Much of our interaction with others revolves around communications, problem-solving, showing empathy and dealing with acts of micro-aggression.

Humans have evolved to think in terms of groups and tribes. We are a social species, and many of our actions came from the need to work together, and collaborate to solve for bigger goals. Seen from this perspective, our workplace identity, actions and patterns have taken only some hundreds of thousands of years to become the way there are.

While we generally think of ourselves as one team working together for our employer organisation, remember that our not-too-long-ago-primitive brain also regards other business units/teams as an ‘other group’ and some part of us tends to be competitive with colleagues from other ‘orgs’/units/functions/countries/teams.

The good news is that we already know how to secure support. We can use a similar framework and solution that has worked for the past 10,000 years or so.

We find a win-win outcome where both groups get as much of what they want, in return for the support you need to get your plan moving.

As communicators, having a strategic plan – objectives, steps, positioning and messaging as well as selection of channels, and target audiences and segments – is just one part of the solution. We also need to seek approval from leadership to act upon the plan, ask for resources, and be ready to debate and compromise with other teams for the space, time and understanding to complete the plan.

Apart from having the strategic plan, the next piece of the solution is to have the right team in place to execute it.

And the last bit is to think of and provide that win-win outcome to all the ‘other groups’ in your space so the business/organisation wins as well. That is the key to obtaining good results for your team, and your brand/business/organisation.

strtgcommsgrp - win-win outcome for teams

Generalists vs. specialists in your teams

The first thing to understand when it comes to assembling, adding to or changing parts of a team is the difference between a generalist and a specialist.

We used to describe generalists negatively and regard them as a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, who has built experience with a variety of actions but lacks expertise in them. However, from a team-building perspective, generalists are also important. In fact, generalists are wired differently from specialists, being able to tap on variety, curiosity around combining solutions from across genres/areas and helping the team see things from a broader perspective.

According to the Forbes article shared earlier, the complete phrase is actually “…a jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”.

This is not to say that being a specialist is now the negative. A full team needs their subject matter experts as well, whether from an approach, a scope or a skill for a specific type of execution.

Specialists are important because they possess the knowledge or skillset of doing something that is critical to success. With them on the team, an overall successful campaign is more guaranteed. They can dive deep into the subject matter or area, and with experience identify where the critical points are, and either amplify them for a positive output or solve for them without impacting the larger campaign.

Pay attention and learn to balance needs and wants.

As with most things, it’s all about balancing needs and wants.

What does the strategic plan call for? What is needed for success? What are the nice to haves that – after moving the needle – we can circle back and complete for extra bonus points?

Having the right specialist available to the team for the right moment is worth more than having a full set of specialists on-call throughout the programme or campaign. 

The wrong combination of talent and capability in the programme/campaign team can result in a negative outcome.

It is therefore important to choose your team members with care relative to their expected capability in managing and providing the expected output/outcomes.

Here’s the analogy: A football team, a team on a mission, a MMROPG team.

We are a social species as mentioned earlier. We feel better emotionally, mentally knowing we are part of a team, and that the team has our back.

Whether in football, or a mission, or playing a MMROPG, we want to have the right team with us to win. This means we need a combination of talent, skillsets and capabilities. In football, we can’t all be strikers and even if we were all skilled goal scorers, our opponent would just keep up since there is no goalkeeper or defenders to protect our goal. 

When we are working on a mission – execution of our strategic communications plan – it’s important to have generalists responsible for successfully owning and executing the strategic communications plan.

Generalists – that have worn many hats over their career or even been the entire marketing team in prior roles – are the ones with the best chance at understanding how the ‘big picture’ can be distilled into all the different component parts.

They understand the push and pull (and explain clearly) of stakeholders and are able to weigh the arguments for cost vs. outcomes. These generalists are best placed to adapt and customise (some might say wrestle) positioning and messaging to map to channels and deliver that holy grail of a seamless experience for the client or the customer.

Lean on these the generalists to distil the essence or key points of the master plan to prepare the programme or campaign plans. Look for those with project management capabilities or experience as their role revolves around keeping the wheels moving, keep momentum going and to achieve the outcomes.

Specialists are also important team members. They are responsible for bringing efficiency to the operations through their understanding of the subject matter. These team members also bring efficacy by optimising on their areas/actions to deliver the output required to drive the programme/campaign engine to completion.

From a team perspective, it’s not important to have a full suite of specialists available throughout the campaign as it is to have the right specialist in play when the execution requires them.  

Sidebar: Why you want your teams to balance tanks, damage dealers and healers before going out to ‘battle’.

In a MMROPG team, tanks are the ones that draw the enemy fire and take in the damage so their team mates can advance on the mission objective. They are helped by healers who are generally support characters with a focus on restoring the health of other team members. Damage dealers are characters that have high attack abilities – as a result of special equipment or a unique skill – whose purpose in the team is to deal as much damage to the enemy as possible.

Combined, these character types represent a balanced team.

In the workplace, tanks are your generalists that can both dish out some damage, but their true role is in anticipating, pre-empting and managing the movement of actions of team mates and the expectations of non-team members (e.g. leadership, management, customers, etc).

Damage dealers are specialists that perform their tasks capably; and require the help of tanks to coordinate where their actions and efforts are best placed.

Healers are team members that do not specialise in a specific area, and are not leaders/coordinators (like tanks) but instead focus on helping out wherever they are best able to. For new or inexperienced team members, being a healer is the best place to learn and pick up experience.

The best part of this? Characters get to change or upgrade their roles when they feel they have practiced and mastered new skillsets or equipment. In the real world context, skill sets for communicators can include broad ones such as project management, or crisis communications, issues management, or stakeholder relations. Equipment can include new software, or tools that help make the campaign more effective, or help to provide better data/analytics to decision-makers such as AI tools, no-code tools, etc.

When we think about the workplace as a massive video game filled with the main quest, side missions and big bosses, it changes our perspective on relationship building/management within our teams, with our colleagues and also with our leaders/management.

Improving the team’s effectiveness when working together

Here are 3 elements to pay attention to when evaluating and trying to improve the team’s effectiveness when working together.

Balancing the attributes of the team: Are the skillsets, competencies, and variety of experiences available to the team balanced?

Having a dominance of a skillset/capability in the team without the opportunity to use it well is wasted. Instead, seek to balance these attributes in a way that gives you the most potential for the campaign execution. Rebalancing can be done by switching a team member, or reminding the team member about their specific role in the campaign or a specific skillset you want them to tap on.

Measure effectiveness by what is done and not what the potential can be: What has the team done together, relative to their experience, variety of skillsets and time?

It is always tempting to compare individuals or a team to their strongest future state. This path leads to regret and questioning your choices. Measure the gain members have made since coming together as team and not the gap they have with their future potential. This is a useful perspective to see progress made vs. work yet to be done.

Understand individual personalities and ambitions but evaluate efficacy as a team: Are the team challenges and outcomes helping individual member’s grow and become better?

When determining if the team composition is optimal, look at whether the challenges they are facing together are the right ones to help the team become better. Get a sense of whether the challenges are too simple/too hard, or not exciting/overwhelming to the individuals. Not every team member is driven the same way by the mission, sometimes they support the team’s goals but their own ambitions are pointing them in another direction. To harness their potential, seek to align personalities and ambitions with the right mission/campaign/outcome.

Bringing in external support – consultants and contractors.

There are many reasons to bring in and rely on external support for a programme or campaign. This is often accomplished by engaging with consultants or contractors.

Reasons vary for bringing in consultants/contractors but typical reasons include plugging a knowledge/resource gap, facing a business challenge that internal teams have not managed before or when the internal team is time-stretched but it is important that the campaign continues to be executed.

Some ‘quick wins’ working with a consultant/contractor include tapping on a knowledge base and capabilities previously inaccessible by the brand, gaining external and neutral perspectives on the brand’s assets, channels and messaging as well as additional talent to add on to programmes and campaigns and support with implementation or execution. 

Long-term benefits include access to the consultant/contractor’s network and community with the aim of building collaborations and partnerships anchored by the same consultant/contractor.

A competitive edge that comes with time occurs when the external consultant/contractor team is mapped to the team’s functions, allowing the opportunity for the team to take on or implement concurrent programmes. This increases efficiency, and if the contractor/consultant is sufficiently integrated, improves effectiveness as well.

Tips for getting good outcomes working with consultants/contractors

There are three stages in supporting the alignment and integration of consultants/contractors with an inhouse team – pre-engagement, onboarding and empowerment.

Assess your team’s work culture and styles

Determine the baseline and the non-negotiables. Put these down into writing, or better yet, create a standard operating process. These can include matters such as team goals, objectives for the year/quarter, meeting outcomes, frequency, cadence, and other aspects that the team recognises as a structure.

Decide on the reason for engagement

Whether it is to access capabilities, to lead projects or to increase resources. Depending on the reason, consider what areas and outcomes the specialist will be responsible for, whether jointly with the inhouse team, or solely responsible as part of the scope of work.

Create or refresh the communications plan

Integrate the consultant/contractor’s areas, scope, and capabilities. Secure buy-in and understanding from management, as well as coordinating or project ownership with inhouse team members.

Ensure that a positive and productive onboarding is done

Allow time and space – usually up to a month – for the consultant/contractor to research, read and ask questions (no matter how basic it can be).

Try not to set immediate outcomes during the onboarding period

As both the internal and external teams are learning one another’s work style, try not to set immediate outcomes or take pains to over-explain as it might give either team an inaccurate impression of the work culture. Remember that the goal is to optimise the specialty, capabilities, and resources a specialist brings, and not just add another pair of hands to the team.

Clear obstacles for the combined team

As the team moves to the empowerment stage, the team leader should start thinking in terms of clearing obstacles for the combined team to do their best work. These obstacles can include older approaches or methods of doing things or helping other business stakeholders become familiar with the people and the work done.

Providing access to stakeholders, information and internal systems

This can help optimise the consultant/contractor’s performance or delivery of outcomes. There are genuine reasons for withholding company sensitive information and data from external parties, so this is not about opening full access to sensitive information but instead ensuring that the specialist has the bigger picture and perspective.

Empowerment includes co-ownership of results and outcomes Working together as one team provides the consultant/contractor with support that they are working towards business goals and not being the ‘odd one out’ looking in from the outside and generally being ineffective.

strtgcommsgrp - checklist working with team and consultants

I am a trainer, coach and solutions provider for communications and PR organisations and practitioners. With over 20+ years in the industry, I have created approaches, methods and content that can help you and your team launch, grow, level up and monetise effectively and efficiently.

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