by Andrea Fryrear
Note from the Editor: This year, our special guest star on all things agile marketing, Andrea Fryrear, will be providing agile marketing newbies with a monthly step-by-step guide to their first year as an agile marketer. This post is the second in the series. Enjoy!
Football coaches have a hard job. When building a team, they juggle salary caps, player egos, owner demands, fan expectations, and the technical requirements of running a huge team.
They could bet their whole salary cap on a handful of exceptional athletes, risking their season if their players suffer a few poorly timed injuries. Or they may have to fill an empty position instead of drafting a rising star with the wrong skills.
When there’s a toxic presence on the team, they’re responsible for helping them find the exit, sometimes in the face of serious external resistance from fans and owners.
On an Agile marketing team, managers operate in much the same way.
They juggle a steady stream of input (We need more content! Hire someone who can code! There’s a hiring freeze! Nobody who eats onions in their lunch!) and still have to act in the best interests of the team.
I’ve never been a football coach, but building an Agile team can feel just as daunting as drafting next year’s Super Bowl champions.
In this second installment of our year-long guide to rocking your first year of Agile marketing, we tackle the importance of the team and its members. We’ll look at what it takes to be an Agile marketer, why you should be prepared to hire and fire at the right times, and how leaders affect Agile teams.
(If you missed Chapter One in this series, you may want to review it now: Take the First Step On Your Agile Marketing Journey)
Characteristics of Agile Marketers
Agile marketers don’t all look alike. There’s no secret handshake or tattoo that helps us identify one another (although that might be useful). Like any group, you’ll find variation among our ranks.
But there are seven traits that successful Agile marketers share:
7. Committed to excellence
Not every team member has to possess every one of these characteristics, but the more you can get in each new hire the more power your team will have to take care of business. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
1. The T-Shaped Agile Marketer
Marketers who are T-shaped are said to understand most aspects of marketing at a basic level (the horizontal line at the top of the “T”) while having deep expertise in one area of specialization (the vertical line in center).
Image source: Moz.com
You may be among those who scoff at the existence of such marketers, but I can assure you that they’re real. They may not be plentiful, but that’s all the more reason to work hard to find them and entice them to stick around as long as possible.
Pay them what they’re worth and put them on an Agile team, and you’ll be amazed at what T-shaped marketers can pull off.
2. How to Hire For Cross-Functionality
Cross-functional marketers are often compared to T-shaped ones, and they are similar. But marketers who are cross-functional are more likely to possess skills outside of traditional marketing disciplines.
When looking for more cross-functional team members, look for skills like:
● Analytics/Business Intelligence/Marketing Operations
● Website management or CMS expertise
● Graphic design
● Statistics and/or audience research
These functions are often tangential to the work of a marketing team, but if you can find a team member who can perform them while also contributing to core marketing campaigns, you’ve scored a first round draft pick.
It’s this wide-ranging skill set that lets him or her chip in on just about any kind of project, which in turn increases an Agile team’s velocity. The math isn’t complicated; when you don’t have to wait on external resources, you get more done in less time.
3. Adaptable Agile Chameleons
Agile marketers are like versatile football players who can play both offense and defense; they can apply their skills in a multitude of situations.
Because let’s face it: having a diverse skill set doesn’t help if you can’t see its applications.
From demand generation to customer experience to lead nurturing, agile marketers are chameleons who move from one environment to the next with little disruption in output. They often display a well-developed understanding of the professional environment that suits them best, which helps them find the most productive spot in whatever situation they’re in.
4. Curiosity Never Hurt an Agile Cat
You don’t get continuous improvement from a team that lacks curiosity. They need to constantly ask, “What if?”
● What happens if I change this meeting?
● How could we engage with our audience a little better?
● Are we really doing the right work at the right time?
They don’t break things just for the sake of breaking, but they are genuinely interested in the results of experiments.
5. The Entrepreneurial Mentality
Traditional marketers follow orders, but Agile marketers won’t have their work dictated to them. This means they need to take initiative for forming campaigns and projects based on the stated business value visible in the backlog.
For some, this is terrifying, but those who operate in the Agile spirit will delight in inventing new ways to deliver results.
An entrepreneurial spirit serves to guide them toward groundbreaking ways of thinking that can improve the team’s process and its output.
6. Supermen Need Not Apply
Some marketers take Don Draper as their patron saint; they like to swoop in at the last minute with a big idea and save the day.
These people find Agile teams difficult, because an Agile environment rewards group success, not personal heroics. As Jeff Sutherland puts it in Scrum:
“A team that depends on regular heroic actions to make its deadlines is not working the way it’s supposed to work.”
Balancing this team-centric mindset with an entrepreneurial approach to problem-solving can be challenging, which is why team norms are so important in an Agile environment (more about this shortly).
7. Totally Excellent, Dude!
Agile marketing allows us to produce more work in less time, but we shouldn’t be content to just create more average stuff.
To get the most out of an Agile approach, we need to embrace it as a way to produce better, more effective, more impactful marketing.
To succeed, therefore, Agile marketers need to be fully committed to doing the best work they can. “Best” doesn’t mean “100% perfect,” because perfect is the enemy of done and it will mess up your workflow every time.
What it does mean is that Agile marketers find a way to do the best possible work in the time available to them. They’re not OK with delivering shoddy campaigns just so they can finish before the Sprint is over.
Hiring (and Firing) the Right People
When you’re looking to hire new members of your Agile team, keep those seven characteristics in mind.
But what about the people already on your team?
I was so jazzed for my first Agile marketing transformation that I wasn’t prepared for how some of my team members reacted. It turns out the transition to Agility can be tough, just like any change.
In The End of Marketing As We Know It, Sergio Zyman, the former head of marketing at Coca-Cola, talked about his own attempts to institute change within a marketing team that was attached to the status quo:
“People are comfortable with what’s familiar. Some may even personalize this shift, thinking that you are rejecting them along with the old-style marketing.”
When people personalize change in this way, a common reaction is to hoard information.
This practice makes them feel more valuable, but it hinders communication and Agility. Sadly, information hoarders need to leave the team. They’ve shown they’re more interested in ensuring their own indispensability than in helping the team or the company.
Remember that while it’s deeply team-centric, Agile marketing doesn’t work without Agile marketers. You may have to make tough cuts, but they’ll make your team stronger in the long run.
Google’s Research into Team Norms
The People Analytics team at Google recently undertook a massive study of how teams inside Google functioned. They scoured the academic literature, interviewed Google employees, and diagrammed the complicated interrelationships between teams.
They found that there was no magic recipe for a high-performing team. Each one had its own unique makeup, but they did share five norms that allowed them to excel:
1. Teams need to believe their work is important.
2. Teams need to feel their work is personally meaningful.
3. Teams need clear goals and defined roles.
4. Team members need to know they can depend on one another.
5. Most importantly, teams need psychological safety.
All of these norms are necessary on Agile teams to create the optimum environment for true Agility, but psychological safety is the most important. In The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Amy Edmondson defined the concept as follows:
Psychological safety is a “shared belief, held by members of a team, that the group is a safe place for taking risks.” It is “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up...It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”
Imagine a team that enjoys psychological safety conducting a Sprint Retrospective meeting, then imagine the same meeting with a team whose members feel unsafe sharing their thoughts and opinions.
The former will be far more productive in identifying opportunities to improve their process, while the latter is likely to resort to finger-pointing and get little out of the meeting.
Psychological safety not only increases a team’s morale and productivity, it’s a prerequisite for Agility.
Creating Psychological Safety on Agile Teams
Team leaders foster psychological safety and other team-building norms by modeling these behaviors in their own interactions with the team even, and especially, when it would be easy not to do so.
In reviewing his exhaustive research on the topic in Better, Faster, Smarter, Charles Duhigg puts it this way:
“There are always good reasons for choosing behaviors that undermine psychological safety. It is often more efficient to cut off debate, to make a quick decision, to listen to whoever knows the most and ask others to hold their tongues. But a team will become an amplification of its internal culture, for better or worse. Study after study shows that while psychological safety might be less efficient in the short run, it’s more productive over time.”
Agile team members foster psychological safety by sharing control of the team with our teammates.
We demonstrate that we’re actually listening by repeating what someone just said and responding respectfully. If a teammate seems upset, we react with compassion instead of pretending nothing is wrong.
By ceding control to the group and consistently displaying our empathy, even when it’s hard to do, we create a stronger, more Agile team environment.
There IS an “I” in Team
Ok so there’s not really an “I” in “team,” but there are two in “Agile marketing team.” The people who make up an Agile team have a major impact on its success or failure, which means, like their counterparts in professional football, marketing management sometimes has to make hard choices.
Managers establish team norms that will either promote or discourage psychological safety and Agility.
If there are marketers holding the team back, managers are the ones who have to decide how to tackle the situation.
Picking the right lineup may take time, but like all things Agile, it should be a process of continuous improvement. Each team member should make things a little bit better until you’ve got a tight-knit Agile dream team that any coach would envy.
About the Author
Andrea is the Chief Content Officer for Fox Content, where she uses agile content marketing principles to power content strategy and implementation for her clients. She's also the Editor in Chief of The Agile Marketer, a community of marketers on the front lines of the agile marketing transformation. She geeks out on all things agile and content on LinkedIn and @andreafryrear on Twitter.Follow on Twitter More Content by Andrea Fryrear