Monday, October 12, 2015

Assign a "Number 1"

This article is part of a series. You can start at the beginning: Leading Development Teams on Large Projects.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard is head of the ship. He makes all the important decisions, but he can’t be on duty 24x7. That’s where Commander Riker, aka Number 1, comes into play. He is second in command. Both the Captain and crew equally respect and trust his ability to lead in the event Captain Picard is unable to. The same is true in development teams. I lead multiple projects simultaneously. I can’t always be available to all my teams. I do like to take vacations once in a while! For each project team, I assign a “Number 1” – a person the team can trust to lead when I’m not available. If the same team members are on numerous projects, I pick a different “Number 1” for each project. In this way, I can mentor my team members and help them grow their leadership qualities and empower them to move ahead in their career. I keep the person informed of everything I can so he can take over and make informed decisions when necessary. I don’t always tell the entire team everything that happens behind the scenes. There is often a lot of drama and politics that aren’t conducive to productivity so I usually keep that stuff to myself. However, I may share it with my “Number 1” so that if he gets the opportunity to lead in the future, he is not blind-sided by these unavoidable annoyances. I’ll also keep him informed of architectural decisions that may be beyond his skillset. This enables me to teach new skills to my team member and, again, help him grow.

I usually consult with the person before I announce his “Number 1” position to the team because not everyone wants to be in that position. If a person is resistant, I will point out specific qualities I think he has that will make their leadership experience successful. This shows him I know his abilities and that I have confidence in him. He, in turn, gains confidence in himself. If he still doesn’t want the position, I won’t pressure him, but I will approach him again on future projects.
I believe leading a project gives a person valuable insight to being a good team player and consequently builds stronger teams. It also helps to further the person’s career by growing skillset and challenging him to learn more which results in happiness, satisfaction, and a sense of purpose. The result for me as the Project Lead is that my team trusts my ability to make decisions and to support their needs as individuals. Plus, they become my champions to my boss which helps me to further my career at the same time. It’s a win-win situation. This is why I try to give everyone a chance to lead.

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