5 Whys is a blog about technical leadership in the software world.

If you don’t own your team, Someone else will

One of the first steps I suggest new team leads do is to take ownership of their team and territory. There were a couple of comments,  both on the blog and on twitter that questioned whether this was the right thing to do. More specifically, Lior mentioned in the comments that

“It's the job of the team to define its boundaries its the job of the team to resist outside interference.
You as the team leader is just the tool for achieving this.”

as I replied to lior that most teams don’t have people willing to start doing something like this, Lior said

“I would say in this case, that this is exactly your first responsibility as the lead. To teach the team how to do that.
Which starts by saying to the team, I expect YOU to do that. (of course in the meantime if its a big issue you should help)

I just really dont like the tilte of the post. "own the team" is such a bad term for me.”


So let me be clear:

As a team lead, “owning the team” means that you are fully responsible for the actions and outpus of the team members inside it, and that includes giving the the freedom to work in an environment where they are not constantly hassled from out side interference. It is your job to make sure they know that they have your back to tell someone to talk to you whenever someone approaches them, and it’s your job to make it clear to other people in the company that you’ve defined the boundaries in which the team operates.

Agile development books will tell you that the team needs to set its own course, and that they need to make their own decisions, and I fully sipport that, but chances are, most teams are far from this situation. To even get to the beginning of a world what that is possible, a team lead needs to take charge and be assertive and demand those rights. Otherwise no one will bestow them on the team.

Team leadership is taken and when there is none, the company feels free to interfere  with a team’s work habits to the point of no real work getting done, or work slowing to a halt due to constant interruption and direction changes.

For a team to be self-directing, there needs to be a leader that gives it the higher-up support it needs  - the autonomy to make those decisions.

That’s your job.

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