Becoming An Effective Software Development Team Lead: Key Skills, Qualities And Tips to Succeed

effective team lead

Making a new step in your career always implies acquiring new experience. Of course, after being promoted you will not likely find yourself in a

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Making a new step in your career always implies acquiring new experience. Of course, after being promoted you will not likely find yourself in a brand new environment, but still, you will assume some responsibilities requiring additional skills. In this article, we look into the professional growth from a software developer to a team lead and figure out what new skills and competencies you will need to succeed in a new position.

So, who is a team lead?

This role implies leading a team of software developers and performing various managerial tasks in accordance with the company’s direction and goals, including those related to people. 

In a broader sense, such a professional is responsible for guiding a team in the right direction to create or upgrade a successful product, which envisages performing the following roles:

1.   Manager or supervisor: should keep under control all activities performing by his/her team;

2.   Strategist: is responsible for determining ways to complete tasks and establishing detailed plans to make it the most effective way;

3.   Communicator: is responsible for distributing information to team members and stakeholders.

4.   Organizer: should deal with keeping track of and structuring various tasks, employees and documents.

5.   Goal setter: is responsible for determining the goals within a task/global strategy for team members to work towards;

6.   Mediator: has to find ways to resolve conflicts and miscommunications between employees to avoid a negative impact on teamwork.

How to become a good team leader?

When you are a member of a team, you are usually concerned more about your success and your career but once you become a team leader you should also be concerned about your team’s success and team members’ careers and effectively balance these two approaches to succeed. 

But this is only the tip of an iceberg. To shed light on the fundamentals of the team lead role, we asked three team leads about their own experience and lifehacks they learn during the time in the position. We hope, these insights will be useful for you!

In your opinion, what is the main mission of a team lead of a software development team? What is the main focus of this role?

“There is no straight answer to this question. It depends on many variables. For example, being a good team lead is not the same in big (more than 50 developers) and small development teams. Bigger teams tend to have more resources and require a Team Lead more focused on management. On the other hand, smaller teams sometimes do not have a software architect and/or a scrum master and the team lead’s role, in this case, is to cover “more ground.”

Milos Cairovic, Team Lead, Munich

“To lead the team using a future-oriented approach based on task ownership, ability to be a team player, commitment, and team bonding.”

Wasif Jahangir, Senior Engineering Manager, Dubai

“The role of a team lead totally depends on a company; it can be different. However, usually, a team lead has to mix some (if not even all) of the following roles: an experienced developer, a technical expert, a project manager, a people manager, an agile coach, a hiring manager, a leader and, generally, a good example for his teammates! Also, a team lead is a bridge between teammates and a company, this role implies guaranteeing good communication in both directions. The main focus of the role is to make sure that a team performs well on daily basis (software support, planning new features, development, releases), in middle-term perspective (planning larger features, for example) and long-term perspective, as well (career growth, hiring, and other strategic decisions).”

Pavel Liubinski, Team Lead, Munich

“The main mission should be to enable an autonomous, motivated, productive team. This is very difficult to achieve, but a team that fulfills all three goals will tend to stay together for a very long time.”

John Webber, Head of IT Department, Munich

Five essential skills a successful team lead should have?

“In my opinion, the list of essential skills for a team lead looks the following way: the ability to manage people, organizational skills, problem-solving, use of analytical approach, technical skills (software development and architecture, data structures and so on).”

Milos Cairovic, Team Lead, Munich

“First of all, a team lead should give feedback to a team and analyze one he/she receives. Not less important is the ability to motivate and inspire people. The third thing is smart delegation. And, of course, a good team lead is a strategic thinker and is capable of bearing responsibility.”

Wasif Jahangir, Senior Engineering Manager, Dubai

“A good self-reflection, self-confidence, communication skills, ​good technical background, and, I think, ability to remember and process various information quickly.”

Pavel Liubinski, Team Lead, Munich

“Only five skills?;) A successful team lead may have a blend of many different skills, but here are five important ones: a deep understanding of best practices in software development (clean coding, architecture, build pipelines; strong mentoring / coaching skills, to help the individual team members develop themselves; good organizational skills, so the flood of meetings, emails, Slack messages, etc is manageable; the ability to formulate and communicate a vision for the team; empathy (important for any leader).”

John Webber, Head of IT Department, Munich

How a developer can become a team lead (whether it depends more on experience or managerial skills)?

“My example was that I was growing into a team lead by gaining more experience in my focus fields and improving my soft skills in my free time. So, I guess, it is the combination of both factors (software development experience and managerial skills) and it depends on the company and requirements it sets for this role.”

Milos Cairovic, Team Lead, Munich

“The team lead role represents a combination of both things: experience and managerial skills are equally important. Also, I think that one of the most important factors that facilitate promotion from a developer to a team leader is being a good team player and the ability to take on responsibility for a product.”

Wasif Jahangir, Senior Engineering Manager, Dubai

“To increase chances to become a successful team lead, a developer should work on soft skills: self-reflection, communication, self-confidence, and being quick in the information processing (daily emails, calls, questions and so on). Books, videos, and other resources can help. But the most important thing is to have a good coach (an experienced team lead, for example) nearby. Partially taking over some team lead functions from the current TL can be very helpful to get hands-on experience.”

Pavel Liubinski, Team Lead, Munich

“There’s no easy answer. A developer who wants to move into management should take every opportunity to develop these aspects. For example: continually improve his software development skills, especially high-level (architecture, microservices, DDD, TDD); actively help/mentor more junior colleagues; learn/demonstrate organizational skills by serving as an ad hoc project manager for technical projects; develop communication skills by giving tech talks, speaking at conferences, etc.”

John Webber, Head of IT Department, Munich

Let’s summarize!

  • A successful team lead should possess strong technical expertise, proved by his previously implemented projects.
  • It is necessary to be a good project manager able to take full responsibility for the strategy and the process of product development.
  • A team lead should also develop skills related to people management to make wise staffing decisions and keep a team motivated and inspired.

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