You’ve just been tapped to lead a development team on a new project. It’s a sign of the company’s confidence in you and the opportunity you’ve been wanting for a while.
Now that you’re back at a workstation, reality is setting in. What do you need to get your team on board and rowing together?
In a word, it’s leadership. And that has far less to do with your coding skills than your ability to communicate, motivate and collaborate. Your team will look to you for guidance in setting priorities, advocating for them up the food chain, and working with them to solve problems.
“In today’s world,” says The Ohio State Engineer Magazine, “It is essential for an engineer to possess strong communication skills; it is the biggest determiner of success in the modern engineer’s professional career.” This goes double for project leads and managers.
Clear communication starts with knowing the details of the project, defining the end goals clearly, assigning roles and setting expectations. Clarity is essential, so even when you see nodding heads, don’t assume everyone understands. Ask for discussion. A diplomatic way of ensuring your team understands what needs to be done is ask if the process and goals are realistic; does anyone see any potential problems. Invite pushback on the timeline.
Besides uncovering misunderstandings or communication gaps, you’ll demonstrate your openness to disagreement and differing points of view. Creating an environment of psychological safety is the single most important component of team success, according to Google, which exhaustively studied team leadership.
A Slack blog post describes how a team lead creates psychological safety:
- An empathetic approach – “Strive to read your teammates. Are they content, stressed out or struggling?… Aiming to empathize with their point of view is key to gaining their trust.”
- Practice active listening – This means listening to understand what the person is saying rather than thinking of how we will respond.
- Avoid finger pointing – Constructive feedback is helpful. But blaming does nothing good. When problems arise — and they always do — focus on how to solve them. Involving the team in finding solutions is often a smart way to find creative ways to resolve problems.
- Be humble – When you make a mistake, admit it. When you’ve been short with someone, apologize. Say “please” and “thank you” often.