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Our current team leader is quitting his job (starting his own company) and thus we are searching for a new team leader. It's a small team of 4 people (Team leader included). Since it's a small team we expect the team leader not to only manage us but also do some coding.

Because of this I convinced the R&D manager to let me join the interview so that I can evaluate his technical skills and managing skills, and have some say on behalf of the team.

I have little experience interviewing people let alone my future Team leader. What I search in a team leader is someone who isn't running a dictatorship but someone that when there are issues there is a discussion about it and we take everyone on the same line.

How can I best go about soliciting information in these and other key areas? Are there glaring omissions from this short list of key qualifications that I should focus on, given my position on the interview team?

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migrated from programmers.stackexchange.com Dec 4 '12 at 14:58

This question came from our site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development.

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Seems like the logical solution would be to promote from within then replace that person with somebody with less or equal technical experience. –  Ramhound Dec 4 '12 at 12:54
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I don't get this at all, if you are not qualified for the role, you are certainly not qualified to hire for the role. If you need to ask on here, what to ask, why did you push to get to interview in the first place. –  NimChimpsky Dec 4 '12 at 13:32
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@NimChimpsky That's not necessarily true at all. Hiring committees are more often than not include many people who couldn't do the job but absolutely know what to look for in a person who can -- some know what they want in terms of soft skills, others look for technical skills, company "fit", and so on. I often and specifically have junior people weigh in on searches, specifically for the reasons the OP outlined. They get their say, not the say. –  jcmeloni Dec 4 '12 at 13:39
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@NimChimpsky, obviously I won't be doing the interview alone, I'm just trying to cover that the new leader is a good fit for our team and our current code base. Also what you say not being qualified to hire if you aren't qualified for the role seems a little narrow minded. It's not because I've never done something myself but worked with people who have done something, that I can't recognize someone that is suited for the position. –  Stormenet Dec 4 '12 at 14:23

4 Answers 4

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Let me try to answer your question but from another angle. When I initially took over a software development group from a manager that was just ousted, I inherited 17 developers that were somewhat bitter and morale was way down. It was a hard situation for me and honestly I was not sure the best way to handle it. One of the things I did well that time was when I sat down with each person individually at the outset I asked each developer 3 questions:

  1. How do you like to be managed?
  2. What are your goals at work?
  3. How can I help you achieve them?

I mention this because maybe this will help your group find a team leader that is tailored for your group. Perhaps you should all sit together and determine as a group how you like to be managed, what your goals are and how can this person help you achieve them. Then while you do the normal interview process checking for technical fit (you are doing at least that much right?) you can also ask questions around these areas.

With a team lead, development manager or any technical lead position you will need to interview to make sure they have the right technical chops so make sure to go from basic - advanced questions as relevant to your technology stack and software development process. However those soft skills that you are looking for in a leader are the hardest to suss out. So in the spirit of the above maybe ask a question like:

  1. We recently had a disagreement in how (insert technology item relevant to your group) should be implemented. There were good points on all sides of the argument. How would you as a team leader help us come to a decision on this issue?

Go into deeper discussions around why they selected the way they did. Was it democratic? Was it in a manner in which the team would be OK with it? Was it dictatorial? Did the candidate put real thought into a good group decision or did they blurt out an answer that clearly indicated some prior deep seated ideals that might end up causing strife with the team?

I know all of this is pretty general, but I know that as a leader in my organization it takes a lot more than just knowing the technology and I get from your question that you are looking more for interviewing on those soft skills than just technology ones. This is why those first three questions I find are the best for getting the conversation going and maybe will help you determine the kind of leader you want and therefore what to ask and better what answer, as a group, you are all willing to accept.

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Wow. Great way to start a tricky situation! –  bethlakshmi Dec 4 '12 at 15:23

What you bring to the table that the other interviewers do not is technical knowledge and a clear picture of what you didn't like in the old leader. You may not have experience interviewing, but this is a great way to learn, especially if all the questioners are in the same room with the candidate at once. You can start your contribution to the interview with technical questions.

For example, if a team leader either assigns tasks or monitors progress using a specific tool (such as TFS) ask about experience with that tool, does the candidate like it, what do they use it for, and so on. Perhaps an answer like "actually I prefer to have all my team members send me an email every day with [information I could have found in TFS]" will be enlightening. If the leader will be expected to settle architectural disputes between developers, you could ask about a time when the candidate did that recently: ask for a quick summary of the issue and how it was settled. This will reveal both their leadership style and their technical chops.

In your head, you should have a list of specific skills you hope to find in a leader like this (really understands X, knows the importance of Y, won't try to stop us Z) and pay attention to the other interviewer's questions, and the candidate's answers, to see how the candidate is doing on your checklist. After a while if something you care about hasn't been covered, you can ask about it: "how important do you think Y is and why?" or "could you rate your abilities in X?". (Or it might be a list of red flags you don't want, which is equally valuable.)

My most important tip is to learn from the other interviewers. Watch how they manage to get long useful answers (or don't) and be prepared to adjust your style as you learn.

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For a team leader to be a good team leader, they must have enough technical know how to technically lead the team in the correct direction. However, the other aspect of being a good team leader is their soft skills.

Soft skills are extremely hard to get a handle on as there are so many variables involve. It not only depends on the soft skill of the team leader, but also the soft skills of the team that he is managing.

One possible way is to identify the short falls of your recently departed team leader, and mould these short falls into criteria for your interviews.

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My suggestion would be to consider a modified behavioral interview inquiring about conflict resolution, management style, and general work style. So, while you would ask for an example of where someone had to convince someone to take another route on resolving an issue, there could also be the question of what would be done differently and what was learned in having that experience that could be useful.

I would highly suggest knowing what kind of work culture and atmosphere you have so that you can articulate it to the possible new team leads as well as be prepared to discuss how are things handled in the organization.

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