It's not as easy as it sounds: You have a team of great people, but how do you get them working together harmoniously and productively on your association's various media products?
By Meredith MacMillan
TO BE SUCCESSFUL, ALL PUBLISHING TEAMS require one key ingredient – teamwork. At a recent Association Media and Publishing Lunch & Learn, sponsored by Royle Printing, participants heard from three experts who shared how they implemented a successful team approach and overcame challenges to create dynamic publishing teams at their associations.
"It's really important to create a team culture,” said Christina Folz, managing editor at The Optical Society. Folz joined fellow panelists Amanda Charney, director of publications for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, and Cindy Stevens, senior director of publications at the Consumer Electronics Association, in the panel discussion. Marian Wiseman, owner of Wiseman Communications, moderated as the panelists discussed strategies for creating and maintaining a successful publishing team.
Principles of Effective Teams
To create a team culture, associations must apply the principles of effective teams:
1. Clearly articulated goals. A common area of conflict is when staff members have differing views of a magazine's purpose. Ask yourself: What is our publication's purpose? Is it to sell ads? Market the association's programs? Provide industry news to our members? Develop and write a vision statement for your publication to clarify its purpose and help each team member to understand his or her role in achieving it.
2. Established team values. "It's important that everybody feels like they have a stake in the project and are working toward a common goal,” said Charney. The team leader must set a tone of collaboration, support, and respect in which people feel safe to open up, disagree, and offer alternative perspectives.
Team leaders should also avoid a 'command and control' style, which can lead to employee dissatisfaction and poor performance. "Your tone is important,” noted Stevens. "If you are demanding, harsh, or rigid, people will draw back.”
3. Clear individual expectations. "Make sure your staff is aware of who is in charge of what,” said Wiseman. All team members should understand what is expected of them individually and be held accountable for their performance. Performance expectations should be articulated and put into writing.
4. Empowerment. Make everyone 'the CEO of something,' Folz recommends, passing along advice she gleaned from reading a New York Times interview with Mark Pincus, founder and chief executive of online social game provider Zynga. Give staff the freedom to exercise their own discretion. Team leaders will get a tremendous amount of energy and buy-in when they ask for and use team members' ideas.
5. Measure team performance and provide feedback. Measure, communicate, and reward both individual and team performance. Use no more than four measurements (e.g. staying on schedule or meeting ad revenue goals) to assess team progress. All team members should feel that they contribute to ad sales.
6. Positive reinforcement and cheerleading. "Let people know you appreciate their efforts,” said Stevens. Because everyone should feel a sense of ownership, all team members should encourage and praise others. The team leader should set an example by encouraging others when they are down and praising them when they do well. Phone calls, thank you notes, and verbal appreciation are simple but effective ways to express your gratitude.
7. Effective communication. Use more than one medium (e.g. e-mails, phone calls, meetings, personal visits) to convey information, and make sure everyone gets important information. Effective communication is especially important when planning and implementing changes. Team members should be free to communicate directly with each other, instead of having to go through a manager or supervisor.
Despite the best efforts to create an effective team, publishing staff can still run into snags. Here are some common areas of conflict and ideas for solutions.
Problem: Creative differences between art and editorial staff.
Solution: Clarify expectations, look for compromise solutions, communicate early and often through conversations (not e-mail), and focus on the needs of the readers instead of individual visions, recommends Folz. "And never steamroll over the art process,” adds Charney.
Problem: Groupthink, or when everyone goes along with whatever is suggested, resulting in flawed decisions going unchallenged and creativity being stifled.
Solution: Establish an environment that encourages diversity of ideas, friendly disagreement, and transparency.
Problem: Copy doesn't show up.
Solution: Stress deadlines early and often but have back up plans (i.e. filler content such as an extra article or a house ad). Create and enforce consequences for late items. For example, at the Optical Society, freelancers lose 10 percent of their pay for each day their assignment is late.
Problem: Other departments involved in your publication (such as marketing or web staff) don't make it a priority.
Solution: Help your colleagues to feel invested by giving them ownership of projects. Encourage them to tie in their goals to your publication. For example, Stevens encouraged her web manager to make it a yearly goal to increase traffic to the CE Vision website. The result? Traffic to the site increased 20 percent.
Problem: Communication is lacking or ineffective.
Solution: Use multiple media to communicate and make sure everyone on the team receives the same information. For example, Charney and her team began using Google Documents to track ad sales. "It's a critical communication tool for all of us,” she said, "because it allows all members to access the most current sales numbers.”
Another word of advice: Avoid the habit of e-mailing back and forth when there is a clear issue or disagreement. "At some point, you have to pick up the phone to resolve an issue,” Charney said.
When it comes to creating an effective publishing team, remember the basics: teamwork, communication, appreciation, and collaboration. And sometimes, the simplest gestures of kindness are the best at boosting team morale. Passing along wisdom she heard while taking a course called Boot Camp for Magazine Editors, Folz reminded attendees to smile and say good morning and good night to their colleagues.
"Remember,” she said, "at the end of the day, it's only a magazine.”
Meredith MacMillanis senior editorial associate at the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for an excellent job in covering this Lunch & Learn for members who were unable to attend.