Runar Ovesen Hjerpbakk

Software Philosopher

What Does a Team Leader Actually Do?

Christmas is upon us, and, as per tradition, I’ve written a couple of articles for Bekks advent calendar. This is an English translation for my Norwegian 🇳🇴 post titled Hva gjør egentlig en teamleder?, enjoy!


Organizations, the team members, and roles vary greatly from place to place. Does the team have a tech lead? A product manager? Is the organization well-versed in digital product development? The answers to these and many more questions define the role of a team leader.

Additionally, the part of the role that happens outside the team isn’t always visible to those left behind when the team leader rushes off to meetings outside the team’s safe confines.

So, one fine day in Trondheim, at our team leader forum, we sat down and discussed what we see in this role. We had various perspectives, and the details varied, but the essence we came to is this:

Ensuring the Team’s Direction and Goals 🎯

As team leaders, we ensure that the team has a direction and measurable goals that make sense in the short term. This goal and direction must be understood in the same way by all team members. We ensure that the team can focus on the goal and has tasks that support it. Who it’s for, what it’s about, and why it’s important is known to everyone in the team and those around who need to know.

Being the Team’s Protector 🛡️

As team leaders, we protect the team by clarifying assumptions and constraints, keeping an eye on obstacles and risks the team may encounter, and being a face for the team around the organization. We’re present where needed, while ensuring the team has the peace and security to work effectively towards its goals. Like the floor of the team, we catch what might slip and take responsibility where needed. We follow up on what the organization deems important around the team, be it OKRs, budgets, or goal achievement, while being realistic about the organization’s capacity for change when we push in other directions.

Facilitating Appropriate Processes 📈

We ensure a process and methodology in the team that fits with the team’s collective competence and goals, and the opportunities in the organization. At the same time, we set a good example for teams around us who want to learn. We’re the oil that ensures speed and flow. As both domestic and foreign ministers, we balance focus based on what the team and organization need now and move adaptively in and out of roles. We bring together those who need to talk and get them to communicate with each other.

Building Safe and Robust People Around Us ❤️

By being ourselves and not afraid to make mistakes, we aim to improve ourselves and others around us. We see the people the team consists of, know everyone’s strengths, and facilitate co-creation of the team’s results. As team leaders, we know that safety, trust, and enjoyment are built by working and succeeding together. That’s why we stand with the team and share joys and sorrows honestly. We build up individuals by being both a coach, advisor, and everything in between. We create space for others to succeed and are happy to delegate tasks.

Thinking of the Whole Picture 🌍

We are the team’s microphone. We speak up about opportunities we see, mindful of why the team exists and what we want to achieve with our work. We are thoughtful about the team’s composition and capacity, set against today’s and future goals. We’re proactive and prefer to speak up one time too many than not enough.

To achieve all this, we use the people in the team and around us for help. We know that success can only come through collaboration.

And meetings. There are quite a few of those, too.