue.

They have become like a spoiled child that expects Mommy to take care of their every need, including thinking for them.

So what happens when the Team/Tech Lead is not there anymore? Who will now make the decisions?

Let's look at some reasons why the above scenario is a bad idea.

  1. Other members of the team might never be heard, even though they might have great ideas.

  2. Ownership does not sit with the team, where it should, but rather with an individual.

  3. Responsibility is delegated to a single person instead of a team.

  4. One person grows more than the others as he gets to do all the talking, researching, and struggling.

Technical Leadership Should Not Sit With One Person

I believe that no one person is smarter than the group and that a group always out-thinks a single individual. Here's why:

  • You have more brains. Literally.

  • Diversity brings perspective and creativity. One person might be analytical, another creative. People have different skill sets and specialties. These can augment and feed on each other.

  • Problems can be solved in more than one way. Having open discussions and welcoming ideas might highlight ways to solve a problem a single individual might never have thought of.

Like musicians, a tight group of developers (including programmers, test analysts, business analysts, UX specialists) riff off each other and feed on each other's energy.

Technical Leadership Is Still Required

Technical leadership means that a group of like-minded individuals set the trends for technological excellence, set the culture and way of work in a responsible way. It also includes individuals that contribute a lot to this body of knowledge, but it should never exclude others.

You do need technical leadership, but instead of concentrating it in a select few individuals, make it a mob thing.

Does This Mean That No-One Should Lead a Team?

Yes and no. If someone's a natural leader, people tend to follow that person, whether or not that person carries a title. People want to follow someone they feel safe with, respect and trust. 

If you make the lives of those around you easier and more meaningful, help them meet their targets and overcome their obstacles, you're a servant leader. This is a way of thinking and doing, not a role or job title. By doing this you will earn respect without having any title. 

Try this out: remove the titles from the team. Then give them something to do together or figure out and watch what happens. Then, remove or swap out the person that led the team and do the exercise again. You will be surprised to see that your team actually has more than one leader. The others just never got the chance to shine.

Moving From Tech Lead to Technical Leadership

Here are some ideas to try out.

  1. Start by removing the titles and stigmas. It can be as simple as changing everyone's email signatures or by putting non-obvious people "in charge" and rotating this role.

  2. If you're the one talking all the time, give the others a chance, specifically refer decisions to the rest of the team for a while. Sometimes a shy person just needs a small push to speak up.

  3. Make it your passion to help others, to learn, and to encourage teamwork.

  4. Try mob programming. This technique focuses the whole team on a single goal and purpose by physically programming or solving problems on the same computer or screen.

  5. Learn to share the load instead of doing everything yourself.

Conclusion

I don't believe that a single person with the title of Tech Lead is as effective as Technical Leadership owned by the whole team. You always need and will have leaders, but they rarely need titles to do so.

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Topics:
leadership ,agile ,agile teams ,tech leads

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