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Your Team Needs Leadership

This article was originally posted on SupportOps.com

Let’s talk teams. Your support team exists as a part of the overall team. And to work as part of the whole, you have to communicate effectively. That means you need some organization to make it work. No matter how flat your company is run, you’ll need a first among equals type to help it run effectively. It’s like the role of the Supreme Court Chief Justice, just not as intimidating.1

Let's talk about some ideas for how leadership should go with your team. I’ve seen a variety of methods from the classroom, restaurants, and of course the 37signals support team. Here’s some of the best ideas I’ve seen in action.

Have a Team Lead

No matter how small or large your team is, they need a team leader. This is the person that help speaks to the rest of your company. They represent the support team to the others on your leadership team. The more people involved, the more that role is needed.

So the first step is to designate that as a role. Lay out some of their responsibilities. For us, the team lead backs off on answering support cases so they can work on other things.

A few things they might focus on:

  • It might be helping to layout FAQs and such for a new product.
  • If you hire a new person, they serve as the primary trainer.
  • They send out cards and gifts to customers.
  • They write up the weekly summary of what’s going on in the world of support. We call it our heartbeat.
  • One-on-one reviews and random case spot-checks are great for this person to work on.

As the team grows, you can add more things there of course.

What's in a Name?

What you call this role doesn’t really matter. Really, I’m hesitant to include the word "leader" in any title. It conveys an image of only certain types of people as leaders.

In truth, anyone can be part of this role. And they should be. So you might call them a team rep like WordPress.2 Or section chief. I worked with one guy that had the lead that day called XO, short for executive officer. Despite obviously pulling it from his Navy days, he liked it because he wanted the lead to focus on executing and acting in that role. No one likes a lead that just sits around.

Keep it Fresh

One of the things that I love with this role is to keep it fresh with different people rotating in and out. This gives us a few key benefits.

  • They don’t get burnout. Having a person do the same thing all day gets monotonous quick. This role is great for bringing someone in to give them some variety to their life.
  • They don’t get egotistic. You’re a lot nicer to people if you’re not going to be the team lead in a few weeks. There’s not an employee vs management mentality if people are freely moving between those two levels.
  • They don’t hoard knowledge. If you only had one team lead, firing them would let a lot of info and ideas walk out with them. By sharing it, the entire team grows as people grow into that role and then pass it on to the next person in line for it.
  • They don’t politicize the role. I’m hesitant on people voting for their reps. We’ve seen how well that works with elected officials. Instead, have everyone interested in it take a turn. Remember, you want to grow the entire team, not just specific people on it.

I’ve seen this role shift on a weekly, monthly, and biannual time frame. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend anything longer than six months. That’s a long time in this role. Finding that sweet spot is something your team will want to work out. Try a few different time frames and see how it goes.

Of Course There's a Caveat

Let me end by saying while I love having this rotating role, it’s not for everyone. Some teams need a permanent spot. That’s what works for their team and that’s great.

But I highly recommend trying it. Every team I’ve been part of that used this approach has had a lot of success with it. With the start of the year right around the corner, it’s a great time to try new things!


1. The idea of "First Among Equals", Wikipedia
2. WordPress has reps for its contributor groups that seem to work great for them.


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