While transitioning from a startup to a well-established enterprise, numerous companies grapple with challenges linked to swift staff expansion. This entails structural modifications, such as the segmentation into specific directions and teams, each requiring a proficient leader.
In this article, we will focus on preparing leaders in engineering teams, discussing key aspects and strategies that will help them manage a growing team effectively and integrate new team members successfully.
Recruitment vs. Internal Talent Development
In considering its leadership needs, a company is confronted with either seeking a team lead externally or fostering leadership qualities within its existing workforce. Hiring an experienced external leader can prove effective but often presents challenges, such as a lengthy search and adapting to a new work environment. There is always the risk that the team may not align well with the new leader, which means a potentially costly repetition of the hiring process.
At the same time, nurturing leadership within the company enables the utilisation of accumulated knowledge about the product and the company’s culture. It serves as motivation for employees’ personal and professional growth. However, the fear of failure often dissuades potential candidates from aspiring to leadership roles. Regrettably, this is a prevalent situation in the modern IT community, where, after a failure, a newly appointed leader encounters significant psychological pressure and may even find it necessary to part ways with the team.
Are there solutions that can significantly reduce this pressure?
In my investigation on this matter, I have found a straightforward and effective way to appoint team leads with less stress – using a leadership experimentation approach. Instead of traditional, potentially stressful methods, this approach allows individuals to take on leadership roles in a supportive and controlled environment. By observing how candidates handle practical situations, companies can make informed decisions when appointing team leads. This method provides a better understanding of each candidate’s strengths and encourages a culture of continuous improvement and adaptability within the team.
Appointing Leaders Through Experimentation
The experimental approach to leadership appointments helps mitigate the risks and problems associated with such a choice. Similar to a probation period for new employees, this method allows the candidate and the team to adapt to the new role without undue stress. It is important to remember that any experiment can end either positively or negatively, and there is nothing tragic about that; after all, it is an experiment because the outcome is unknown in advance.
In the case of a negative outcome, the employee who wanted to try themselves as a leader does not need to resign; there is nothing to be ashamed of, and no one in the team will look askance or whisper behind their back. This is because nothing terrible happened – the experiment ended with one of two possible outcomes.
Key Principles of Conducting Experiment
- The candidate must sincerely aspire to the leadership role, and the team must support their candidacy. Otherwise, the chances of “chemistry” in the future remain minimal.
- Usually, leaders emerge from a development background. However, this does not mean that representatives of other specialities, like QA engineers, can not successfully fulfil this role. It is essential to understand that a team lead is primarily a process organiser, a comrade, and a supporter, not necessarily the most vital technical engineer in the team. However, basic knowledge of technologies, experience, and fundamental architectural principles are still necessary.
- If there are already leads in the team, arrange a meeting with the candidate, allowing colleagues to share their experiences and discuss the specifics of being a lead in your company.
- Take your time, and give the candidate and the team time to think about their desire. A few extra days will likely not matter to you, but you may gain a good and motivated leader for years.
- Clearly define the conditions for exiting the experiment, both successful and unsuccessful. The duration of the experiment should be finite; do not stretch it over the years. Three to six months is usually enough to assess the result. Discuss success and failure criteria with the team. For example, if even one team member is against the appointment, it will not happen.
- It is okay to interrupt the experiment at any time. Sometimes, candidates imagine the role differently than it turns out in practice. You don’t necessarily have to see the experiment through to the end if the desire to be a leader has faded.
Supporting the New Leader
- Set clear, understandable, and achievable goals for the candidate. Suggest what to pay special attention to and advise on where to start.
- Your responsibility, along with that of the leader, is to mentor the team. Demonstrate the best practices for effective mentoring through your example, enabling the lead to transfer these skills to the team.
- Strive not to work within the “big boss and subordinate” paradigm. While responsibilities may differ, everyone is working towards a common goal. Treat the leaders in your team as you would like your superiors to treat you.
- Give freedom; your job is to guide, not micromanage. Even if it results in non-critical errors, it fosters invaluable experience. Most importantly, it cultivates trusting relationships and an independent leader within the team.
- Collect feedback from all experiment participants. Organise a control meeting after 1.5 months to ensure you are moving in the same direction. The team will see that their opinion matters, and the team lead can adjust their actions accordingly.
- Do not expect too much, especially at the beginning of the experiment. While there are cases where an employee is fully prepared for a leadership role pending management’s decision, more often than not, individuals require time to acclimate to new responsibilities, meetings, discussions, and adjustments. Some metrics may decrease, but remember that this effort is an investment in the future.
Ultimately, a successful experiment creates a cohesive team with a confident leader, not just another manager. Feel free to experiment and provide opportunities for your employees, recognising that both the products and the people driving the process are at the heart of any company’s success. That is why “WE SEE PEOPLE” is one of the central values at SOFTSWISS.