6 min. read

November 07, 2021


The Biggest Problem Tech Leads Face & How to Overcome It

Become a more successful tech lead with these tips

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Yasas Sri Wickramasinghe, Lead Software Engineer (Past), Lecturer

As you know, being a tech lead is much more than defining the technical aspects of a project. I've found that tech leads tend to worry a whole lot about another aspect they face in their day-to-day.

The biggest concern technical leads have in their mind is “the difficulty of keeping a solid team for a long period.”

Have you thought about this before? Did you know how significant this problem is? A problem that can substantially impact a team’s productivity.

In this article, let’s analyse this challenge further and look at what tech leads can do to overcome this problem, including some techniques to try out.

The biggest concern: the challenge of building a great team

We often say “Leadership by example” is the best style of leadership. But speaking as a tech lead, we don't actually pay that much attention to our subordinates.

Remember, no matter how talented you are as a tech lead in leadership and technical skills, your biggest asset is your team.

You may have already noticed that extraordinary team members in your team are all-rounders in their work. Also, they have great passion and commitment! But, unfortunately, these are the people who are very vulnerable to organisational changes. Losing a team member like this from your project can be very painful. This is a nightmare that any tech lead is afraid of.

Why Great People Suddenly Leave Software Teams?

Great team players consider their workplace as their second home and treat their team as part of their family. They are all-rounders and passionate about what they do.

These types of developers are the ones you count on when things are not going quite the right way.

However, as you've probably witnessed these “A-players” often decide to leave the team on short notice. Most of the time, they don't even reveal the reason for their resignation. Why is that?

Every team member has many career goals and expectations. Suppose the individual is an “A-player”. In that case, they know they can excel wherever and contribute to excellently uplifting any project anywhere. Therefore, they directly or indirectly expect a return from their current leaders. It can be a promotion, salary increase, or recognition for their efforts. But many leads do not pay attention to this factor. They treat these developers as “just another team member.

I see this as a colossal mistake. It creates stress for these developers who are exceeding, which in turn leads them to consider other opportunities that would prove more rewarding.

Don’t be the Tech Lead who makes these mistakes

  • Overload The Team with Work — if you have a team that's great at conquering new tasks and doing work that you are ultimately confident with, don't allocate more and more work to them. Just because they are great at what they do doesn't mean they should do ALL of the work. If you don't 'protect' this team you'll soon lose them in the short term.

  • Over-estimate “A-Players” — You may tend to consider great team members as perfect individuals and focus only on guiding average and below-average members in your team. Well, A-players also need (and want) mentorship and guidance. Don't neglect them.

  • Force team members to achieve excellence — As a tech lead, you may see the potential of an individual, and you want to see him/her becoming their best version, which is perfectly fine. But you might set too many expectations for success that you actually stress them out.

“Expectations are the Thieves of Joy “ — Luke Winter”

As a tech lead, you can’t stop someone from leaving your team if they have already decided. But, if you are smart enough, you can try not to make the above mistakes to ensure the rest of the team (especially the A-players) are willing to stay with you.

The Secret Recipe of Successful Technical Leads

If you want a sustainable solution to keep your team together in the long run, remember that there is no universal formula to follow. But I can give you some suggestions to try out according to your team dynamics and the nature of the project to get the best out of it.

1. Find a time to sit with your team members and listen to them

Remember your first days at work? How many doubts you had? How many expectations about your future career were there with you? Try to understand the perspective of your subordinates. Just being a good and active listener can do wonders for team morale and health. Everyone tends to feel a bit better after unloading.

I wouldn't recommend a group discussion, instead take each member in private for a casual one-on-one and LISTEN. You'll learn a lot about your team this way, things that you would otherwise never have known.

2. Don’t let individual members maintain knowledge silos

In every team, there are few people who are experts in some particular project functionalities. They know every bit and piece of the code and all the pitfalls of the current implementation. As a tech lead, never depend on them in the long run — you can't expect them to always be there. Instead, arrange knowledge transferring activities to disseminate their expertise among other members. As another option, you can also introduce a knowledge management system (KMS) to the project.

3. Promote your work culture

Always emphasize the team culture that you value within each other, and create a friendly, open work environment. Talk about company procedures, standards, and level of quality that everyone in the team trying to maintain.

When all team members are focused on the same goals and objectives it’s easier for you to create a long-lasting impact on the project. It pays well to remind the team every so often, cause we all eventually lose sight. I would also suggest that you also remind the team of how far they've really come and all the great work that's been done.

4. Implement a future proof recruitment plan

When you are on a tight delivery schedule and a team member decides to leave — it's basically a tech lead's worst nightmare.

With short notice resignations, you'll be scrambling to fill the position. With such time constraints, you don't always get the best candidates, and you don't really have the luxury to pick and choose.

This is hard because hiring the wrong person is a highly costly mistake.

You have to spend a lot of your and other team members’ time to transfer domain knowledge to newcomers. Also, newcomers will take a considerable amount of time to get up to speed with the other members of the project. After everything, if you find that the new joiners’ attitudes are not aligning with your expectations, you've just wasted many hours and a lot of resources.

My suggestion is never to proceed with quick recruitments, but plan ahead and follow a recruitment plan. As a tech lead, you can use your network to identify top performers in other companies, recent graduates from training and academic institutions. This way if a team member leaves, you already have an idea of who is going to replace them. Also, keep a team onboarding process specific to your team.

Successful tech leads always expect the unexpected!

Final Thoughts

Generally, we think it’s always the technical problems that matter the most for tech leads, but in this article, we looked into a not-so-common but nevertheless a big problem that tech leads need to be concerned about in their day-to-day work.

I hope my suggestions will be helpful for all the current and future tech leads who are reading this article. Let me know what you think about these suggestions.

I wish you all the best!👏👏👏