Team Lead: Privilege or Sweat?

7 min

A quick glance at the in-demand IT jobs is enough to understand that team leads are respected and well-paid professionals. But how to line it up and to see behind the screen? We’ll get right on it.

Who is a Team Lead?

There is a patterned opinion that at some point a highly skilled specialist has two ways to develop further: manage colleagues or build high-level systems (architecture). Rarely but happens that a software architect will also lead the team, though usually, the company management understands that both activities are too complicated to merge them. And even if at the beginning, in a burst of enthusiasm, it seems that it might work, do not kid yourself, pick only one role.

Team Lead responsibilities:

  • Participation in key technical decisions
  • Assigning tasks (Waterfall projects)
  • Answering the question “what is the best way to…?”
  • Quality control
  • Educational activities (if you cannot get some message across then offer your colleague an event where they can get the right knowledge);
  • Communication with management;
  • Team support and motivation;
  • Organizational aspects (e.g. ordering paid software)

Team lead vs Tech lead

The difference between the team lead and tech lead is debatable. Usually, it is only the way the company chooses to title its leadership roles.

However, there are teams where the structure is somewhat complex.

Market Opinion:

“Our teams always consist of a project manager and a tech lead: the first is responsible for the requirements and communication, the second - for the choice of technical solutions, job quality, accurate tasks evaluation and meeting deadlines.”

“A team lead and a tech lead are two different positions, by definition. Tech lead should not be a superman, but the one who follows the latest innovations and knows what load to plan for the next six months. Team lead must manage the team and advocate the team interests in a melting pot, otherwise, the development will be forever indebted by the sales. “

Department Heads in IT

Though most popular are software team leads, other departments may have similar or identical roles. These are the positions that appear in service or product companies with 100+ staff members.

Design team lead

Head of the design team. A common misconception is “the one who designs the most.”

What does he/she do? Allocates the team resources and mixes it up with those who need-it-all-and-now. Speaks the same language with a marketer when the later talks about business objectives, and can suggest the best solution. Builds processes so to turn a random job stream into the workflow; sometimes succeeds in this.

Marketing team lead

Head of the marketing team. A common misconception is “the one who knows why our sales don’t increase.”

What does he/she do? Manages marketing activities and tries to balance management wishes and reality. As a rule, when loses temper, falls into multitasking to close the shortage of 1-2 marketers, who should have been hired two months ago.

Sales team leader

Head of sales and business development teams. A common misconception is “the one who sells the most”.

What does he/she do? Answers questions about sales, builds sales plans, sets KPIs, plays the role of a psychologist for colleagues who deal with cold contacts. Sometimes, in between business trips, succeeds to catch up on sleep.

SEO team lead

A leader of the SEO team and, often, content marketing. A common misconception is “the one who can make the company page to the Google top tomorrow”.

What does he/she do? SEO is a multicomponent discipline that, in addition to content marketing, includes link-building, crowd-marketing and collaborations. These all need to be managed, making sure that the freelancers do meet deadlines, and the web-site receives organic traffic.

Well, this list is endless because when there are three people, there will be a team lead, just maybe an unofficial one.

How to be promoted to a leadership position?

Latte is made of two major ingredients: coffee and milk. The essence of leadership is also two-component and consists of professionalism and communication. Other additives can either improve or spoil the taste, so they should be added mindfully.

Let’s say we have reached some professional level … By the way, which one? Should the future team lead speak at conferences by all means? No. But what they should definitely do is to be able to build processes for others and, if necessary, take the results apart and dig deep.

Well, we have the skills set and the ability to think beyond. What’s next?

  1. Communication. The team lead is not a fan of speaking from the stage, but a person who can coordinate crocodiles with zebras so they in 25 minutes decide on implementing a search function in the widget and do not bite each other. Such a specialist voices the thoughts in clear words and finds arguments for the opposing parties.
  2. Ability to prioritize. It doesn’t matter whether it is a startup and we are all “coding” one product or a giant service company where one team can implement projects for different units.
  3. Ability to balance quality with a timely result.
  4. Patience. People frequently do something they can’t explain (especially when they’re asked, “Why did you code that way?”). Tension, caps lock voice or pressure are not helpful here, so the good old patience and staff development remain.
  5. Consistency. An ordinary employee can easily forget the meeting outcome. The team lead will be the kind of person who, as soon as they say ‘hello’, starts jotting down the highlights of the meeting. Experience shows that forgetfulness is expensive.
  6. Energy. Without passion, leadership will be humanly difficult.

The bane of growth

The transition from a “specialist” to a “leader” is usually accompanied by changes in the mindset (according to Professor Carol Duke). One has to think differently and react differently to daily challenges. For example:

  1. To drop a task in favour of a colleague who can level up with it.
  2. Do not get stuck into doing-it-all. Push yourself to manage and delegate everything you think you can do better and faster.
  3. Take responsibility for making individual decisions. Yes, usually the team decides, but there are many situations where you need to decide for yourself, and then for everyone.
  4. Breathe in and out when you want to yell soundly at a colleague right in the middle of a daily stand-up.

How to deal with these pains?

First, admit that you are not the first who experiences this, and there are a lot of first-person confessions on the subject out there. Secondly, find a mentor who can advise when it is not OK to ask in-house. Third, practise: go through uncomfortable situations again and again and track what led to success this time, and at which stage you gave up your position. And, fourth, workout, physically, because overload and unlimited sitting exhaust and stress our bodies. Sport in this business is a great training wheel and an additional platform for networking and socialising with colleagues.


What are the problems do team leads share during conference breaks or when at the neutral field?

  • How to negotiate more successfully with management and push things alone?
  • How to find a time which is never enough and reduce the technical debt?
  • How to negotiate with the DevOps and reduce the run-time?
  • How to get into the ear of N., who delays his part, and does not get deep into detail?
  • How can I stop overworking at least sometimes?

Even if you are not planning to grow yet, these points will help you better understand the team leader and maybe find a common language with him before the next 1: 1 begins.

A 22-year-old team lead

There is such a source of ironic comments as an interview with a specialist who, at a fairly early age, took up a management position. Opponents of 22-year-old team leads say that it is like a 22-year-old professor (but what about Alia Sabour, Eric Damien, Sho Shano, and Ruth Lawrence?)

Yes, it is more an exception than a rule. However, the entry age into the hi-tech industry is steadily decreasing and the determination of new generations is increasing. The only thing that remains unchanged is the mistrust of senior colleagues to the younger ones when it comes to managerial decisions.

What’s in the resume?

  • Experience in managing teams. Specify the number of people you managed, if any, whether it was distributed or remote experience.
  • Achievements on team performance. For example, “implemented the launch of a project with a XX load for Ecommerce”.
  • Mentoring experience, if any. At the interview, you may be asked what your colleagues learned and achieved during this period.
  • Do not hesitate to elaborate on technical expertise - it speaks for itself and for you as a qualified leader.

And the last thing, if you decide to move in the direction of a team lead - use to reduce the time before an offer.

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