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Leading a team is not easy. There are a million different methods to plan and execute a project. Some of these methods will be very successful, others not so much. Whether you are an effective or ineffective leader will ultimately determine whether or not your team will succeed.

This article focuses on a team building some sort of software application. However, these tips can apply to anyone looking for advice on helping guide their team.

I want to emphasize the term small team, because I don’t know what it’s like to manage an entire department of employees (yet). I don’t want to lie to you and pretend as if I know more than I actually do. My points in this article were gained from observations of my team leads and managers at IBM, and how I led software projects in college.

So, let’s begin…

1. Assign Roles and Responsibilities

Before any work can begin, everyone on the team must have a predefined role and responsibility. Assigning roles to each team member provides everyone with a sense of specialization in a particular part of the project. This first step is a black-and-white approach to a potentially messy team chemistry.

You must first discover the strengths, weaknesses, skill set, and limitations of each member of your group. Depending on your specific project, you can create and assign roles to your team as you see fit. You must ask yourself several questions such as:

  • How many developers/IT/IS do you have?
  • Is it worth splitting the developers between front-end and back-end?
  • Who is good at what?
  • Who can get this done the quickest/most efficiently?
  • Can this person handle the stress of the job?
  • Will this person be able to meet the deadline?

Answer these questions first before moving on.

2. Decide on technologies before you start coding

What tools and applications are you going to use for your project? Questions you must be able to answer:

  • How are you going to manage your source code? (i.e. GitHub)
  • How are you going to track your progress? (i.e. Kanban board)
  • How will you communicate with your team? (i.e. email, Slack, GroupMe)
  • What frameworks, applications, and other dependencies will you use?

You don’t want to be months into development when you realize that you chose an application that gives your team more problems than necessary.

3. Lead by example

If you are the leader of a team, you should be doing just as much, if not, more work than anyone else on your team. You want to motivate your team to do their best. If they see that you are driven and motivated to finish the project, they will follow. Your team isn’t going to follow you if your passion for the project is non-existent. Go above and beyond normal expectations, and show your team how an effective leader operates.

That being said, be careful with this tip. Some members of your team may develop the mindset that you will carry their weight if they are not delivering quality work. Which brings me to my next point.

4. Drop the dead weight, if necessary

If someone is not doing their part effectively, take the time to help them understand a topic or application. Allow them to grow. However, if it gets to a point where the person’s ineffectiveness is pulling down the integrity of the team and/or causing some major issue to the team, they need to be cut.

A leader’s job is to motivate the team and teach those who may be struggling. However, at the end of the day, you still have a job to do, you still have deadlines to meet and bills to pay. You can’t force someone to learn something, and you can’t force someone to care about their job. They can leave at any moment, you could be fired at any moment, but you have to adapt.

5. Celebrate small victories along the way

People like to know that they are doing well at their job. You, as the team lead, must validate your team and show how you value their work and presence. And If your team does something well, now matter how small, congratulate them for their hard work. This positivity will keep the morale of the whole team up.

As a team, you’re all in this together. Collectively, you’re building something and working towards an end goal. That being said, it’s not just about reaching the end goal, but how you’re getting there. Are you becoming better programmers, coworkers, and human beings? Or will you fall apart as a team and fail before the project even starts?

It’s up to you.

Software Engineer at IBM — more about me at

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