Navigating the BRM role in a world of squad, chapters, and tribe leaders

Is your organization racing toward agile? Are you a BRM that’s confused about what your role is?

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO.

I’m going to help clarify why you don’t have a role today and how to get one for tomorrow.

Let’s begin by discussing each of the different leadership roles for squads, chapters, and tribes. First, we’re going to talk about a squad leader, a chapter leader, and a tribe leader. And then we’ll briefly get into where the business relationship manager (BRM) role fits in.

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Are you a business leader trying to figure out how to define your role? You’re in luck. I’ve just designed a course titled, Define Your Role for BRM Success! In this course, you’ll learn how to define your role in the organization and maximize your effectiveness as a BRM.

The squad leader

Let’s get into the role of the squad leader. This role is primarily tactical. These leaders typically have six to 12 members in their squad. They aren’t a line manager. Therefore, squad leaders don’t have direct reports. There are no resources that hard-line into the role of squad leader.

However, this role is accountable for coaching, maturity, and mentoring the squad.

The squad leader is accountable for ensuring the squad achieves its desired goals. This role frequently deals with management reporting. This may include publishing weekly or monthly reports to improve transparency around squad performance.

What does the squad leader do?

  • Team leader
  • Unit leader
  • Not a boss for the team
  • Plans work
  • Focuses on tactical elements
  • Collaborates with product owners
  • An orchestrator of work execution
  • Builds and designs cohesive teams
  • Isn’t a functional line manager
  • Works to have the squad function as a single productive unit
  • Coaches and mentors the team
  • Reports progress to tribe leaders
  • Provides input on team members to chapter leaders
  • Leads without pushing controlling behaviors
  • Great for developing a leader

The chapter leader

The chapter leader is a similar role to that of a traditional line manager. However, this role combines both a tactical focus and a strategic element.

This role does have direct reporting hard-lined into it. A chapter leader is an expert in both a domain area and in the management of people. For example, a chapter of architects would be led by the architecture chapter leader. This leader would have years of experience performing the architecture role and multiple years as a leader or architect manager in traditional organizations. Likewise, a project management chapter leader may lead project managers and business analysts. Again, this leader would have prior experience as an analyst or project manager in addition to conventional resource management (managing directs) experience.

The chapter leader manages less than seven directs with typically less than 30 people under them, including all organizational layers.

What does the chapter leader do?

  • Line leader
  • Not day-to-day oversights (squads do that)
  • Focuses on building the right capabilities of the squad
  • Enables the right tools
  • Makes sure the squad has the skills required
  • Focuses on building value-creation opportunities
  • Reports on multiple squads to the tribe leader
  • Focuses on tactical and strategic elements
  • Gathers feedback from tribe members to evaluates performance
  • Assigns the right resources to agile squads
  • Designed around specific competencies; e.g., testing, project management, or sales
  • Assigns the right people to the squads
  • Ensures squads have balanced competencies
  • Drives near-term priorities and objectives

The tribe leader

The tribe leader’s role is strategic.

Typically, the tribe leader has less than 100 people in their area of responsibility. Their focus is on being a mini CEO or mini CIO for that area. They’re trying to optimize value creation and understand what outcomes the business partners are expecting. Tribe leaders help to ensure that business partners’ needs are being met. They’re looking at a longer-term horizon, a strategic vision.

What does the tribe leader do?

  • Acts as a mini CEO or mini CIO
  • Think general manager type of role
  • Focuses on value creation
  • Concentrates on driving growth
  • Consistently considers how to serve their business partners better
  • Requires leadership and strategic understanding
  • Requires a cross-functional mindset
  • Necessitates a profit-and-loss viewpoint
  • Doesn’t own people
  • Accountable for squad and tribe performance
  • Makes informed business decisions
  • Manages to goals and objectives
  • Sets priorities

Where does the BRM role fit?

With the mental framework of squad, chapter, and tribe leaders defined, we now can get into the meat of where the BRM role fits into accelerating agile methodologies.

Squad leader (tactical)

The squad leader is a tactical role. This role aligns with a tactical BRM. Typically, this is an associate director role. This role is also viewed as consultative.

Chapter leader (connector)

The chapter leader is a tactical and strategic role. This role aligns with a connector BRM. Typically, this is a director-level role. This role is considered a key advisor.

Tribe leader (orchestrator)

The tribe leader is a strategic role. This role aligns with a strategic BRM role or an orchestrator type of role. Often, this is a senior director role. This role is valued as a strategic advisor.

As a BRM, by default, you don’t have a seat at an agile leadership table. That’s unfortunate. It’s also the reality. Anyone that says different simply isn’t living these concepts in a corporate environment.

However, this also presents a massive opportunity for BRMs. First, you must define your role. You also must define your role before an agile leader defines you as redundant. Second, you have to take control. How does your role integrate with agile? Where do you add value? As a BRM, it’s imperative that you address these critical questions.

Unsure where to start? Begin with my course titled, Define Your Role for BRM Success! This course gives you the tools to define your BRM role in terms that organizations understand and allows them to play nice with agile. Stop wasting time guessing. Start listening to answers that you can apply to your organization tomorrow!

How do I start?

Begin by identifying principles that the methodology promotes. Don’t just copy another organization’s process. The “lift-and-shift” method rarely works when introducing an existing methodology into a new company. In almost all cases, some elements can be reused, but rarely in the exact form. So instead, identify core principles (autonomy, trust, community, transparency, self-management, etc.) and think through the process to discover what’s best for your organization.

Hopefully, you’ve gained insights into how squad leadership, chapter leadership, and tribe leadership align with conventional BRM roles!

If you found this article helpful, that’s great! Check out my books, Think Lead Disrupt and Leading with Value. They were published in early in 2021 and are available on Amazon and at for author-signed copies!

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO. Have a great day!

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Peter is a technology executive with over 20 years of experience, dedicated to driving innovation, digital transformation, leadership, and data in business. He helps organizations connect strategy to execution to maximize company performance. He has been recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice, driving digital strategies. Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to on innovation. Peter has led businesses through complex changes, including the adoption of data-first approaches for portfolio management, lean six sigma for operational excellence, departmental transformations, process improvements, maximizing team performance, designing new IT operating models, digitizing platforms, leading large-scale mission-critical technology deployments, product management, agile methodologies, and building high-performance teams. As Chief Information Officer, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail-oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader. Peter is the author of Learning Intelligence: Expand Thinking. Absorb Alternative. Unlock Possibilities (2017), which Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Triggers, calls "a must-read for any leader wanting to compete in the innovation-powered landscape of today." Peter also authored The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare: How Blockchain Will Ignite The Future of Healthcare (2017), the first book to explore the vast opportunities for blockchain to transform the patient experience. Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Masters in Business Relationship Management (MBRM) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.