Team and project leaders are the unsung heroes of a software consultancy. For Atomic this includes our Delivery Leads, Design Leads, Tech Leads, and Practice Leads. These leads don’t directly manage people. Instead, they provide guidance, support, and coaching to help Atoms find success.
The work these leaders engage in with team members creates positive experiences for everyone. Their success results in clients coming back to engage in more project work and directly impacts the bottom line. And the positive experiences that come from their efforts increase employee satisfaction.
How work happens in a software consultancy has changed significantly since 2020. Teams are encountering a multitude of new challenges across people and technology. As such, the development of team and project leaders is more critical than ever. Where work happens, how people come together to do the work, and getting stuff done are all different now.
Here are important considerations in supporting team and project leaders in those three areas.
Where Work Happens
The remote nature of work is still new for all of us. No tried and true model works for every situation. And company workplaces are still evolving to learn what a “hybrid workforce” means for them. Instead, teams need permission to experiment and learn what works for their teams and projects.
In The Biggest Problem with Remote Work, Derek Thomson calls out three conditions where remote work has big problems. These are onboarding new team members, building new teams to take on new tasks, and generating disruptive new ideas. In these areas, the remote nature of interactions has big problems to solve. Thomson calls this the kick-starter problem of remote work.
It’s pretty clear that a “hybrid workforce” where some people are in an office while others are working remotely leads to unhappy people all around. My experience is to avoid a middle ground situation. Instead, embrace either the fully-remote model or optimize for an in-person work experience. Then allow your team and project leads to build ways of getting work done with their team members.
Atomic Object is a high-trust company that gives teams a high degree of autonomy. We ask our employees to be physically present with their teams in their office 60% of their time in any given week. Doing so lets us make sure our new team members have a great onboarding experience. It allows us to kick off new client projects with high engagement, collaboration, and alignment. And it allows our teams to explore new ideas for our clients in real-time. Our team and project leads support this by establishing behavioral norms with team members at the start of every project.
How People Come Together
Executives may define company culture, but project and team leaders bring the culture to life. Through their work, they help connect what the team is accomplishing with the values and purpose of the company.
With the shift to more remote interactions, project and team leaders need to change how they fulfill this responsibility. Fully-remote teams need to find new tools and processes to rally themselves around shared values. They also need strategies to connect to the team’s culture when not in the office. And, they need a way to recognize and reward the efforts of team members publicly to build trust.
There are products in the market like Recognition.com that provide a digital way to reward employees for exceptional efforts. There are also ways in which remote-first organizations are finding ways to plan annual in-person events to build stronger relationships.
Atomic Object continues to focus on in-person interactions to keep our culture strong. Our morning office stand-up meetings are a great way to recognize the efforts of individuals and teams to spread gratitude and kindness. And our quarterly parties, spin-downs, and Atomic Con event allow us to build deeper relationships with each other.
Getting Stuff Done
Every company, regardless of its workplace model, needs to manage people, meet commitments, and maintain performance. As work styles evolve, accountability measures have become more complex. This changing environment means that team and project leaders must move between being mentors, leaders, and managers.
As a mentor, the team and project lead needs to share their knowledge, skills, and experiences to help the team excel. This includes developing skills to help people reach their full potential. This activity is a long-term investment of time in making a stronger company as well as creating higher-quality solutions for clients.
As a leader, there is a need to connect the team’s work to the company’s values and purpose. Leaders help to clarify expectations for how individuals and teams contribute value to the client and the company. And they work to align the direction of the team toward its goals.
As a manager, the team and project lead makes sure the commitments are being met. They ensure activities are happening that move projects toward their goals. And they transparently ensure the responsibilities of each team member are clear.
At Atomic Object, our project and team leaders do not have ultimate managerial responsibilities. This lies with the Managing Partners. However, our teams function with a high degree of transparency both within their own team and across the company. We have dashboards and tools that radiate real-time information on our company. And our practice of open books management drives further accountability for the work across our teams.