Leading dynamic and distributed teams

You will be working on distributed teams comprised of designers, engineers, researchers, policy experts, contracting experts and, frequently, agency partners. You are tasked with ‘leading from within’ (you are a member of the team and everyone is on equal footing)—you must provide direction to the team so that they are focused on the right priorities and feel empowered and excited to build the right solution. The vision and strategy will set initial direction and give the team a north star, and you will be leading the team to deliver in that direction.

When building and shipping, it’s important to balance the input coming from the various subject matter experts on your team. Your teammates need to be heard, and you need their expertise. You will balance their voices and use that perspective to find a path that minimizes technical and design debt. When you have a clear idea how to proceed, make sure the team understands why. If there are gray areas, embrace them and leverage the team’s expertise to get through them. The team should always know where they are going and understand why any trade-offs are being made. You should not hide trade-offs or tough decisions from your teammates, even when there is no direct action for them to take.

You are a leader and cheerleader: It’s important to recognize team successes whenever possible. When an important milestone is reached, call it out proactively and celebrate with the team! It’s sometimes hard to pay attention to this while everyone is busy focusing on delivering value, but it’s important to make sure the team is excited about the work they are doing. Taking time to recognize success is an important way to generate excitement and keep everyone engaged.

Sometimes things won’t go as planned, and the team won’t deliver value. That’s okay. In fact, we expect that to happen from time to time. A big part of your role is to help the team learn the right lessons from these failures. This is easier to do when the team is already aligned on the hypotheses you are testing and the overall goals of the product, but it will still take some time to get to the root of any problems and come up with potential solutions. Make sure to step back and deliberately examine these failures, document the lessons learned and incorporate them in your plan going forward.