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Is there a term for a situation where a company hires new employees onto a team or project at a higher rank than the technical team lead?

Does this type of thing happen often?

  • Do you mean, for example, a company hiring a new Chief Technical Officer (CTO) to replace the one who recently left, rather than promoting someone from within the company to that position? – Steve-O May 30 '19 at 13:08
  • Sure. Why would this be an issue? The new team member may have more experience or a deeper skill set than the current team members or team lead. – joeqwerty May 30 '19 at 13:40
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    @JoeStrazzere I read it as : Higher Skill / proficiency level. – Sourav Ghosh May 30 '19 at 14:13
  • In the US at least the general terms are "hiring from within" vs "outside hire", and both are so common in the last few decades as to be almost equally likely in general, but practices vary by company and industry. Within the US such actions used to be unheard of, as positions tended to be seniority based, but that was decades ago now and most companies don't even pretend to prefer internal candidates for new positions, even senior ones. – BrianH May 30 '19 at 15:55
  • I considered writing an answer but couldn't flesh it out enough. Question to you: why are you asking for a 'term' for this? Google-fu, to put a complaint in an email to management, something else? I don't think there's a specific term for what you describe, but the opposite is "promote from within" (which is exactly what it sounds like it means!). There are pros and cons to "promoting from within" vs hiring someone from outside to be above the tech lead (etc), e.g. pros: entrepreneur.com/article/274346, cons: carterbaldwin.com/… – seventyeightist May 31 '19 at 18:35
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If I understand what your asking correctly...

higher rank/grade/position than the technical team lead?

This will vary company to company, but Principal is one title I have seen here in the US. The process as a whole could be called slow replacement.

Does this type of thing happen often?

I am not sure it happens often, but I have seen it happen where management has lost faith in either a key individual or a team, and will hire or contract other resources that are seen as more competent (stronger).

If you are on a team where this is happening for multiple positions, where folks being hired in at a higher rank then those on the team currently, you need to have a conversation with your manager to get an understanding as to the strategy.

It is definitely not something you should ignore, and may be something you need to act on. Furthermore, if I wasn't real comfortable with the outcome of the conversation with said manager, I would probably being looking for work elsewhere.

  • What does "Principal" as a title have anything to do with "higher rank/grade/position than the technical team lead"? Principal is just a higher rank/grade. Most technical leads are at least principal or higher at this company. – Zero Jun 12 '19 at 15:14
  • @Zero Some companies will use the term before a key word to make the rank appear higher. – Mister Positive Jun 12 '19 at 17:16
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Does this type of thing happen often?

No.

Does this type of thing happen?

Yes.

Consider one thing: Someone higher ranked than team lead maybe lower ranked than the Program Manager / CTO - so hiring for a "higher" position is a relative term.

Example (A rather personal experience): An organization may wish to enter a new venture (a new product line), so what they do is to start with the existing workforce, build a team to start creating POC, explore possibilities, market research etc. Now, the person leading the program, may either

  • wish to leave the organization to pursue the career elsewhere
  • is not interested in long-term engagement in this new domain, but agreed to help kick-start the program as an architect / solutions developer / Technical manager etc (higher positions than a technical lead)

In that scenario, company may not have another engineer / manager to take up that role from inside the organization, or whoever is available and capable (outside the team but in the organization), are already occupied with other engagements.

In that case, to continue the effort / program, company needs to hire external candidates to keep running the program - this is not unusual.

However, I agree, there are very less number of occasions where this sort of things happen. In general, filling the vacancy of a higher-ranked personnel is preferred to be from someone within the team - however, exceptions prove the rule.

That being said, if you notice this as a regular thing (even happening once / twice a year), that is a red flag. That could indicate two things:

  • No possible internal candidate: The company is unable to provide the opportunity for learning and growth, because of which existing employees do not grow enough to fulfill the criterion required to occupy the higher ranking positions
  • Company does not trust the internal candidates to get the job done :The company (Management) simply do not have the trust (for some reason) on the internal candidates to assume the roles and responsibilities of that of a higher position.

As mentioned in other answers, if you find this to be a practice, talk to your manager / supervisor soon. This could be a career-impacting case, where you need to plan ahead and make your choice carefully.

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In very general terms companies can hire from outside for every level from CEO to intern. There are also situations where within the technical or management structure extra layers of leadership are inserted; this sort of change is known as restructuring and is characteristic of a transition to resolve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity. These can be filled internally or externally as per the business requirements.

Specific to additional layers being added to the mid-range of a technical hierarchy. Oftentimes if these layers are being added and filled with an internal candidate it is a reward for someone exceeding what is expected of their current role but there not being an existing next level opening available. Oftentimes if these layers are being added and filled with an external candidate it is an indication of lack of faith that the current employees in the layers above or below are capable of handling the challenges of the near future (either due to poor past performance or an expected change in those challenges). That said there are dozens of other possibilities but these are fairly common ones.

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Is there a term for a situation where a company hires new employees onto a team or project at a higher rank than the technical team lead?

Leadership or Organizational Structure Failure

I call it this, because either the leader can't really do their job, or their manager failed to create an organizational structure for the current leader to succeed. My not directly replacing the leader, you are creating obvious confusion in an organization instead of being transparent.

In some cases, it is the lead's manager, who created an organization and realized that the current structure isn't sustainable. And it is time to change the structure to support new team members. I.e. when the CTO realizes that the number of teams that report to him need to go from 1 to 2. He may need a team lead to be inserted in to the org for both teams. That is two position potentially above who you are calling team lead.

Does this type of thing happen often?

Depends, I guess. When your leader isn't a do a good job, or your leaders' leader, it can happen. It happens more frequently in autonomous teams where cross-functional teams are responsible for many different aspects. If your larger org doesn't trust it's leaders to the do the right thing, there are lots of ways to solve that problem. One of them in training, another is replacement, still a third is this sort of subterfuge where you really are removing the current leader and replacing them.

For organizational structure it happens whenever an org needs to scale up. Successful startups, for instance. So take 10% of the 10% of all successful startups that also want to expand. Realistically you need to make some changes. It is possible that some of these were already prepared, but more than likely most haven't considered how to do this effectively. They'll end up with other problems (like those with technical expertise in positions leadership without any experience, but that is a tangent.)

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