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How to be a good leader?


Sep 9, 2019 - 7 minute read

Magdalena Nagler
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A while ago, our company participated in ‘’happiness index’’ survey, which selected the happiest tribes. In order to get to know the secret of their happiness level being so high, I’ve decided to ask Tribe Masters to give an interview and talk about the role of a leader and the aspects of relation-building inside a team. My guests were as follows: Wojciech Królikowski, Błażej Pietrzak and Paweł Kostecki. Even though the nature of each tribe is quite different (both projects and clients differ), all of them claim that mutual respect and space for work are the key elements of building healthy relations within a team, which in turn results in success. So, let’s get down to reading:

Magda Nagler: I would like to thank you for your willingness to share your experience with others. I want to begin by asking you a question which might seem very simple at a first glance, however, in reality it is a bit more complex – how to be a good leader?

Paweł Kostecki: It is worth pointing out that each of us deals with different projects and clients on a daily basis. My project has been going on for 3.5 years now, and it mostly revolves around one product. Wojtek is involved in several smaller projects dedicated to one client only, while Błażej’s tribe works for a few different clients - and these are usually short projects. That’s why the response to the above question of how to be a good leader is not as obvious and straight-forward as one may think. From the very beginning, I’ve had the following maxim: both good and bad moments should be shared with the team. In the long run, such an approach builds a sense of common responsibility for a project and makes people engaged in achieving the goal.

Wojciech Królikowski: There are various publications on the topic of good leadership – we can talk about it for hours on end. During 9 years of my work at Objectivity, I have assumed different roles, and in most of them the practice of making the team involved in decision-making was the key to building proper cooperation.

Błażej Pietrzak: What I can add here is that sharing your experience and knowledge in an open and clear way makes people see you as a leader or even a role model, which in turn makes them eager to work with you.

MN: There are various situations taking place in projects, also those when the whole work is turned upside down because of the client. How to give the team a sense of security in such circumstances?

PK: In such a case, communication is the key element – a leader’s responsibility is to provide the team with all the necessary information and the client’s expectations, as well as to visualize the consequences of not keeping the deadline or scope.

BP: However, we need to remember that the word "consequences" should not be understood as a threat of being fired or being given financial penalties. It’s important to explain it to the team that ‘’consequences’’ mean, e.g. delivering the work within one sprint for free and with a worse financial outcome of the company. Such a situation may, in turn, affect us all and result in smaller funds, e.g. non-wage benefits, etc.

WK: What I would mention is the idea of full transparency towards the team. We sit down and discuss the issue. We openly state what is to be done and how to achieve it. It makes people feel that they are a part of the team. In addition, from the very beginning of the project, it should be directly stressed that our priority is to react to the client’s needs. Thanks to such an approach, my team is always prepared.  

MN: Following this thought, what is the most effective tool of building good and long-standing relations in a team? PK: One of the most important aspects is to make sure that we are trying to be of as much support to our team as possible. And if circumstances don’t require it, the best we can do is to provide space for taking proper actions and making autonomous decisions.

BP: For me, relations always take priority, also in private life. It is certainly easier in case of long-term projects. However, short-term projects require a slightly different approach – as tasks and people assigned to a given project change on a daily basis. That’s why it all comes down to proper communication and conversation. My team members like each other a lot (as simple as that), and thus they are able to cooperate in a very efficient manner – so the credit for the lion’s share of what we do should actually be given to them.

WK: A similar attitude can be observed in my team – there is a laid-back atmosphere of friendly "mocking" and irony, but it is all linked to professionalism. An example of a situation – we failed to keep the deadline and the client is not happy. What do we do? We treat it with a pinch of salt, with a slight dose of humour, and then we get down to work. The role of the Tribe Board is also crucial here – the atmosphere in the Tribe Board directly translates into the atmosphere in the whole team. Project team bump

MN: It goes without saying that a diverse team is always more efficient. However, it seems to me that managing a team consisting of different personalities and people with different skills may lead to difficulties. Have you found a golden mean here?

PK: The key is to get to know each team member’s motivation. One person is motivated by having enough space and freedom in decision-making, while the other will be driven by clearly established principles. It is a very individual issue.

BP: The number of my team can change, but currently there are about 15 people. I have also worked in tribes consisting of 80 team members, and I found it difficult to remember every face. In such situations, Chapter Leaders and Leaders are of assistance to us – their task is to get to know people’s needs, motivations and skills. While assigning a particular task to a person, we do it with the advice and help of leaders.

WK: We also have a Resourcing Team which helps us assign a proper team that will be a good match in terms of the nature of a project. We take into consideration people’s strengths and weaknesses as well as the tasks that a given person feels comfortable with and is able to prove himself or herself. Our team members are often given much freedom to define their role which, I believe, is an effective method.  

MN: And how do you set goals for a team, so that they could be well-understood and achieved? BP: It depends significantly on the structure of a tribe, i.e. the existing roles, such as: Project Manager, Chapter Leader, PMO Specialist, or HR Business Partner. Each of them actively participates in the ‘’life’’ of a team. Thanks to that, everybody is aware of what they should do and what they are responsible for. It is very often the case that the client gives us challenges which are very difficult or even impossible to face. In case of the first type – we always have a discussion with the team: what can be done, how much time and how many human resources we need, and then we confront it with the client’s expectations. In case of the impossible tasks, our role is to make the client aware of our inability to carry them out within the defined framework.

WK: What is important here is a big autonomy of particular teams. We don’t start our work by saying how to do something but by specifying what is to be done - our goal is always the deadline. We provide space and freedom, we let out team make mistakes, and if any problems arise, we always support each other no matter what.

PK: Admitting mistakes and solving them together always has a positive impact on achieving the defined goals. On top of that, we always try to encourage our teams. In the end, we are just humans and we also make mistakes, which we openly talk about. Nevertheless, it’s important to make the same mistake only once and to draw proper conclusions.  

MN: Last but not least, I would like to ask you to share a few good practices of a leader that always work and are the key to a strong and happy team.

WK: Maintaining good relationships, building a laid-back atmosphere and having well-chosen team members assigned to particular roles. It makes everybody feel good about what they do on a daily basis.

PK: Mutual respect is the key. What has just come to my mind is a guiding principle used in medicine, i.e. ‘’primum non nocere’’, which means ‘’firstly, not to hurt’’ – it can also be applied in our work. To sum up, I would like to point out that the results of the ‘’happiness index’’ survey, and the effects of our work, result from our people, who I am really proud of and who I’m very grateful to. I trust them and I know that the moment we set a common goal, we all work towards it and we all feel the sense of responsibility for our actions.

BP: I would point out two more important aspects: honesty and open-mindedness. Communication is a tool that can resolve any conflict and makes it easier to achieve success. What’s important is that our three tribes are allocated on the third floor. Thanks to that, there is a great atmosphere both within the tribes as well as between them.

MN: Now, we know where to go to get some positive vibes in case we have some worse days. Thank you very much for this interview and I wish you and your teams further success in any actions that you undertake.

WK/BP/PK: Thank you.

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Magdalena Nagler
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