Marketing. Sales. Support. Oh my. More business functions than ever depend on providing the right mix of digital content—a reality that’s prompting businesses to build their capacity to publish content on an unprecedented scale.

Central to that capacity is a content team, or even a set of content teams. So, how do you assemble a content team for success? To help answer that question, my team at Content Science conducted a study called What Makes Content Teams Thrive? Some of the key findings shed light on getting the right people on your content team and why. Let’s start with the content team leader.

1. Hire a Leader with the Dual Role of Coach AND Ambassador

Survey respondents cited misunderstanding of content work and its importance by leadership and others outside the team as a top challenge to success. That points to educating executives and building relationships with stakeholders as critical to establishing content as an important business capacity.

Successful content teams rely on leaders with a strong content vision and the ability to collaborate with others—the top two characteristics of content leaders identified both in our survey of 101 respondents and in-depth interviews with seven content team leaders.

The right content leader unites people with a clear vision, acting as a content ambassador to stakeholders and as a content coach to the team.

“Everyone understood our content vision, and everyone had a role in driving us toward achieving it,” one study participant said of an effective team, adding that success stemmed from “good and consistent communication about the vision and requirements.”

content team success

Figure 1: 87% of participants in Content Science’s survey reported vision as a top characteristic for a content team leader.

2. Hire Content Team Members with the 2 Cs: Competence and Curiosity

To meet the demands of an evolving content landscape driven by new tools, techniques, and strategies, hire team members with core content competence (such as writing or editorial planning) fortified by a curiosity to learn or improve. Our survey found these 2Cs are the top two capabilities team members need to thrive.

Interview participant Tracy Wilson of How Stuff Works said that when hiring for competence, “I look for overachievers, regardless
of the role they are looking for—people who are driven to do exceptionally well.”

Another participant noted the additional intangible skills needed related to curiosity: “Curiosity, tenacity, systems thinkers, design thinkers, people who can look at a complex problem and break it down into simpler elements, can synthesize information, make sense of lots of user data and product requirements, and consistently ask ‘Why?’ and then get from ‘Why?’ to a better way of doing things.”

The great news? When you find the right team members, they will find great satisfaction and even motivation in applying their curiosity to learn and improve. When asked, “What motivates your team members?” 73% respondents to our survey said the opportunity to grow and develop.

3. Entrust Team Members with Clear Roles–And with Room to Experiment

For your team to thrive, they need to be empowered with highly defined roles, yet given some freedom to both collaborate and experiment. The common thread here is trust.

First, let’s talk about the roles for which you hire team members. Roles need to be clear enough and aligned with your goals enough that content leaders don’t have to micromanage. Nancy Watt of SunTrust described her positive experience of working with an executive who was new to content like this,

“What [our new manager] was open to was completely and totally immersing herself in [content] and learning – and more importantly, trusting us. And telling us, ‘You’re the experts, you tell me what we need to do,’ and really letting us own our work and make those decisions–and then just backing us up.”

Now, let’s turn to the importance of experimenting to get the content right and, in the process, collaborating. Trust is critical here, as well. Ann Marie Gray of Morningstar, Inc. calls this a “safe space” to examine the team’s work:

“People on content teams need to trust their colleagues, share their work, and share honest feedback. Leaders need to create
and maintain an environment where that can happen
by establishing expectations about showing each
other respect and kindness.”

The reward for embracing such a culture of trust? Highly motivated—and consequently productive—team members.

content team success

Figure 2: Survey participants found growth and trust motivating. Unclear goals and micromanaging disengage content teams.

Whether you’re creating a new content team, adding to an existing one, or expanding to multiple teams, position your content team for success from the first hire. Select a visionary team leader who can work communicate the vision to the team and with stakeholders. Then select team members with the 2 Cs—and trust them to fulfill their roles.

The Author

Colleen Jones is the founder and CEO of Content Science, a growing content intelligence and strategy company based in Atlanta GA. Content Science owns Content Science Review, Content Science Academy, and the content effectiveness software ContentWRX.  Colleen regularly consults with executives and practitioners to improve their strategy and processes for content. She shares insights and guidance from her experience regularly on Content Science Review, at events around the world, and in highly rated books such as Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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