How to keep growth from slowing down your marketing team
tl;dr: As your marketing team grows, critical expertise and experience often aren’t shared, creating gaps in knowledge and coordination within the team. This slows your team down, as the lack of alignment makes it difficult to quickly test and iterate campaigns in an ever-changing environment. To address this problem, you need to set up knowledge-sharing systems. These aren’t just new tools—they are key processes and opportunities that help your team thrive. These systems allow you to scale the expertise of senior members and help share the day-to-day experiences of peers.
One day, after years of working shoulder-to-shoulder with your closest team members, you find yourself at your own company’s all-hands. As you look around, you realize you don’t recognize half of the people in the room. As your veteran team members talk about ongoing projects, a new voice chimes in or a new face flashes a smile. In an attempt to get to know your company’s rising stars, you strike up a conversation—only to discover significant knowledge gaps. The knowledge that you took great care to pass down to your first marketing hires has gotten lost. Now, when you mention the campaigns you created, or that infamous customer who taught your team patience, all you get is a blank stare. An unread memo here and a missed meeting there seems inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. But knowledge gaps serve as indicators that your team is on track to developing silo mentality—a work style that is detrimental to a marketing team’s ability to test, iterate, and improve its overall digital strategy.
The Price of Lost Knowledge
There are two types of knowledge exchange on any given marketing team: top-down, where team members learn from years of experience of more senior people, and peer-to-peer, where employees learn from day-to-day mistakes and successes of fellow team members. Lack of either can significantly slow down your team. Holes in top-down knowledge result in:
Longer onboarding periods, increasing ramp-up time and driving onboarding costs even higher.
More mistakes, eating up the time of individual team members and those around them.
Lack of engagement, as new hires feel that no one is setting them up for success. This decreases motivation and increases the chance of the new hire leaving, as 86% of employees attest that their decision to stay or leave at a company happens during the onboarding period.
Gaps in peer-to-peer knowledge transfer result in:
Repeat work, as several marketers might end up working on different solutions to the same problem.
More uncertainty, as marketers don’t know if what they are doing is the best practice.
Poor communication, as marketers can’t align or make decisions because they aren’t considering the same data—an issue 96% of employees cite as a workplace failure.
These issues start out small, but snowball over time to create a work environment that lacks collaboration and confidence. If you neglect to set up networks of information sharing, the workplace will foster an “every man for himself” attitude that will infuse every project. Environments where knowledge isn’t shared cost businesses over $31 billion per year. To prevent knowledge gaps from developing on your team, you need to take a deliberate approach to creating systems for onboarding, training, and continuously sharing information.
Write Down the What, How, and Why
The first few months of any marketing job is spent just absorbing information. New hires, whether they have previous experience or not, need to get the lay of the land, understand your company values and priorities, and finally, understand the nitty-gritty elements of how each process works and why it was set up. As the most experienced member of the team, you are the person best placed to teach them. You know how your team does inbound marketing, but also why your team chose to focus on inbound marketing. You know about the recent re-brand and the reasons why. You know about every single buyer persona and the reason they exist. Passing on this information is crucial to give new employees context and empower them to question the systems and models if they feel they’re not working. Passing on this foundational knowledge is easy when your team is just a handful of people. But as your team grows, you have to get your experience and expertise out of your head and into a centralized information hub that everyone can access without you being the personal gatekeeper.
As your team grows, you need to remove yourself from the position of gatekeeper of vital knowledge.
To do this, you need to start writing down what you do and why. By creating company-wide access to documentation that will pass on this knowledge — and setting up methods to engage your team with that knowledge base — you can make sure everyone in your company has the information they need to succeed.
Make Your Experience Accessible
To transfer information effectively and accurately, establish a knowledge base that can be accessed by new marketing team members without your participation or supervision. There are a number of free and paid cloud documentation tools, such as Quip, Tettra, or Dropbox Paper, that enable your team to have access to one centralized knowledge base. As you shop around for a platform, you need to take these questions into consideration:
Is it easy to find what you’re looking for? Is there a good search feature that scans both the body and header for keywords? Is there a good search hierarchy that displays results based on relevance? Are there tagging capabilities?
Is it easy to share documentation? Are there unique links that can immediately point you to the relevant portion of documentation?
Is it easy to collaborate and add documentation? Is commenting or @-mentioning possible? Can more than one team member contribute as gaps in the docs are discovered?
Once you stop being the gatekeeper to this knowledge, you take on a new role: the caretaker. When your team scales, processes will change and you—along with other managers—will have more experience to add to the docs. Commit to updating these documents regularly, since docs that grow outdated or inaccurate quickly become useless, and your team will go back to square one. Make a habit of contributing to the documentation every time a new process is created or a new strategy has been nailed down. Alternately, find the most detail-oriented member of your team and delegate them to manage these docs. Task them with the responsibility for checking them on a monthly basis and for referring new team members to them whenever the opportunity arises.
Set up entry points to your knowledge base
Most people won’t jump on the opportunity to read through a manual—which explains why 95% of returned tech gadgets work. To make your knowledge base useful, you need to encourage ongoing interaction with it. To do this, take a page out of the product team’s handbook. Treat your new team members like new users, and nurture engagement by delivering relevant information from the base to team members in regular installments. You can do this through:
Tool or process walkthroughs. Create onboarding videos that combine recordings and illustrations, making the process of taking in all that new information more accessible. You can create a series of “must-see” videos on your company, your product, and your customers. Make the vital information easily available with a link through to the knowledge docs so that they can find out more.
Guided projects. Enable team members to learn through hands-on research projects. Subdivide each project into benchmarks, and have them consult knowledge docs to meet each benchmark.
Onboarding newsletters. On a weekly basis, repurpose some of the information in the knowledge docs into a newsletter. You can provide additional reading on the topic to encourage team members to learn more than what’s in the docs.
However you choose to engage new team members, make sure that everything always points them back to the knowledge base, so they feel comfortable using it as a resource on a daily basis.
Increase the Fluidity of New Knowledge
The marketing environment is constantly changing, so the best marketers are obsessive about running experiments. They do research, seek out opportunities to innovative, and test their hypothesis. This can be as big as rolling out a $3000/mo AdWords campaign, or as small as A/B testing headlines. When you interact with everyone in the company on a daily basis, it’s easy to exchange learnings and work through big problems together. As the company grows, the proportion of people you interact with shrinks—so team members lose the ability to learn from all their peers. Knowledge is stuck within 2- or 3-person silos, causing repeat work and creating friction between team members who make conclusions based on different experiences.
In the early days when you interface with everyone, knowledge is shared. Later, silos naturally develop as the headcount increases.
To tear down these silos, you need to create systems that create transparency so everyone can see what is happening within a marketing project or campaign and systems that increase collaboration.
Make all work public
“Transparency” is a buzzword that can be heard throughout most startups. Managers and team members alike are encouraged to share their goals, their progress, and any qualms or stumbling blocks along the way. But much of employees’ work is still hidden away in inboxes or in private Excel sheets. To increase team members’ access to knowledge, make all work public. This means using shared tools for every step in your workflow that leaves a paper trail for everything. You can set up:
A shared inbox for external communication. Set up a shared address such as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and give your entire team access to any messages sent to customers or users. With Teamwork Desk you can create as many inboxes as your team requires.
Transparent word processing and spreadsheet tools for creating marketing campaigns. You can use a tool like Quip or Google Docs and Sheets to keep a record of every project that’s in progress.
A shared account for each social platform. Create shared accounts on every platform that doesn’t have collaborative capabilities, and share passwords with your team. You can use a tool like 1Password, LastPass, or TeamPassword to store all your passwords in one secure place.
A teamwide project management tool. Use a project management tool such as Teamwork Projects to keep everyone aware of tasks and priorities at any one given time.
When everyone has access to the work that’s being accomplished, they don’t need to have access to a specific person get an update or solve a problem. They can look through the paper trail of every previous project to learn from their team members’ work.
Create opportunities for collaboration
Just as an easy-to-access knowledge base opens doors for institutional knowledge to be communicated and shared, a platform for sharing current project information exponentially increases collaboration. If you want to maximize productivity and positive team interactions, create opportunities for team members to actively share their most important findings with the rest of the team. You can do this by setting up:
Forums or chat rooms, where people can share experiments they ran, customer stories, or articles they’ve been reading. You can nominate a “discussion leader” to stimulate conversation around particular information. A discussion leader is someone who owns that particular channel or chat room and helps keep the discussion focused and always tries to add to the conversation.
Weekly presentations that have one or two presenters tell the rest of the team about something that they’re working on and why it’s significant. Video hosting startup Wistia holds “storytelling nights,” where all their employees stay after hours and share things they’ve learned over their time at the company.
Group brainstorms, where one or two team members share a recent hurdle or problem, and the rest of the group presents ideas for how this problem could be avoided in the future.
These opportunities will encourage the team to share their learnings, and also give credit where credit is due. Team members who share their achievements will feel acknowledged as they take ownership over their discoveries.
Don’t Let Growth Hold Back Your Team
In order for your marketing team to maintain momentum and focus as it grows, everyone needs to be working from the same playbook. Without systems of information sharing, no one is in sync or focused on the same goals They’re not communicating about what they want to accomplish or what they have to do to get there, so they’re forming their own conclusions. An increase in headcount slows down your marketing team as they sort out a plan of action or waste time spinning scenarios based on incomplete information.
But if everyone on your marketing team is exposed to the same material—learning and growing together—then an increase in headcount means there’s strength in numbers. A new marketing campaign can have the input of several team members, rather than just one. A rebrand can get feedback from the whole team, rather than just a few players. With shared knowledge and vision, your team will be more nimble, discovering new marketing strategies together, and improving and iterating quickly to find the most effective way to grow your brand.