Next time you think you want to take someone out, don’t get yourself a good squad. Get yourself a team.
I think we can all agree that Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith was talking about websites here, can we not?
So – you’re going to get yourself a team. But remember – we love it when a plan comes together. What should factor into your plan when you’re building a collaborative site?
What’s your motivation?
When you assemble your crack commando unit, you may do so as part of a professional venture of some sort – meaning, you’re going to be paying the contributors. Or it may begin as a labor of love, with everyone pitching in out of shared support for a particular cause, hobby, or interest.
Adding compensation to the mix adds complexity to the project, since you’ll need to keep close tabs on how your contributors are carrying out their roles and how that affects their payment. But even if you’re working with an all-volunteer group, you still need to keep your team motivated.
A good leader helps team members use their talents and recognizes them accordingly, whether that’s through a paycheck or a personal email with specific feedback. Over the long term, as initial enthusiasm may give way to time constraints and other projects, it’s important to follow up with your team members and find out if they have suggestions for improving the way the site is set up, ideas for new topics to explore, or concerns about how things are going. Keeping a regular stream of communication with your team is more important than trying to micro-manage and oversee every detail of what your team is doing.
What are your strengths?
The A Team was such an effective squad because they each brought something special to the mercenary table: a master strategist who broke all the rules, a feathery-haired con man who could talk them out of a tough situation, an insane pilot with mad helicopter skills, and a blinged-up mechanic with a bad attitude.
It may be that your contributors bring a different mix of skills to the table but it’s likely the mix will be just as diverse. Heck, one of them might even drive a sweet GMC van.
Figuring out what each person is good at—and what each person enjoys—should be the first thing you do when assembling a team. Particularly if you’re an all-volunteer operation, it’s important to match people to tasks that they’re best qualified for and find rewarding. A skilled proofreader whose real enthusiasm is for research may eventually resent being stuck with double-checking other people’s pieces for errors and never getting to do original work.
At the same time, make room for people to learn new skills and grow into greater roles on the site. You’ll be glad you did if your traffic takes off and you need to quickly find mentors for new contributors who may not know the ropes.
What roles need to be filled?
What are some specific roles that a contributor might play on a collaborative site? A short list would include:
- Writing content
- Optimizing content for search engines
- Finding images to accompany written content—and knowing when those images can be used without violation of copyright
- Creating original graphics, photographs, audio and/or video
- Fact-checking articles before publication
- Proofreading content – not just for spelling and grammar, which can be somewhat automated, but also for consistency with the editorial “voice” of the site
- Managing user submissions to the website, if you’re accepting either suggestions for new content or user-submitted posts
- Promoting the site via social media channels
- System administration, site hosting, etc.
How big is your team?
If you’re looking at that short list and thinking, “but we only have five volunteers!” don’t fret. But do consider what your priorities are and what can wait until you have more collaborators on board. Save your contributors from being stretched too thin by setting reasonable expectations – original video production probably isn’t necessary unless that’s the primary focus of your site, for example. I’d say a bare-bones team needs to include someone who’s good with the “under the hood” stuff, someone with an eye for graphics and a basic understanding of How Not to Steal Images, a good writer who gets the basics of SEO, and a detail-oriented person who can proofread and make sure you’re not playing fast and loose with the facts.
On the flip side, if you have a website with, say, 50 contributors, consider breaking up the organization into smaller teams to cover different topics or different periods of time. It’s going to get harder for you as the leader to keep up with all of the content on your site, particularly if you’re all volunteers. Breaking a large site into smaller teams also means you won’t have to spend a lot of time managing personality conflicts or other problems that can start with poor communication.
How much time do you have?
It’s very rare that your pet project is someone else’s pet project—unless you’re both highly motivated and can make a sustained commitment to the site. If you’re the leader and you’ve got an amazing vision for where you want the site to go, your enthusiasm can be contagious. But it takes more than enthusiasm to power a long-term project. Consider how much time you can realistically donate to the site—then double that (if you’re me, at least – I always seem to dream up new “features” for projects I’m passionate about, and it’s easy to fudge the numbers on how long it will take me to finish them).
Then think about how much time you can ask your contributors to donate. Of course, if we’re talking about a professional website with full-time staff, that’s a different situation, but here I’m speaking mainly to leaders of volunteer projects. At first, everyone’s going to be excited and ready to pitch in, but as schedules get crowded and people get busy with other stuff, it’s normal to see a decline in commitment. Be realistic about your expectations of people’s involvement—and for those who are going beyond the call of duty, provide them with regular, specific, and positive feedback to let them know how much you appreciate it.
What’s your plan?
This is the big question you need to answer after you’ve thought through everything else so far. I’ll be talking more on this site about a specific WordPress plugin that helps you implement a workflow for your site and manage team members. It’s called Edit Flow, and I pity the fool who’s building a collaborative site without it.
WordPress superstar Suzette Franck gave a very thorough overview of Edit Flow at a recent WordPress event and I encourage you to check out her slides, which include detailed screenshots of the plugin.
Does it all come down to you?
Everyone loves to feel important, but consider this—if you, like Hannibal and the rest of the A Team, are arrested for a crime you didn’t commit, what will happen to your site? Have you made it all about you and your daily, down-to-the-letter supervision of every piece of content on the site? Or have you built a strong team that can weather the storm if you have a family emergency, or are traveling, or are given an opportunity that will affect how much time you can devote to the site?
If it’s truly a labor of love for you, build your site on a strong foundation of communication between team members, organized workflow, and people who know how to do what YOU do.