How to LEAD a team without actually being a BOSS?

Article written by Sreenivas Mothukuru

During college days most of the students spend lots and lots of time in reading, writing, understanding & memorizing tons of information to perform well in semester exams. For many, these efforts are just to get good percentages so as to come under corporate recruitment scanner. After completion of exams and once the person is recruited in any corporate office s(he) will experience the 
strange shift from college to professional life. I call it a unique once in a life time experience. During the initial days, s(he) will be asked to understand product and process to perform better as an individual contributor. Few years later the same person will be challenged with additional responsibilities w.r.t. the role.

A shift in role from ‘individual contributor’ to ‘boss’ has a lot to do with the responsibilities they handle.

In general individual contributors
a) are responsible for their own actions
b) they don’t have to manage people
c) they can easily become an “expert” in a particular area at workplace, etc.

Unlike individual contributor, boss can
a) focus on big picture
b) provide opportunities to subordinates
c) reviews performance appraisals
d) delegate tasks
e) work toward team member's development
f) get the things done, etc.

Eventually, individual contributor can become a boss (with proper training) and vice-verse. But, is it possible for a person to play dual role without compromising over quality? If yes, how is it possible?

Working expeditiously for multiple teams, with different roles and with no compromise over quality is highly challenging. It isn't possible when you take responsibility for granted. As we step up in career ladder, quite often we face similar situations where we need to work as an individual contributor and at the same time manage team(s).

Let me share my experience. A few years ago, I was asked to work as an individual contributed to an important project and at the same time asked to lead a team which most often does monotonous work (day in and day out team is supposed to test site functionality in Stage & Production environments ... that's it). After going over my role and responsibilities and after thoroughly analyzing me & my situation I anticipated below problems.
1) difficulty in managing time and resources
2) compromise on quality
3) monotonous work may break individual’s interest and eventually affect team morale
4) increase in attrition and
5) personally I may be de-motivated

Soon, I started to explore all possible ways to manage team and my work. Finally, I decided to LEAD without actually being a BOSS. Sound strange?!

Let me explain you in detail.
For me working as an individual contributor is not a new thing. Therefore, I concentrated more on exploring innovative ways to manage people & work.

Initially, I worked closely with my team and came up with a to-do list and defined the process. Later, I executed the task list items one by one and fine-tuned the process within a month. Finally, I fixed some guidelines and directed the team to follow them religiously. The guidelines helped me to manage and track teams progress in a systematic way. Although, I was able to get the things done, somehow I felt that team members are not taking ownership on what they are doing!

To make my team members feel responsible I created an 'Acting Lead' role and asked them to take up the role one after another. Acting lead means each person within team will act as a lead for 15 days and oversee all team activities (i.e. whether process is followed, work is distributed properly or not, email communication is happening with other teams, scheduling meetings, etc.). With this move I noticed positive change in the team performance which allowed me to look into other tasks. 

This continued for some period and then I realized that my team members are becoming sluggish with monotonous work. To help them recover I started injecting technology related information and allowed them to explore various tools (Web Inject, XSS testing, log verification, database testing, reporting testing, build & deployment, etc.)  This made them to enjoy the regular work without any complains

This continued for some time and at that stage they were good at managing themselves, domain, technology and process. When everything appeared right soon I realized the need to improve their communication skills.

To help them improve communication skills I gave them an assignment to come up with site (Classmates) architecture and asked them to communicate with appropriate teams to collect information. Slowly, team members divided the work within themselves, worked with respective teams to gather information, consolidated everything at one place and finally they have given a nice presentation to the entire teamAlso, I asked acting lead to send a consolidated email (comprising of work done in that week) to US counterparts. However, I closely monitored the way they are proceeding with the task and provided feedback at regular intervals.

After a year I spoke to all team members, everybody expressed happiness and showed willingness to work irrespective of the nature of work. After retrospection I understood that in most of the cases it is not the nature of work but lack of supplements that disappoint employees. Supplements -> Exposure to Technologies, Soft Skills and Personal Development, etc. rather than just hike, bonus or promotions

"When the approach is right weird problems often result in wonderful solutions" - Sreenivas Mothukuru


  1. Yes I agree to this. This is one way and best way to lead a team.

    Nice Work Sreeni..

  2. the facts and the other informative points mentioned here are really considerable and to the point and it would be a good idea to look forward for these informative points and have more.

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  4. I really appreciate the kind of topics you post here. Thanks for sharing us a great information that is actually helpful. Good day! Team building activities


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