Over the years, I've led, and been a member of, numerous technical teams on a wide variety of projects. Based on that experience, this series of articles documents my observations on the role of the leader in that sort of team.
Firstly, some thoughts on authority...
How did you become the leader and under whose authority? The answer to that question can be one of three possibilities and it can have significant consequences for the challenges you might face and the strategies you'll have to adopt to meet them:
Says Someone Else
Somebody outside your team has appointed you as its leader e.g. the boss, a committee, an election.
The most likely challenge you'll face in this case is resentment from somebody believes the role should have gone elsewhere; possibly themselves.
Resentment needs to be dealt with and swiftly. Left unchecked, it can become a festering cancer within your team, sapping morale, poisoning the atmosphere in which you're working and destroying your chances of success. You have three possible strategies to tackle it:
Win Them Over
Find something that matters to them and help. Fix a problem that iritates them - preferably something they've been unable to fix for themselves. It might not be a technical problem - the chances are you were appointed in favour of them because your people skills are better, so look for ways to use them. Perhaps there's a problem with another team that you negotiate a deal with.
You have to do this quickly, however. There's no point choosing something that will take you months to achieve whilst the resentment continues and builds.
Pick a Fight and Win
Find something you both disagree on, pick a fight over it and make sure you win. They, and everyone else, will know who's in charge from that point on.
Choose something significant, something that you genuinely care about and that you believe will make a positive difference to the project and your team - preferably where you have support from other team members.
Make sure you have the backing of whoever appointed you before you pick the fight - you need to be sure that if a complaint is made, you know exactly what the response will be and that it will be in your favour.
Get Rid of Them
I've often heard "if all else fails, get rid of them," but I disagree. In some cases, this is the only option and that fact is obvious from the start. If that's the case, be honest with yourself and make this your strategy - you're going to end up here anyway but you'll have wasted time and energy trying other strategies first.
Make sure you know the process you have to follow to the letter and then follow it. If you have to find fault, find it and document it.
Your team has decided that you are the person to lead them.
If the leadership role is something you wanted, this is the ideal situation in which to find yourself. Just watch out for anyone who disagreed or new members joining your team later: they can feel they had no say in the matter and for them, you're in the 'Says Someone Else' category.
However, if it's not something you want or if the project is a disaster and everyone is simply looking for a scapegoat, life can be somewhat trickier - you probably need to think carefully about whether you want to stay on the team at all.
You've decided that leadership is required and to take it on yourself.
Often, you can simply begin by carrying out the tasks that you think need to be done without saying anything about leadership at all. If all goes well and your actions are appreciated, you carry on and do more until, eventually, you are simply regarded as the leader without any spoken decision at all.
You still need to watch out for resentment, however, and deal with it in the same way as for "Says Someone Else." You might have team members who were happy with your initial actions but become less so over time as you become the accepted leader by most.