The team leader role

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate on a workshop held by Jurgen Appelo (XP2011, Madrid). I like these kinds of “shows” (and by show I mean workshop); it’s not about the talk only, but the audience’s involvement. It’s always exciting to learn something through funny events and games.

This was the first time ever I played this cool game, called delegation poker. In short, there’s given a group of 4-6 people; they are taking turns in telling stories. At the end of the story, each and every player has to decide upon one of the seven levels of delegation they think fits the best (for a more detailed description, read the original document. Really, you should try it once, it’s fun!).

What actually amazed me in this game, is people’s different view on the very same concept. I was part of such a group, and here are the stories and delegation levels we had (let’s denote different people by letters, names don’t matter after all). You’ll see that all the stories are targeted at the team leader’s point of view.

Story #1

There is given a newly set up team. They are quite new to TDD, XP and generally, to all agile techniques. From a team leader’s point of view, what level of delegation should be used in order to facilitate pair programming?
A: Level 7, ‘team members should decide whether they want to pair up or not. As a team leader I don’t care about pair programming as long as they deliver quality’
B: Level 6, ‘let the team decide about this, but I would like to have some feedback at the end’
C: Level 4, ‘team leader should be considered as part of the team. As long as they are taking part in coding, they should be treated as any other team member’

Story #2

Let’s say you are a team leader. You lead a cross functional team of experienced people. You have the possibility to choose what methodology you want to follow: Scrum or Kanban.What’s the delegation level?
A: Level 6, ‘I was wondering whether this is a six or a seven. The only reason I picked six is I really would like to have some feedback on this. This is an important decision, so I would like to be involved in it.’
B: Level 2, ‘I would like to make sure we follow the methodology I consider best. So I can protect my team better, and can shield them from the pressure from upside.’
C: Level 5, ‘I would tell some  pros and cons of both. Then I would have the team decide which one would they rather follow. I want to make sure we apply the techniques the whole team believes in.’

Story #3

Again, we have a team of experienced developers. What delegation level would go best when deciding about punishments for the ones being late to standup meetings.
Guess what, we all went with a five to this question. It was the first and only story when we all agreed upon the very same delegation level. We all thought the team leader should have some influence on this one -like insisting on having punishments- but not in a command and control style.

And that was the point when we run out of time. There was no more time for situations and/or discussions (unfortunately, I would say). I don’t even know what would be the definition of a team leader based on the stories above. Is a team leader a proxy who makes the management pressure vanish (#2)? Are they the ones who tell people how to do their job, based on best practices (#2)?  Or persons who feel they really are part of the team when it comes to important decisions (#1)?

As I see there are two “schools of thought” here fighting; the first one considers the team leader rather a manager, the other thinks team leaders are rather team members (who “manage” their teams seamlessly). The question is, which perspective is more useful from the team’s point of view? (provided that, there really are team members who are dependent on their team leader. These are the persons who keep asking “what task should I do next?”)

Anyway, no conclusions drawn; I guess one cannot clearly state which one is best. It was, after all, a very good experience, and a very good lesson on different people’s different visions. You are welcome to share your thoughts.

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Author: tamasgyorfi

Senior software engineer, certified enterprise architect and certified Scrum master. Feel free to connect on Twitter: @tamasgyorfi

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