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#Softwaredev Tips: Why tech leads are not the way to go
Roan Bester
Software Developer at DVT

#Softwaredev Tips: 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.

If you think of a technical lead, visions of a 'superhero software developer' usually appears. This 'superhero' has a black belt in JavaScript, Java, Angular and more. In every team meeting, he talks the most, gives the most opinions and makes the final decisions. When the awards are handed out, he receives it without fail. “No job is too big; no fee is too big” (to quote the movie Ghost Busters).


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


Reality looks more like this

The other team members leave the Team Lead to make the decisions. Why? 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 ask the Team Lead to make a plan and produce the magic 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 or Tech Lead is not there anymore? Who will make the decisions?


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


  • Other team members may never be heard even though they may have great ideas.
  • Ownership does not sit with the team, where it should, but rather with an individual.
  • Responsibility is delegated to a single person instead of a team.
  • 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 specialities. These can augment and feed on each other.


Problems can be solved in more than one way. Having open discussions and welcoming ideas could highlight new ways to solve a problem which one person may not 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 and set the culture and way of work responsibly. It also includes individuals who contribute to this body of knowledge, but it should never exclude others.


You do need technical leadership, but instead of concentrating on a select few, 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 they carry a title or not. 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 and 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 to 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 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:


  • 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.
  • If you're the one talking all the time, give the others a chance. Refer decisions to the rest of the team for a while. Sometimes a shy person just needs a small push to speak up.
  • Make it your passion to help others, to learn, and to encourage teamwork.
  • 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.
  • 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.


This article was first published on DZone: https://dzone.com/articles/why-tech-leads-are-not-the-way-to-go