Team Leaders are Essential

Many say the role of the ‘Team Leader’ is somewhat unnecessary as they typically do less work and more management. I’ve always disagreed with the notion, but recently learned a harsh lesson in the matter. It was during a 4th year semester long group project.

The reality is this. We did a good job as a team and will most likely receive decent to above average marks. But we weren’t excellent. And we didn’t deliver the best work we were capable of. Simply put, there are a few key roles that the ‘Team Leader’ provides that make the difference between a good team and an excellent one.

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Coordinating Efforts

Coordinating efforts is a difficult task; especially when there are dependencies in the workflow. A team lead is key in bringing down internal silos and best orchestrating the talents and abilities of the team.

We found ourselves multiple times rushing against the clock, implementing last-minute fixes in our code. This could’ve been avoided by defining timelines and measuring progress against key milestones. Team leads play critical roles in seeing the ‘big picture’ and guiding the team step by step along the way.

Managing Risk

The longer and more complex the project, the more things can and will go wrong. This is exactly what will happen if no one takes the responsibility of thinking 10 steps ahead, and understanding and mitigating potential, yet critical, risk.

For example, our team had to solve the same problem using 2 different algorithms. It turned out that a gap in the team’s initial understanding of the problem resulted in two solutions that worked differently. A complete oversight that we didn’t realize until the day before the project was due.

Vision

The most important value of a team leader is owning and communicating the project vision. Our team had multiple separate ideas of the project vision, but we lacked a single ‘True North’. We delivered enough to meet the project criteria, but not not to our most potential.

A team lead works with the team to define a ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal‘ and enables the team to achieve it. Our project scope was limited and unambitious. We did not raise the bar nor push ourselves to deliver amazing work.

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The scenario that played out, was that we all ‘took turns’ playing the role of leader. But trading the hat of responsibility every so often lead to a lack of mobilization and discontinued efforts. It’s important we not underestimate the impact strong leadership can have on enabling teams to deliver superior results.

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