Stepping into a leadership role is an opportunity to grow yourself and your team. However, you may have anxiety about doing it “right,” overcoming a steep learning curve, or winning your colleagues’ approval. Taking on the leadership reins for a team of software developers can be more of a test for some than others. And it’s usually because the role involves switching from purely technical prowess to a combination of technical and people skills.
Suddenly, the job is no longer simply about being brilliant at writing code or developing your company’s next big app. You’re now responsible for ensuring the team and every individual on it can succeed. Plus, you’ve got to manage projects’ direction, pacing, and quality while dealing with interpersonal-related challenges.
Being a technical team lead isn’t for the faint of heart, and it can take time to master the role. However, there are ways to shorten the learning process and win your group’s support. Here are some best practices for managing a software development team.
Build in Slack Time
No one likes a taskmaster. At least no one likes leaders who expect their teams to fire on all cylinders 100% of the time. High workloads and unreasonable productivity expectations stress employees out and lead to mistakes. While a few team members might push themselves harder, others will take a step back. They might avoid stretch assignments, look for ways to reduce their workloads, or start taking more PTO days.
Project management apps help team leads distribute workloads more evenly and at a saner pace. You’ll better anticipate when the group will need to work intensely and when they can slow down. Use lulls to build in slack time for the team, letting them work on personal interest projects. Groups might also use downtime to develop new tools or fix ongoing issues that aren’t as high of a priority. You can visit Shortcut for more information on how to leverage project management software.
Trust Your Team to Handle the Details
One of the hardest parts of leadership is learning that your role isn’t the same as an individual contributor’s. This means you won’t be spending the majority of your time writing code or controlling every aspect of group projects. Because your performance is tied to your team members’ results, you may develop the urge to micromanage them. You might also feel the need to take over people’s assignments or hold work back from the team.
The problem is that this approach rarely works and sends the wrong message. It says you don’t trust your team members or their abilities. Micromanagement has several negative effects on workers and teams, including less productivity, innovation, and collaboration.
Remember that a leader’s job is to guide employees and support their efforts. Delegate and give the group space to do their work.
Brush Up Your People Skills
As a manager, you’ll find out fairly quickly that people will start coming to you with problems and complaints. Some of those issues will be technical, but many of them will involve colleagues, clients, and even the team members’ personal lives. While there’s usually a straight answer for complications involving code, there isn’t for difficulties concerning people.
Since employees who excel at their jobs tend to get promoted, they can find themselves unprepared to handle interpersonal challenges. They might be technical geniuses or have the most seniority. But that doesn’t mean these tech wizards have developed the skills to take on the people side of management. If that sounds too familiar, you may want to consider interpersonal communication or leadership training from an organization like the American Management Association.
Learn the Art of Feedback
You might think that feedback means letting team members know when they’ve veered off course or did an excellent job. Although that correction or praise is part of the process, a culture built on feedback is more democratic. It should be an open two-way street between those in leadership and those in the ranks.
Employees need to feel comfortable speaking up about their concerns and ideas. They shouldn’t feel hesitant about pointing out processes or managerial practices that need improvements. Team members and leaders must also be honest with each other about their expectations and goals. To earn your group’s trust and respect, you have to show sustained interest in their performance, well-being, and opinions.
Democratized individual and group check-ins are a start, as are retrospective meetings that review previous sprints or projects. When team members help shape their work environments and the processes that impact them, they’re more likely to remain engaged. Leaders can witness team dynamics at play, listen to what needs to be changed, and help the team take ownership.
Ask Other Leaders
Some organizations will assign new team leads with a more seasoned mentor or have them work closely with their boss. These arrangements give rookies a resource to turn to when they need guidance or have questions about novel situations. Mentors can also be a source of encouragement as new managers work through their doubts and frustrations. But even if this doesn’t apply to your workplace situation, nothing says you can’t reach out to other leaders.
Talking to others who have been through what you’re experiencing widens your perspective. You might discover ways to approach a problem you haven’t thought of. Or you could gain insights that can only come from experience or trial and error. You’ll also feel less isolated and have someone you can discuss your struggles with.
Management articles and theory only go so far. Sometimes it takes practical understanding and solidarity to get to the right solutions.
All leadership roles involve obstacles, but technical team leads often find the transition to management to be demanding and complicated. They can no longer completely rely on the coding skills that may have elevated them to a manager’s role. New team leads suddenly find themselves charged with the performance of a group whose members might question their abilities and direction.
But with the help of tools, techniques, training courses, and mentors, those who are new to leadership can succeed. While becoming a manager of a group of software developers is an adjustment, you don’t have to make it alone. By building rapport with your team and seeking expert advice, you can learn to lead with confidence and skill.