In my opinion, this is an underestimated question in several organisations. Should the Team Leader know in details the technical part of the operations, the transactions, the processes?
For the members of the team usually, this is the baseline for becoming a manager of the group. They will probably reply that it is essential. Other people are more convinced that a Team Leader should only “lead”. Technical knowledge is not needed, it is more important the communication with the stakeholders and development of the team members.
Who is right?
When I started my career, I was first as a member of the Team and became the Leader later. This is quite typical, and in this case, there is no question. However, when you start with a new one as a Team Leader, this question becomes important to be solved. How shall you focus your energy? Should you learn the technical details, or should you focus on managing the people?
During my career, I needed to handle several Teams. Once, I decided to avoid the transactional part of the job and I gave more importance to resolve the escalations and talk to my Team. It was time well spent, but after a while, I realised that I could not help efficiently my Team, I could not understand completely their difficulties and frustrations without “seeing it with my eyes”. I needed to understand the details of their job, to give them solutions and improve the way of working.
However, it is not so simple. Balance is essential.
I have seen some Team Leaders being fully immersed in the operational job and neglecting their tasks as a manager, not giving attention to the people. This is counterproductive.
I believe that a good Team Leader has to know well the operations, why the people are working in a certain way, why they do what they do. Which systems are they using, or which transactions in SAP, what kind of reports are they running and for which reason. Everything is important and has a reason, and the Leader has to know what is that. If there is no apparent reason, that process should be questioned. But to be on that level, we have to be aware in details what is going on in our Team.
It does not mean that every day the Team Leader has to do the same operational job that the others are doing. He/she has other activities to perform, he/she does not need to micromanage.
This means that in the beginning, the new manager has to spend some time with these details, allocate energy to get a more deep insight into the activities of the Team, to lead it efficiently in the future. However, he/she needs to give the same importance also to the managerial activities.
Having a good operational knowledge has several positive effects:
- It will help to find inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement.
- It will help to assess better the skills of the Team members and coach/develop them.
- It helps to set realistic goals and expectations. KPIs will be meaningful.
- It supports the leader to build authority in a natural way.
- It will engage the members of the Team. They like to work with somebody who is fully clear about their job
- It gives more satisfaction and motivation to the Team Leader, he can connect better to his Team.
It is never too late to start this activity. It should come naturally in the first period when the Leader is appointed, but if it happens on a later stage, the positive effects will still be valid.