An effective leader directs and coordinates the team, assesses the performance of team members, motivates team members and establishes a positive atmosphere for the team.

An effective leader directs and coordinates the team, assesses the performance of team members, motivates team members and establishes a positive atmosphere for the team.

Leadership is a very difficult concept to define precisely. I have interviewed many leadership experts on the Software Process and Measurement Cast, and each expert has stressed how important leadership is for teams to be effective. All effective teams have a leader, whether they are waterfall or Agile. The big difference between the two models tends to be who plays the role of the leader.  In waterfall, much of the leadership role falls to the project manager (whether they are the real leader or not), while in Agile who plays the leader is more context specific. An effective leader directs and coordinates the team, assesses the performance of team members, motivates team members and establishes a positive atmosphere for the team.

Leaders direct and coordinate the activities on the team based on their vision of the future.  In Agile projects the product owner often provides their vision to the team. The leader needs to articulate their vision in a manner that inspires team commitment. Leaders also need ensure that team’s goals stay undiluted by extraneous priorities.

Leaders need to assess performance and provide feedback to the team so that learning and growth at the team level becomes continuous. In Agile teams the scrum master gets the team to assess themselves and then to take action to change and grow during the retrospectives.

The leader will also help motivate team members. Leaders need to display concern for people and their performance while being fair and impartial. The role of motivator can be anyone on the team. I have been on many teams that the business analyst was the motivational leader while on others the role was performed by the project manager, scrum master or tech lead. In any case someone needs to help motivate the team and part of the ability to motivate stems from the leader’s personal commitment to the team’s goals.

Dr. Mark Bojeun (SPaMCAST 280) suggests that through their attitudes, team leaders influence the team’s environment.  Dr. Bojeun’s research indicates that a leader with a positive outlook and vision creates a positive work environment for the team.  A positive environment influences a team in multiple ways including:

  • Fostering openness to new ideas.
  • Engendering a supportive decision making climate,
  • Providing teams members with appropriate levels of responsibility, and
  • Breeding trust.

In most Agile teams, those external to the team generally view the product owner or scrum master as the leader. Similarly, in waterfall project the project manager tends to be tagged as the leader.  Regardless of the method used the role of leader can be played anyone on the team. The only rule is that an effective team needs a leader that is appropriate to the context the team is operating within.

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