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2014 – Creating High Performing Digital Teams for Business Success

By Mel Ross

2014 – Creating High Performing Digital Teams for Business Success image Screen Shot 2013 12 05 at 12.18.35

A look at what to do and how to do it.

There are a bunch of questions that are flying around my head like super doper alien spaceships…yes, it’s that weird and scary:

What does a successful digital team look like?

Should the Marketing team lead the digital agenda for the business? Should the Technology team? Should the Senior Leadership team?

These are high-level questions that any CEO or C-Suite Exec should spend some time pondering over as they eat their mince pies and open their presents this year.

We’ve talked about digital transformation, the business imperative and best practice ways to adopt digital within your organisation at a leadership level – but a burning issue is how to structure digital teams to succeed and achieve this – not just for today but for tomorrow.

It’s not an easy question to answer. The question itself raises issues and challenges that need to be either understood or addressed before you can then honestly tackle the structuring of digital teams with a clear focus.

Consider for one minute your own organisation and ask yourself these questions:

  • Which department is the most digitally active?
  • Which department generates the most change or innovation in terms of digital?
  • Does any one entity own data in its entirety from pre-sale data through to and post sale and beyond?
  • Does the organisation as a whole know what’s going on digitally?

Often times the answers that come back will be:

  • The Marketing Department
  • The Technology Department
  • The research team or most departments in various different ways, using different technologies and various different formats.
  • And, NO!

These answers will ultimately strangle the organisation in the 21st Century so before you even think about how to structure and create successful digital teams you must first address these key issues. Let’s look at two things first:

1) Who owns the digital agenda for your organisation?

2) Find out or acknowledge where the influence or power of digital actually comes from.

There are two generalist schools of thought with regard to point one: The digital agenda is owned by either the technology department or the marketing department…lack of ownership from either department only stifles change and success. I would argue that the real answer should be a co-ownership from both departments to ensure technology enables the most effective customer experiences through relevancy and creativity.

With regard to the second point: The senior leadership team should definitely be responsible for ensuing the company is leveraging digital in as many ways as possible to benefit the business and achieve business success. Without question, the senior leadership team ultimately must show the traits of true digital leadership:

  • Have a Digital Mindset
  • Commit to thinking Digital First
  • Participation in digital ways of working to lead by example

There is often a fourth trait I talk about which is transparency – the notion of publicly sharing and communicating with others your thoughts and ideas in order to gain the trust and respect of the organisation as a whole, is I believe a positive consequence of this digital world.

Back to the question of ownership. It really comes down to the co-existence of the communications side of the business with the technology side of the business. There is without doubt already a growing overlap happening organically, with communications people using technologies or building their own apps outside of the traditional technical teams, BYOD as a concept has been quietly happening amongst employees or teams for a while now. Even the adoption of social media channels to collaborate and communicate is something often done outside of the technical teams area of vision. Equally, as technology draws ever closer to the end user and the customer, technical teams find themselves directly connecting with customers more and more, without the parameters of marketing or customer services being present.

Bringing these two areas of business closer requires addressing the fundamental cultural differences between the two areas, the techies are too geeky and the communications people too squeaky and never the twain shall meet. In some respects this idea is beginning to fade fast, and those who continue to hold onto these kinds of cultural stereotypes will only fail to succeed themselves and fall into organisational obscurity…the emerging marketers are becoming ever more technically savvy and the technical geeks ever more curious about the people who are actually engaging and using what they build, maintain or control.

Setting up a digital team for business success starts with acknowledging the need to have technology and creativity co-exist to spark innovation. So, first things first, find ways of bringing these teams together as well as identifying those people within each team that shows an interest and a leaning towards some of the skills of the other.

Assuming then, you have the leadership and the commitment at a senior level and you have a collaborative approach between the communications people and the technology people and an encouragement of the exchange of skills you can look at some of the other aspects that make up a highly successful digital team:

1) It is equally important to have a will to succeed, as it is to have the skill to succeed.

A successful digital team must have a thirst for change and digital success. Only with a real will to drive digital forward can you really explore and uncover all the possibilities it has to offer both the business and your customer. It’s not just about being skillful in building, delivery, or analysis – it’s about having the will to do better consistently that will raise your team above the rest.

2) Transparency of thought, delivery and results is vital to gain the trust of the organisation as a whole to encourage experimentation and make it easier adopt change.

A digital team must communicate and share their methods, their ideas, not just their results across the whole organisation. Everyone ultimately has a role to play in the successful adoption of digital across the organisation and to ensure this, those that are specifically tasked with digital roles need to bring everyone on the journey with them – to gain trust and the permission to try new things and always to seek better ways of doing what we do today.

3) Collaboration with the right skills and the right attitudes across the business as a whole to drive success

Yes, I’ve talked about the co-existence of technologists and communications people a lot in this post, but that isn’t at the expense of seeking skill and those with the right personality and will to join in the digital revolution – your digital revolution from anywhere within the business. Public Service talk and focus on what they call Digital Inclusion – whereby they are mandated to ensure that digital opportunity reaches all citizens far and wide. There is much we can learn from this concept and apply it to the business model of the future to work towards Digital Inclusion within the workforce. It might be as simple as ensuring access to digital technologies, or receiving knowledge about what the company is doing – it can and should also have a dedicated focus on digital literacy. As the new generation of employee enters the workforce, the digital native, those who are older and less inclined to think digitally first must be supported.

4) Fluidity in ownership is becoming more important as we realise projects or a focus towards a particular goal requires a different ownership focus within the team.

This is a final piece in the puzzle for me. The old traditional business model has a team, a team leader, a manager and a business leader or various iterations of the same hierarchy. To create and maintain a highly successful digital team we must look to a model that is more meritocratic – whatever the focus or need at that moment drives the ownership. For example, if you are reviewing your Customer Service Strategy don’t create the strategy with your customer service teams and ops teams, then ask the tech teams to build and integrate a social element to existing platforms or then ask the communications team to monitor and moderate it, get them involved at the start and those who are skilled in social should be given a voice of influence in the creation of the strategy from the start.

5) Leadership is one thing but solid digital management is a pre-requisite to a successful digital team to realise the Digital Leaders Vision.

It’s easy to enter Digital Leadership into your search engine to return back loads of wisdom, advice and justification on the importance of Digital Leadership – hopefully there’s an article from me there! But what’s not easy is to find out what makes a good Digital Manager, or even that much on the importance of solid Digital Management within the business and the structure of a highly successful digital team. Yet, it’s arguably the most important. It’s the glue between vision and reality; it’s the knowledge and understanding to achieve the right balance between technology and creativity – the ingredients of digital innovation.

Creating Successful Digital Teams is complex, whether you are focused on a specific team or working towards a level of digital literacy and competency across the organisation as a whole. But there are considerations which will help you get there:

  • Ensure the holy trinity of Digital Leadership is present: Mindset, commitment and participation
  • Establish solid Digital Management to bring reality to your vision
  • Bridge the cultural divide between the technology teams and communications teams
  • Commit to Digital Inclusion across your business
  • Adopt a sense of transparency and openness of your digital strategy, plans and tactics across the organisation to build trust in change and experimentation

And finally, once you get to this point you will be able to define which digital skills moving forward you need to include within your permanent team, those skills you need on a project basis and those you require the support of a third party to provide.

I hope this post has provided value to you if you are a CEO, a Digital Leader or a Digital Manager, if you have any thoughts of your own or best practice ideas of your own I would love to hear them.