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I recently came on to a team as a senior engineer at the same level as my peers. Many permanent members of this team have long standing issues with the management. There isn't a lead person on the team, we're all pretty much equal.

Senior management (that my peers have issues with) has asked me if I'm interested in acting as a lead for this team because of the issues that have been occurring.

I'm not sure if this is the right thing for me. I'm not sure if I want to take on that responsibility or if I am best suited to it, but primarily whether or not I want to have to deal with the clashing personalities and the drama. Also, this organization will likely be unable to offer any extra compensation for the adjustment to a lead type position, and I doubt they can offer other perks like a lump sum of PTO.

All of those factors make me feel like I should lean towards not taking on that role, trying to just see how things go without a lead or leaving...

What concerns should I keep in mind when navigating this situation?

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    The question is: Can you find ways to gruntle your disgruntled team? – Pieter Geerkens Jul 6 '17 at 8:44
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    They really should offer compensation for this. If they want a lead, they have to pay for it. That person has a higher accountability for results, has to deal with drama, has to learn and apply leadership skills, has to deal with (shudder) management... Not compensating for that is anti-capitalistic. – Stian Yttervik Jul 6 '17 at 9:49
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    Keep in mind that if you refuse, one of your equals could take this chance. Are you alright with this? – Max Payne Jul 6 '17 at 12:13
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    Regardless of their motives and the current team dynamic, you need to ask yourself; do I wish to never progress in my career and just be "one of the guys" that gets voluntold to do stuff or do I wish to actually steer a ship? Just make sure you do not allow upper-management to make a stupidvisor out of you. If you are a team lead and have domain expertise then be a leader first and foremost when discussing things with management and secondly when leading your team. Make sure to demand the tools for success from upper management. – MonkeyZeus Jul 6 '17 at 12:22
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    Reminds me of the scenario in TV "The Office“(US version), where the office needs a manager, where Jim (you) who is generally likeable in the office is offered the chance first. But Jim thinks that everything has been going fine without a manager already and hence why should he take it up. So Jim declines, and Dwight takes up the chance so that he can have some power in the office and boss everyone else. Dwight may turn to be a bad choice and force management to get an actual manager from the outside as in the TV show, or he could do a decent job depending on who Dwight in your office is. – Max Payne Jul 6 '17 at 14:05
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I have been in this situation, and here would be my 2€:

I'm not sure if this is the right thing for me. I'm not sure if I want to take on that responsibility

"Responsibility" is a weird thing. There are some areas in life where responsibility is real - for example if you are driving a 40t vehicle through a crowded city, you better make sure your driving is responsible; or if you are getting children you definitely feel the weight. But as a team lead? Sure, in business speak people might call you "responsible for the team", but in my experience this kind of responsibility is very, very light-weight in a team as you describe it.

The way you describe it, I find it highly unlikely that you will be fired or in any other way penalized if you fail at your new job; you will, worst case, be demoted back to senior developer, and the experiment will end. You can easily talk about this with your own manager beforehand and make it clear that you will stand up to the challenge if they allow you to grow into it and if they agree to give you a "probationary phase" of a few months, after which you meet again to formally decide if it has been a good idea.

As a team-lead you will at first simply be the spokesperson for the team, i.e., the interface between the "inside" and "outside". This job is basically what your responsiblity will consist of. But you will hardly be carrying a life-or-death weight on your shoulder.

You will need to have very good communication skills to be able to talk about the same set of facts with your managers and with your team members, in a way which appeases both of them, while likely not being able to influence either of them very well. This does not mean that you need to be good at lying or subterfuge, but that you have to understand what your uppers want and bring the important messages through to your team members (in a way they can understand and accept), and the other way around.

All the rest - giving a direction for the team, onboarding new members and such, will come in baby steps and you can decide how to approach these things, i.e. if you want to become a despot or a "primus inter pares" boss. The latter looks like your style, and it is a perfectly fine way to lead a team; that is you do not enforce any technical rules, but you place responsibility for technical topics (i.e., the projects you all work on) on those persons that actually work on them, cleanly separating "team lead work" from "IT work".

or if I am best suited to it,

One way to find out. You will start out with the benefit of the doubt.

but primarily whether or not I want to have to deal with the clashing personalities and the drama.

This is the real job you are expected to do: get rid of, or at least alleviate the drama, and reconcile the clashing personalities. That is, in my book, the part where real team leaders shine, at least in our IT world where most (senior/ish) developers don't need that much of "being led", anyways.

Believe me, if you have a relaxed, friendly, and yet, when needed, tough teamlead, there is not much reason for drama on either end. He will protect the team members from "drama" from above, will take the needs of the team upwards; at the same time you will want to see if your management really needs something from your members and then try to get it out of them in a way that is commensurate with their needs. And so on.

Also, this organization will likely be unable to offer any extra compensation for the adjustment to a lead type position,

They are, though, able to offer the chance to put "team leader" on your resume. As a senior developer you already had responsibility to get your software right, and I'd say that kind of responsibility should be much heavier than that of an internal team lead.

It's not like you are tasked with building a new team from scratch while meeting budget and time deadlines, with your own neck on the line all the time. At least you should probably make sure it's not going to be like that. You have all the arguments on your side; obviously the team is in a bad way right now, so your management cannot punish you if it doesn't work out. Make sure they know and agree to that.

and I doubt they can offer other perks like a lump sum of PTO.

Again, unless you are going to put in a lot more hours per week to fulfill your new role (and you really should not have to - you will need to reduce your dev work appropriately) then I would not worry about that at all.

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    I love this response. Primus inter pares, I like the sounds of that. This has given me excellent food for thought. Thank you. – Dinglemeyer NeverGonnaGiveUUp Jul 6 '17 at 21:01
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    " It is not like you are going to do heavy physical labour or anything." - so engineers should be paid less because they aren't walking around carrying bricks? Why is that statement even relevant? – Gusdor Jul 7 '17 at 7:25
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    Sorry, that was meant slightly humorous to drive a point home (about the fact that his new job does not need to "feel" heavy). If it is very irritating (maybe a language issue, I am not native english), I can remove it. Let me know. @Gusdor – AnoE Jul 7 '17 at 10:11
  • @AnoE I'm probably overreacting, but that kind of reaction to knowledge workers (from labourers) is quite common and really grinds my gears. "all you do is sit and play on the internet all day but I am paid so little!?" – Gusdor Jul 7 '17 at 10:27
  • @Gusdor By the looks of it AnoE is a knowledge worker as well though ;) – Summer Jul 7 '17 at 11:58
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I am exactly in the same position as you, and my boss has asked me to become lead of my team precisely because I am new and don't have standing issues with anybody, I will probably be in a better position to defuse conflicts.

I think about it as an opportunity to jump to a team leader position, which is something I wanted to do eventually. Also, this kind of challenging situations are the ones that make you grow and improve as a professional. Even if the experience is unpleasant and you get no immediate benefit, you will be in a much better position to negotiate better terms in the future, or take your next career step.

Bottom line, ask yourself,

  • Do you want to be a team leader?
  • If so, are you willing to go through certain short term trouble in exchange of potential long term benefits?
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    I would also make a mention of tangible benefits, i.e. will the team lead position come with a raise or some other form of compensation or can you later negotiate such compensation in the near future. – Cronax Jul 6 '17 at 9:56
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    "you will be in a much better position to negotiate". Probably quite the opposite. Once you have shown that you are willing to take more flak for the same price, what motivation do they have to pay you? You are more likely to "take your next career step" than have a good negotiating position down the line from doing this. – Mad Physicist Jul 6 '17 at 21:42
  • @MadPhysicist Can always leave and go somewhere else; "Team Lead" looks better on the resume than not. And that ability means you have more power to negotiate salary locally, too. – Joe Jul 7 '17 at 18:45
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If you're interested in pursuing a tech lead or a more management-focused path in your career development then it may be worth looking at even if there isn't additional compensation being offered (although I would at the very least push for the title of team lead) as it will be valuable experience. If that's not a move you are looking to make then I'd steer clear as it could otherwise be something of a poison chalice.

Here, we can't/won't fix the issues with this team so we want you to take it on instead. That way if it doesn't work out we can blame you rather than our inability to manage. Oh and we aren't going to give you anything in return for the extra workload and stress.

Basically just make sure you are getting something out of the arrangement - whether that's money, benefits or career development!

  • +1 The issues may well arise from management's unwillingness to do something about the problems that arise when technical constraints don't let you build exactly the thing you want when you want it for the price you want it. – jpmc26 Jul 6 '17 at 23:43
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What concerns should I keep in mind when navigating this situation?

First concern: Why are they offering this to you, despite the fact that there are other members who has been with a team much longer than you, thus they should know better about the issues than a new person like you.

Second: Accepting such responsibility might disappoint some other team members as they may regard them self a more suited person for such role since they have been with a team longer. Thus, you must make sure that, they genuinely believe in you as the right person for this role.

Most places wont offer additional benefit like PTO or extra compensation for agreeing to such responsibility. See it as a new challenge instead of having remuneration concern in your mind.

At a very least, you shouldn't expect getting extra benefit once you said yes to it. Take it and prove you are the right person for such role, then your bargaining power with your management will be differ from now.

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    But putting yourself into a position that may incur lot's of trouble without any benefits sounds like a bad deal. – NoBackingDown Jul 6 '17 at 6:04
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    It totally depends on your interest. Some people won't take additional responsibilities unless there will be extra benefits, while some people like it just because it takes them out of their current zone. – comxyz Jul 6 '17 at 6:08
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    @Benjamin being taken out of their current zone to what avail? Their physical and mental getting destroyed? Their work hours being increased further? And all that for zero benefits? Yeah, not happening and I dont see why anyone sane should ever take on that just for his job title saying "Lead xyz" instead of "xyz". They ask for more responsibilities and commitment, they should be prepared to offer more benfits, its only fair from my POV. – Leon Jul 6 '17 at 6:36
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    Nobody will take on additional responsibilities without benefits - but some people consider the opportunity and the experience they get from it benefit enough. Other don't. That's up to each person to decide. – Erik Jul 6 '17 at 7:55
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Management in general, or someone in particular? Clearly the management want you to be an unpaid meatshield.

This situation sounds a little strange to start with - normally the team would be reporting to a single named individual, and this hierarchy would be maintained even if that person left. It ends up with reporting directly to the board.

If you want to give it a go anyway, I'd suggest two things:

  • Get buy-in from the team. Ask around. What would they feel about doing this job? Make sure there isn't someone else who's been expecting that it would go to them. Find out what they'd want from their team lead. Make a list of changes that the team would like.

  • Get back to management with a list of changes that you would require in order to do your job and motivate the team. Be prepared to turn down the job if these aren't met. This should be your list, influenced by but not entirely written by the rest of the team.

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    This is what I thought as well, I recently read this: ribbonfarm.com/the-gervais-principle and it seems to perfectly describe this situation – gnur Jul 6 '17 at 11:51
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    "Unpaid meatshield" I think that's perfectly accurate. Not going to be taking this "lead" role without a tangible benefit – Dinglemeyer NeverGonnaGiveUUp Jul 6 '17 at 13:27
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Prima facie, it's hard to evaluate what the actual situation there is, but given the info you've presented, I see three dirty tricks.
From the book "21 dirty tricks at work", you seem to have been put into the "Development opportunity" situation, where a manager who does not want to take responsibility for something that is going to fail, hands it over to someone who is new and does not know the existing politics. Check to see if the project is already going to fail or why there is conflict in the team.

Dirty trick No.2 is the "fall guy" technique, where you'll be blamed for anything that happens to the team because you are the lead.

Dirty trick No.3 is the "bystander", where when you encounter problems and approach the management, they'll give excuses saying they aren't able to do anything and that they are confident that you are smart enough to solve the problem yourself.

These are standard political techniques used by managers to shift blame from themselves to someone else, so that they can retain their power and position.

If you really want to take up the team lead position, I'd advise finding out from the grapevine, about what is going on with the project and whether it is likely to fail. Also find out why the managers aren't willing to take up the lead and why the other team members aren't being considered. The disgruntled team members will happily present their version of the story, but you need a more reliable source who could tell this to you. You could also directly ask positive probing questions to the management and gauge their answers.

Question examples:

  • What exactly is involved?

  • How does this move my development forward?

  • How might this be a good move for the business and customers?

  • What was the thinking behind me taking this on?

  • Who else was considered and why were they rejected?

  • What will the success criteria be?
  • What timescales are we working on and how will we know when it is finished?

  • What happens after this opportunity is finished?

  • Which of my current priorities should I cancel to find room for this?

  • What's in it for me?

  • What's in it for you?
  • What happens if I say "thanks, but no thanks"?

In case this is a "fall guy" trick, it has the possibility of huge damage to your reputation. If it is a genuine request to heal the team and/or to have a person to interface between the team and the management, then you'll have a hard time, but if you pull it off, you'll win the favour of everyone. Find out which.

4

Are the issues your team have with management justified? If they are, are management taking them seriously?

You need assurances from management that they are going to deal with these issues. If management are genuinely trying to change and the problem is simply that they've lost the trust of their employees, then promoting someone from the grass-roots to hold management to account on these issues is actually a good thing. But if management are just looking to create an insulation layer so that they don't have to listen to the (justified) complaints, then you'll end up caught between the two, and that's not a good place to be, because you're being set up to fail.

As far as the money goes, that really isn't acceptable. If you're taking this on permanently, a promotion always gets extra pay proportionate to the extra responsibility you're taking on. You could perhaps offer them a 3-month trial period at the same salary to see whether team-leading works out for you or not, but that's about it.

Unless the senior management are all taking pay cuts this year to keep the company afloat, of course? If they are, then you're genuinely all in the same boat. But if the senior management are all getting their nice fat salaries (and possibly pay rises and bonuses too) whilst telling you there's no money in the pot to cover your promotion, that should tell you everything about their attitude to their employees.

If management are clearly exploiting you though, and you do want to move into team leading anyway, a further option you might consider is to take the role for a few months whilst looking for a new job. At that point you'll have team-leading experience on your CV, so you purely take on this role as a slingshot to get you out of the company to a better place. If you're following this plan, do make sure you are seriously looking, and you don't get stuck doing this for too long through lethargy!

  • The slingshot strategy is logical, but fair warning: leading a disgruntled team on a doomed project is a lot of work; and, looking for a new job is a lot of work. Doing both simultaneously may be harder than it sounds. – woodvi Jul 6 '17 at 17:46
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One of the two worst mistakes I have ever made in my life was to allow the owner of an unhappy company to talk me into becoming the manager. The negativity of the other employees was now focused on me rather than directly at the owner, and I took the brunt of his negativity toward most of the employees. He would not allow me to fire the toxic employees because of their supposed technical skills, I of course could not change his personality or attitude towards them.

You feel you should "lean towards not taking on that role". Listen to your gut. It's trying to tell you something.

0

In my mind, the main issues are:

  • Do you have ideas to fix or at least reduce the impact of the longstanding issues with management?
  • Do you know how to brainstorm with the team to come up with more ideas?
  • Will you have enough autonomy to implement and refine most of those ideas in ongoing retrospective processes?

The other answers haven't touched on what I have found to be the greatest benefit when I have taken on similar leadership roles in the past: you have a potential opportunity to be in a much better position to significantly improve your own working conditions along with your team's. If that doesn't appeal to you, or you don't already have thoughts on the matter, the position may not be right for you.

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