Agile Team Lead – Servant Leadership

Let’s look again at our team from the last post and take a closer look at the Team Lead. It’s easy to see how Fred got into the situation he was in. The job of Team Lead is very unclear in an Agile world. One of the agile principles is that all team members are equal so what does a team lead do? I usually recommend that teams don’t have a team lead. That forces them to look after themselves rather than relying on a team lead to do it for them.  Most large organisations though insist on having a Team Lead for every team. That’s OK. We can live with it. We just need to work out what an agile team lead does.

In a traditional organisation, the job of a team lead is pretty clear – they lead the team. Actually, they manage the team. Management is different to leadership. They should be called team managers but you have to pay people more if you call them managers so we call them leaders instead.

Management and leadership are very different things. Management is all about control. A manager tells people what to do. Leadership isn’t like that. It's actually much harder. A leader doesn’t tell people what to do, they inspire people to do what needs to be done because they believe that the job is important. The difference is best summed up in a quote from French author Antoine de Saint-Exuprey –

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

In a traditional organisation, team leads gather wood, divide the work and give orders. They collect the requirements from the business, work out what needs to be done and hand out that work to the members of their team.

In an agile organisation, this doesn't work. All those things are done by the team. The team manages itself. The team lead needs to.. well.. lead. They need to teach the team to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

Think of all the teachers you had at school. Think of the ones you remember most. Were they the ones who were efficient teachers of the curriculum? Or were they the ones that inspired you to go out and learn because what you were learning was beautiful and exciting and wonderful? If you never had one of those second kinds of teachers then I am very sorry.

The principle here is called Servant Leadership.

A Servant Leader is not there to control other people. Their goal is to help other people be the best they can be. They lead by inspiring and developing others. This is what an agile team lead needs to be. They need to lead, inspire and develop their team.  Rather than shield the team from problems and issues like Fred was trying to do, they need to use those problems to challenge the team to grow and develop.

They need to be leaders. Which is a much harder job than being a manager. Really, leaders should be paid more than managers because they do a much harder and more important job, but unfortunately that’s not the way it is right now.

So, if you are a Team Lead in an agile organisation. Or if you are a team lead anywhere. Stop managing and start leading. Be that inspiring teacher that everyone remembers rather than the effective manager that everyone forgets.