Leading or managing a content team can be a highly rewarding experience.
However, all too often, it results in a dilemma.
You are expected to generate the majority of ideas for your department’s creative output.
The challenges facing those responsible for content teams are similar whether you’re working within an agency or in-house.
You shouldn’t be the only one to take the burden of coming up with the majority of content ideas for the team. This in itself can be counterproductive, resulting in writer’s block and idea burnout.
It can also be hard to know where to start when it comes to encouraging other members of your team to get involved in ideation.
For the past five years, I’ve been managing a team of content specialists within a digital PR agency. Today, I want to share my experiences and advice as to how you can get the most out of others when it comes to ideation.
In many ways, you need to be prepared to change your approach as a leader. Here’s a number of actions to consider trying out in your own office.
1. Understand What’s Stopping Your Team From Getting Involved In Ideation
Is your team solely relying on you for content ideas? The first thing you need to do is to take the time to understand why.
You need to understand why your team members aren’t stepping up and putting forward ideas for content pieces and campaigns. When you do this, it’s far easier to address the situation and make sure everyone’s involved.
In my experience, the reasons why individuals aren’t getting involved in ideation typically fall into a few categories:
- Imposter syndrome: An individual’s self-doubt on the strength of their ideas stops them from putting them forwards to the team.
- A lack of autonomy: Where you, as a manager, take too much control over ideation and haven’t created an environment in which others feel comfortable taking the lead.
- Time constraints: Ideation takes time. Is the team being given the time they need to come up with ideas?
- A history of rejected ideas: Has a team member previously put forward ideas but these have never been moved forwards into production, without constructive feedback given?
- Attitude: It’s not uncommon to see certain types of individual happy to sit back and let others do the thinking in an office environment.
I typically find that these are the most common reasons that come up. They’re not all easy to hear as a manager, especially if you’re told that their lack of involvement is because of your lack of feedback on previous attempts or control over the team’s output.
Sit down with each member of your team on a one-to-one basis and start an open discussion around the subject.
As a starting point, I’d always ask:
- Is there anything which is stopping you from getting involved with content concepts and ideas?
- Do you want to be involved in the process? (It’s important that you understand that not everyone is an “ideas person.”)
- Do you fully understand the process which we take at [company] when it comes to coming up with ideas and the purpose behind the content we create?
- Is there anything which I can do to help you to get more involved with ideation?
These should act as a great start to having an open discussion.
Be sure to take notes and sit down after you’ve spoken to the whole team and look for trends amongst the responses. These will highlight your priority areas for taking action.
2. Step Back & Stop Your Own Involvement (For the Time Being)
One of the best ways to encourage your team to take the lead on ideation is to remove yourself from the process.
It might sound crazy, and it’s harder to do than you’d perhaps imagine, however, it’s often the best way to see what your team is truly capable of.
When you take yourself out of an ideation session, you’re putting the pressure on the team in a way which they won’t feel overwhelmed.
It’s likely that a natural leader will emerge among the other team members. I find that the most effective way to put ideation in the control of others is to start by a group session where you go back to basics.
This can be a great way to share your own knowledge, processes and the approaches which work best for you, while encouraging the team to come up with their own ways of working which reflect them as individuals.
Some of my favorite resources to share (and then discuss as a group) are:
- How to Produce Better Content Ideas (Mark Johnstone)
- The Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing (Moz)
- How to Generate Endless Blog Post Ideas For Content Marketing (BuzzSumo)
More than anything, these guides can act as a great way to open a discussion around processes for coming up with ideas and the wider purpose of why we create content.
3. Ban Brainstorming, Encourage Individual Ideation & Group Concept Refinement
Are you guilty, as a team, of taking a traditional brainstorming approach to ideation?
All too often, content teams try to come up with ideas all sat around a whiteboard with individuals taking turns to shout out ideas.
I’ve never found this approach to be overly productive, largely because it often results in a single person (or a couple of people in larger sessions) leading all ideas and others sitting back.
It doesn’t do anything for those who less confident (or experienced) than others and it’s usually not the most productive use of time.
I’d always recommend that ideation begins as an exercise undertaken individually.
Starting the ideation process as a solo task means that each team member can use individual methods of research and processes which work best for them. Everyone is likewise encouraged to come up with at least something in terms of ideas and concepts.
Once everyone in the team has a number of ideas (I’d usually say at least 10 at this stage), come back together as a group and discuss and refine each one of these.
You’d be surprised at how many of my best-performing pieces of content have come from ideas which someone else in the team had and which were then refined as a group.
Discussing ideas as a team means that everyone goes into a session in the same position with a list of ideas to present to everyone else.
This immediately removes the hesitation which many have and ensure a productive session.
Rather than coming up with ideas from scratch, it’s more about refining those put forward and getting everyone’s individual input to take a good idea and make it great.
4. Offer One-to-One Concept Feedback & Reviews
It’s all well and good choosing only to move forward to produce and launch certain content ideas – there’s nothing unusual about this.
However, unless you’re providing specific feedback to those whose ideas were rejected, they often don’t know why the ideas weren’t right.
My preference here is to:
- Sit down with each member of the team on a regular basis.
- Talk through each of the ideas which they put forward in recent ideation sessions.
- Discuss the reasons why the idea didn’t move to the next step.
- And, more importantly, how it could be approached differently in the future to turn it into an idea which makes the cut.
While this is a time-consuming exercise, it’s a rewarding one and a way to quickly progress the skills of your team.
Once people know where they could improve, and where their ideas fell down last time, it’s an opportunity for them to act on this and continue to evolve their own processes.
5. Roll out a Policy of ‘Rolling Ideation’
One of the hardest things to do, regardless of how creative you are, is to come up with ideas on-demand.
Putting yourself, or your team, under pressure to come up with ideas in a short timeframe is never a recipe for success. Instead, it results in sub-standard concepts which are only put forward to “make do.”
So what’s the best approach to overcome this? Roll out a process of rolling ideation.
It’s a concept where individual ideation is an ongoing task that is always running rather than setting aside certain blocks of time to generate concepts.
Every member of the team is encouraged to spend time throughout their working week to put together their own bank of concepts without the pressure of specific concept topics (or clients). We use individual Google Sheets for this task.
It’s all about encouraging any ideas to be compiled on the basis that these can be refined by the team in a group session.
As an agency, we encourage the team to come up with ideas related to any topic at this stage, rather than being given a brief for a specific client. This removes barriers to creativity and lets ideas flow.
Book in a group ideation session either weekly or every two weeks (depending on the output needed from the team in terms of pieces of content or campaigns) to discuss everyone’s individual ideas and refine.
6. Review Results – Weekly!
Are you guilty of keeping successes to yourself or do you openly share results with every member of the team?
It’s important for members of the team to see for themselves what’s performing and driving results against whatever KPIs you typically measure content success, be that:
- Links earned
- Social engagement
That way, they’ll start to build up a knowledge and see trends in what performs well and what doesn’t do so great.
Reviewing results as a team is a great Friday afternoon exercise and is also an opportunity to give praise to the team for great work and highlight their progression.
It’s equally as important, however, to take the time to analyze and assess those pieces of content which didn’t perform as expected and understand, as a group, why this was and what could be changed up to push success.
The best atmosphere for coming up with great ideas is one where:
- The whole team feels involved and trusted to work in their own ways.
- Feedback is given on a regular basis to help everyone evolve their skill sets.
It can take time to nurture everyone to get involved, but it’s the best way to drive the best ideas, the great results, and see phenomenal success as a team.