Team Lead versus Chapter Lead: the 5 biggest differences

I, Marijke, applied for a job called chapter lead. Pretty intensively I would say. I studied the job description, the required personality traits and expertise, I even reached out to Spotify to hear their experiences with it. Managing without being a traditional manager! An organization without hierarchy and no more bureaucracy! To me, it sounded like heaven!

Well I got the job and June 15th was the big day. I was so ready for it… thought so at least. The reality check came pretty fast! Being a chapter lead requires a completely different bossmindset and culture than those required for a traditional manager. It is not a matter of difference in nuances – like I had subliminally assumed – they are just complete and absolutely different jobs! Few months down the road, few tears but many more laughs. Let me give you guys my two cents about the main differences between a traditional team lead  and a chapter lead, as I experience it.

Traditional Team Lead versus Chapter Lead: the five biggest differences

  1. Hierarchy is history: you have to let go of your control freak side. Squads decide with their PO on the what and the how for their purpose (no more SteerCo’s or project boards with so many slides that you fall asleep halfway anyway 🙂 )
  2. You are a team member within the squad: within the new model, the chapter lead works for x% of his/her time in a squad. That means refining, reviewing and all what comes with the job to deliver value. The remaining time is spent on “chapter leading.” Having one-on-ones with your chapter members. Having knowledge sessions and doing some tribe generic stuff. That basically means: get your hands dirty and work your ass!
  3. Throw your ego out the window: let me be honest with you. I have an ego. As we all do. But in this new way of working, there is little space for ego’s. Which is great! But, as a human being, you like to feel relevant. And based on the traditional organizational model, you would probably try to feel relevant by steering the squads into the right – according to your wise opinion – direction. And by having a large say in their priorities and representing them in several steering committees. But no more of that! You’ll have to embrace the new way of being relevant! Like;
  4. Servant leadership: your main task as a chapter lead is to make sure your chapter members are happy. Sounds shallow? Easy? Think one more time!! This is the hard and most crucial part. It is your responsibility to help your chapter members with their development, both hard skills as well as the soft ones. Help them exploit their strengths and handle their weaknesses. Make sure they are properly equipped to perform their job the best they can. A happy chapter member is the best compliment a chapter lead can get!
  5. Expertise is everything: forget about a generic management role with lots of bla bla bla… A chapter lead is an expert! He/she translates the developments in his/her domain into strategy within the chapter and makes sure it is well transferred to all chapter members.

There is so much to share about this role! So I will share my experiences on a regular basis, in a specific “chapter lead” series. So if you wanna read more, stay tuned! And let me finish off this post by saying that a few months into this journey: although I’m not there yet, I am an enthusiastic advocate of this new role! It’s challenging, inspiring and motivating. Every day brings something new and I am learning every day. More to come!

Wanna read about my first introduction with Agile? Sneak preview, I have a voodoo doll twin sister… 🙂

Cheers, Marijke

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20 thoughts on “Team Lead versus Chapter Lead: the 5 biggest differences

  1. Very well explained, and very recognizable! Will.learn this by heart so I can explain what the hell my new job is at X-mas dinner 🙂

  2. Hi Marijke,

    How deep is the expertise we need to be a chapter leader?Say i’m an IT Development Chapter lead. Do i need in-depth knowledge of every programming or infrastructure method in the market we can use?

  3. Sounds like ‘Matrix Managment’ really, which is what Project Managers do all the time where you have no direct authority and the ‘servent leadership’ 0ften going cap in hand to the actual Line Managers .

  4. Hi Marijke,

    Can you answer this for me please – who manages the Chapter Leads?

    I believe in a flat structure, and i’m complete agreement that the chapter Lead is the correct way to go, but the hierarchy cant just stop with the Chapter Lead, can it?

  5. Thanks so much for this overview. It’s very helpful as we attempt a similar organization model. One question – Are the Chapter Leads one of the Squad members or an additional person? You mentioned they work a % with a squad and then also manage the members of the Chapter? That seems challenging to pull someone away from their Squad for a % of time. I am in the Product Design discipline so any clarification around that Chapter Lead role would be super helpful.


  6. Marijke, your blog post comes directly from my heart and my mind. It is so true!!! Thanks for sharing your experience.
    May I ask what chapter do you lead, who is within your chapter? And what is your main skill set? – Software Engineer, QA, PO, …?

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