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A team leader is a person who works to accomplish professional or organizational goals by motivating and streamlining the efforts of others. There are many different types of team leaders, which can make setting out a specific job description somewhat difficult; a person leading a group of financial analysts, for instance, is necessarily very different from someone in charge of a customer service operation, a construction crew, or a volunteer organization at a local school. All of these people do have a few core characteristics, though. They all typically help train employees or staff to work together, and provide the motivation and inspiration needed to meet goals. In most cases they also set timelines and deadlines and manage personnel issues. They reward good work and punish lackluster performances, and in most cases are directly accountable for the achievements of their team.
One of a leader’s most important jobs is making sure everyone on the team has the skills needed to get the work done. Leaders who have the ability to choose their team members often have an advantage here, since they can more or less self-select a group of people who already have the needed training; it is often the case, though, that groups already exist, which means that the person in charge may need to do a bit more work to get everyone on the same page.
Leaders often provide training both individually and for the group as a whole. This training can be formal, like requiring members to study different approaches and learn about specific business structures, but watching training videos or participating in more casual team-building activities can be equally effective, depending on the circumstances.
Training often happens and is monitored during meetings. Most teams meet fairly regularly, often daily or weekly, and the leader is almost always the one to set the agenda. He or she will give clear directives and instructions, but also usually asks for ideas and suggestions from members. Meetings can also be a good time to check on individual member progress and to provide feedback about how things are going.
Motivation and Inspiration
Most teams work best when all members are working together and equally distributing the workload, but this doesn’t always just happen by itself. Good leaders are constantly working to build a positive team spirit that will help keep everyone working towards the same goals.
There are many different ways to motivate people and encourage cooperation, but some of the most common techniques involve team-building exercises, bonding activities, and socialization outside of job-related settings. Leaders typically encourage and reward not only positive project outcomes, but also the successful collaboration of the group as a whole.
Productivity and Reaching Goals
There is also usually a monitoring element to the job. The person in charge usually sets a definitive timeline of when things need to happen and works hard to keep all members on track. In many cases, the timeline that leads to the ultimate goal — the completion of a major report, for instance, or the execution of a specific event — is also broken down into smaller tasks, like the writing of specific chapters or the coordination of different vendors. Checking in with team members about how these smaller tasks are going is a way of measuring larger progress, and when things aren’t going well the person in charge must usually intervene before things fall too far off track.
Managing Complaints and Solving Problems
In many cases, a team’s leader will also act as its problem solver. When the team encounters hiccups in sourcing or when they find that deadlines simply can’t be met, for instance, the leader is usually the one who has to come up with alternative solutions. Personnel issues and conflicts between individual workers also typically fall to the leader for resolution. His or her job in these circumstances is to find a way to keep the peace while ensuring that the project stays on track. Creative problem solving and a knack for working with people makes this aspect of the job much easier.
In most organizations, team leaders are directly responsible to managers or executives, which means that they take ultimate responsibility for the team's performance whether favorable or unfavorable. As a result, it's in the leader's best interest to make sure every person is contributing and working to his or her fullest potential.
As soon as the team meets its goals or completes its project, the leader is usually required to write up a final report or prepare a briefing for those higher up in the organization. He or she will usually have to answer questions about how things were achieved, and may also be asked for advice about how things might be done differently in the future.
Education and Core Job Requirements
Just as there are many different kinds of team leader jobs, there many different ways of getting the position. Sometimes companies promote people from within, usually those who have served as team members in the past and have done a good job. It’s also sometimes possible to apply directly for a leadership position, but experience working with different groups of people is almost always required.
Much of the required education depends on the sort of work being done. A person leading a group of sales reps will usually need university training in marketing, for example, but this isn’t usually true for someone working with a team tasked with putting on a school carnival. No matter the setting, though, a strong sense of organization, an ability to work well with people of varying backgrounds, and a deep knowledge of the subject area are usually essential.