4 mistakes you don't know you're making as a tech lead

tech-lead-mistakes

When you are a tech lead there’s no doubt that you have a lot on your plate. You not only have the responsibility of setting the technical direction for your team, but you also need to be in control of managing them. This includes the non-technical and less sexy parts of software development like managing the team’s schedule, addressing issues with individual team members, working with leadership across the company, reporting status to internal and external stakeholders, responding to way too many emails, and generally keeping things from running off the rails.

As you work feverishly through the daily churn of what seems like unrelenting requirements and responsibilities, it is understandable if you fail to realize some of the mistakes you might be making. The real problem arises when these mistakes go on for too long and end up burning your team members out or generally sapping their motivation.

Let’s take a look at 4 areas where you may be slacking as a team lead.

Not sharing down

You may not realize it but you are in the unique position of being a leader within your company. Of course your level of leadership depends on the size of the company and your overall position, but you are still at least one or two rungs higher on the ladder than your team members. As a result, you have more insight into the company’s vision, awareness of potential business pursuits, and visibility into what other teams at the company are working on. This is the type of information your team not only deserves to know about but is also something that will help them thrive.

People love to feel like they are a part of something bigger than just their singular task for the day. As a tech lead it’s your responsibility to be the company messenger in order to keep them informed and as a result, inspired. Let them know about business pursuits that are in the pipeline. Give them opportunities to learn about the great work being done by other teams within the company. Share information, both good and bad, that you receive from leadership so they become more invested in the company and develop a sense of belonging.

Not giving kudos

This may seem like one that you feel you have under control but most likely you aren’t sharing the love enough. It’s important for you to recognize the work being done by your team members and in particular letting others within the company know about it.

Use the company’s #kudos Slack channel and recognize the extra work put in on a feature by one of your developers. Post a quick message in the channel for the tester on your team who found a nasty bug before deployment to production, or the UI/UX designer who was able to eliminate extra clicks, and as a result, unnecessary items from your backlog. If you don’t have a #kudos channel or similar mechanism for sharing, create one.

It’s time you start recognizing the hard work your team is putting in. I’m not lobbying for random hollow shoutouts for somebody who is simply doing their job, but I am saying you need to recognize those that put in the extra work beyond their daily tasks. Also, make sure you keep track of the kudos you give, or record it directly in your company’s HR system. This makes it much easier when it comes time for their performance review to remember all the wonderful things they did throughout the year.

Not checking in on them enough

It’s important for you to check in on your team members, and I’m not talking about haggling them about their status or micromanaging them. I’m talking about genuinely checking in with them to see how they are doing and if they need anything.

With COVID-19 and the onset of 100% remote work, many people feel isolated and detached from their team. Reach out from time to time to say hi and see how they are doing. This could be a simple Slack message or a quick email. You could also set up recurring one-on-one meetings with them every couple of weeks for something more formal and consistent. It’s your responsibility as the tech lead, someone who they look up to, to make sure they know it is safe to talk with you at any time and that you’ll be there to listen and help however you can.

Not treating them like adults

With all that I just said about checking on your team members, you still need to treat them as adults. There’s no need to hamper them with continuous questioning or to constantly ping them for their status. They are grown folks who need to be responsible enough to manage their tasks.

You may feel like you don’t have full control and awareness because you can’t physically walk by and see them working. It’s natural for you to wonder if they are watching Netflix or playing Fortnite all day, but there is a level of trust you need to establish with people.

Treat them as adults and give them the necessary room to do the work. Start with a basic level of trust and let it flex up or down based on their outputs. If issues arise, address them and manage the situation moving forward. As long as they are getting their work done, who cares how they did it. Give your team the independence they need to excel in their own way.

In conclusion, you serve as a bridge between the business of the company and the day-to-day technical delivery. To excel at both you need to maintain genuine engagement with your team, lobby consistently for them, and trust that your transparency keeps them informed and ultimately inspired.

Published 19 Jan 2021

My Tech Life
Jeff D Stephens on Twitter