The Smartly.io Team Lead Philosophy

Kristo Ovaska

CEO and Founder

Culture

At Smartly.io, we’re big believers in servant leadership, sharing power and helping others around us succeed. These values are central to our recently developed team lead system, which aims to scale leadership to match our quick growth. We’ve grown to 150 people in 6 offices globally in less than 4 years, and team leads have an important role in making sure our growth continues to be sustainable in the future.

The way we see it, outstanding team leads makes themselves redundant. Team leads are there to build their teams so strong that they survive and thrive even without their leaders. Essentially, a leader’s success is measured by how they cultivate new leaders and help them succeed. Our company culture emphasizes self-leadership and company-wide ownership, which creates a fitting environment for servant leadership.

While the idea of servant leadership often focuses on the responsibility of the leader, let’s not forget about the other side of the coin. Servant leaders give their team members huge freedom and responsibility to perform their work and make decisions.

Successful team leads boost the positive effects of self-organizing teams, which are at the core of how we work at Smartly.io. They help teams align their efforts with the vision and goals of the entire company—empowering them to make informed decisions and drive their own work forward.

On the other hand, a badly functioning team lead system may lead to responsibility becoming centered to one person, and transparent decision making becoming opaque. That’s why we’ve written out our team lead philosophy—to make it clear how we want our team leads to aspire to work.

A good team lead fully understands the company’s vision and goals — and so does their team

Successful self-organizing teams require that everyone commits and acts on the overarching vision, and the long and short-term goals of the entire company. It’s the responsibility of the team lead to ensure everyone understands and aligns with the big picture.

A team lead gives their teammates context, motivation, and purpose. To encourage self-organisation, they give their team huge freedom and responsibility to define how to reach the commonly set goals and pursue the company vision. A successful team lead should never have to dictate what their team should do or micromanage tasks.

A good team lead builds a strong, full stack team

It’s the responsibility of the team lead to hire the right doers to elevate her team and the company. At Smartly.io, our teams consist of T-shaped people, with unique deep skills in one area combined with a drive to work across disciplines. T-shaped teammates make full stack teams, where people complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Hiring is, of course, just one part of a well-functioning team. A team should foster a culture where it proactively improves its own performance through open, candid feedback. A good team leads knows where and how their team should improve.

It’s also the duty of the team lead to take action if a team member doesn’t measure up to the performance expectations. A team lead makes tough decisions for the sake of the whole company’s success.

A good team lead sets the bar high and holds their team accountable

Clear task ownership and responsibilities, aligned with the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, are vital in creating efficient self-organizing teams. At Smartly.io, we use OKRs to set goals and track performance. We measure long-term impact instead of going for quick wins, and our OKRs represent this view on company, team and individual levels.

Team leads guide their team in setting actionable and demanding goals and deadlines. They hold their teams accountable for reaching the agreed goals in the agreed timeline.

A good team lead makes sure everyone in their team gets constant, honest feedback

Maximizing learning is essential to our company culture—we must learn constantly to survive in our quickly changing industry. We believe that people learn most effectively through direct, honest and frequent feedback. Team leads make sure their teammates get credit for their outstanding work, and help them get better in their job through constructive feedback.

At Smartly.io, it’s the team leads’ responsibility to have regular 1-1s with their team members to give and receive feedback. Their goal is to create a culture of radical candor where everyone feels safe and encouraged to give, receive and act on constructive feedback.

A good team lead facilitates efficient decision making and resolves conflicts

At Smartly.io, teams are given a lot of freedom and responsibility to make decisions on their own. Good team leads facilitate efficient decision making within their teams. They make sure everyone’s voice is heard and that the strongest argument wins. A team lead should never become a bottleneck in decision making, or make decisions without discussing with their team.

If the team can’t reach consensus, it’s the team lead’s responsibility to make the call for the sake of quick and efficient decision making.

A good team lead champions clear, relevant and fast communication

We believe that 95% of all problems stem from poor communication and misunderstandings. When we grow globally, foolproof communication between teams (and towards customers and partners) becomes even more important. Team leads have the responsibility to encourage and facilitate the flow of information between our loosely coupled teams—making sure news and learnings travel quickly and efficiently across the company.

Team leads also serve as vital links between their teams and the leadership, keeping the C-level updated about how their team is performing. In addition, team leads bring in valuable information on where we’re at risk of lagging behind our competition, and we have room to improve.

A good team lead knows bad news is good news (and no news is bad news)  

If things go south, a good team lead places herself in the front line to admit mistakes and failures. A team lead should never hide or downplay problems, point fingers, or look for excuses if the performance of their team doesn’t match expectations.

A team lead encourages their teammates to be open about failures. They facilitate retrospectives and communicate learnings to maximize learning for the whole company. Failures aren’t necessarily something we should celebrate, but we should make sure to celebrate what we learn from them.

Finally, a good team lead helps others around them succeed

A team lead is, first and foremost, a servant to their team members. Their number one priority is to motivate and help the team be more hungry, productive and successful. A good team lead extends beyond their role as an individual contributor, and measures themselves in terms of their team’s success.  

At Smartly.io, team leads are also hands-on, working for and with the team. They’re like team captains who participate actively in the game, and make sure their teams follow the commonly decided game plan. Team leads never distance themselves from daily hands-on tasks to focus on only managing other people’s work.

Successful team leads surround themselves with people who know their work better than they do, and can make decisions that drive their work forward. A team lead’s job is to solve bottlenecks and remove obstacles from their path, making it possible for their teammates do what they do best.

Itching to join our team? Learn more about Smartly.io and apply.

Kristo Ovaska Kristo Ovaska

CEO and Founder