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. We found:

  • Leaders who communicate a clear vision for content are 5 times more likely to achieve success than those who do not.
  • 59% of leaders who have communicated their vision indicated their content operations are very or extremely successful.

“It is very difficult to motivate myself, the team, or the larger organization without a vision…knowing why we are here, why what we are doing matters, and what we are trying to achieve,” a Content Science study participant concludes.

Recent HBR research surveyed 195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations to find out what makes an effective leader and came up with these top five leadership competencies:

  • Demonstrates strong ethics and provides a sense of safety.
  • Empowers others to self-organize.
  • Shows openness to new ideas and fosters organizational learning.
  • Nurtures growth.
  • Fosters a sense of connection and belonging.

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

Respondents of a leadership development survey conducted by Borderless Research  cite the following three main leadership challenges:

  • Managing change and innovation (31%)
  • Ensuring that people take personal accountability and ownership (27%)
  • Silo mentality (17%)  

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.”

At 53.5 million strong, Millennials are on track to become the largest living generation in the U.S., and may make up 75% of the labor market by 2025. — Jibe

With the rise of the Millennial workforce, it’s worth noting how this generation feels about the leadership in their organizations. According to Deloitte’s Millennial survey,  only 10% of Millennials defined a true business leader as one who is focused on financial results. This same study also found that only 28% of Millennials think their current employer makes full use of their skills.

And Gallup backs up this desire to have leadership invest in individuals’ strengths. They found that the odds of an employee being engaged when leaders neglect to invest in their strengths are 1 in 11. But engagement goes up eightfold when leadership focuses on individuals’ strengths.

The odds of an employee being engaged soar to almost 3 in 4 (73%) when an organization’s leadership focuses on the strengths of its employees. — Gallup

According to MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, communication plays a critical role in building successful 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 partners with the world’s leading organizations to close the content gap in digital business. We bring together the complete capabilities you need to transform or scale your content approach. Through proprietary data, smart strategy, expert consulting, creative production, and one-of-a-kind products like ContentWRX and Content Science Academy, we turn insight into impact. Don’t simply compete on content. Win.

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