As publishing content is a relatively new concept to many organizations, so is building content teams. Many businesses find themselves struggling to get the right people in the right places and quickly grow teams to meet new and emerging content needs.

So what do we know about leading content teams to success? There wasn’t much research on the topic out there, so we conducted our own, examining the challenges and success factors unique to content teams through a survey and interviews.

Considered along with prevailing research on leading teams in any discipline, the study provides valuable insights into how content teams work and what they need to thrive.

The essence of a team is common commitment. The best teams also translate their common purpose into specific performance goals. Harvard Business Review (HBR)

These key factors come from the groundbreaking 1993 article, The Discipline of Teams, a classic that still tops HBR’s reading list on leading teams. “This kind of commitment requires a purpose in which team members can believe,” the article continues, an insight reflected in our own findings that content teams need a leader who unites the team and stakeholders with a clear vision:

  • 87% of survey respondents identified a team leader who provides vision, direction, and inspiration as very important or critical to team success.
  • 85% identified clear project goals as very important or critical to team success.

“When purposes and goals build on one another and are combined with team commitment, they become a powerful engine of performance,” the HBR research concludes.

Content work is not without unique challenges. Team leaders reported challenges centered on scale, balance, and stakeholder expectations. Content Science

Many insights can be gleaned from overarching research on leadership, but you can’t ignore the particular challenges of content teams. Our survey and interviews revealed these top challenges:

  • Scaling the team to meet business needs
  • Balancing workloads
  • Misunderstanding of content and its importance by those outside the team

These challenges reinforce success factors identified in the research, such as communication between silos (85%) and buy-in from internal and external stakeholders (82%).

Young teams face more challenges around time and proving their importance than more established teams. Established teams face challenges in aligning with other established teams or departments (silos) in the organization. Content Science

Our research found that some challenges evolved as teams matured, shifting from advocating, educating, and sorting out roles and processes to aligning goals and breaking down silos across the organization. “It’s important that the organization is ready to talk about content and that there is support from the top,”’s Lauren Schuman noted in an interview. “The success of content teams may potentially depend on where the organization is in terms of their thoughts about content.”

Communication plays a critical role in building successful teams. The best predictors of productivity were a team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings. MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory

MIT’s pioneering research is laid out in the 2012 HBR article, The New Science of Building Great Teams. Again, our own survey backs up MIT’s findings, with 93%of survey respondents rating candor and open communication within the team as very important or critical to team success. “Good and consistent communication about the vision and requirements” was cited by one interview participant as the key to the team’s success.

95% of survey respondents rate a high level of trust of the team leader and team members as very important or critical to team success. Content Science

Trust is a bedrock of successful teams, agrees top thinking on the topic. “Your employees must believe in each other,” argues the article Proven Ways to Earn Your Employees’ Trust. “When they don’t, communication, teamwork and performance inevitably suffer.” In fact, our research also found trust among team members to be a top motivator, behind only the opportunity to grow and develop. The article elaborates:

“Employees are more likely to follow through on goals set by a manager they trust and to be more forthcoming about the challenges they see on their level. When employees feel empowered to succeed and believe that the goals of the company are aligned with their own, they’ll work harder and smarter. For managers, that means delegating tasks and granting as much autonomy as possible, while also making it clear what your expectations are and how performance will be measured.”

These facts and statistics highlight what it takes for content teams to thrive, underscoring traditional notions of leadership and revealing unique considerations. These principles of communication, trust, and vision should guide any organization looking to start or scale a content team or take a team from good to great.

The Author

Content Science is a growing content strategy and intelligence company and the publisher of Content Science Review. We empower digital enterprises for the content era by taking their content approach to the next level. Customers of our professional services and one-of-a-kind products (such as ContentWRX and Content Science Academy) include the Fortune 50, the world’s largest nonprofits, and the most trusted government agencies.

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