Sunday, April 04, 2010

Take Time to Nurture Your Web Team

At the end of my last course, I asked everyone what one thing they were going to do when they got back to their agencies. One participant surprised me by saying he was going to organize a meeting of all the web managers and major web contributors in the agency and share what he’d learned - something they’d never done before. Wow – really? You’ve never done that? So I asked his classmates if their agencies held regular agency-wide meetings and/or training sessions for the extended web “team.” Most said, “no.”

Gosh folks, this is a must-do! Part of your job as a web manager is to build a strong agency-wide team – a network across organizations that helps you move in the same direction…a group that works together, helps each other, and helps you.

Your “team” isn’t just those people who sit in the agency web manager’s office with you. It’s that broad cadre of people throughout the agency - in Washington DC and across the country - who work on the website routinely…full-time or part-time. It’s the people who compile and write and edit and post and maintain content. They probably don’t report to you in any formal way, but you can’t succeed if they aren’t working with you.

Nurture that team. Get them together – help them get to know one another…help them get to know you.

How? Here are 10 activities that have worked for me:
  1. Do some training. Maybe you have a new technology to show. Maybe you have new social media policies to share. Or maybe you just want to go over the procedures for maintaining content. Get creative with your training. Do it yourself, or have one of the team members do it. Or maybe bring in outside talent. At HUD, we hired Gerry McGovern to do a one-day workshop on writing great web content - our web team loved it. But you don’t have to look outside government. Use your peers in other agencies. Nicole Burton at GSA is terrific at teaching usability principles. The folks who manage Plainlanguage.gov often are available to do training. And the social media sub-council of the Federal Web Managers Council has a number of speakers who can talk about social media best practices. Use them.
  2. Solve problems together. Lay out some of the issues you’re facing and break into work groups to come up with solutions. Involve them in implementation.
  3. Identify new directions. Break into brainstorming groups and come up with ideas for new or improved ways to serve customers through your website(s).
  4. Take a field trip. We started taking the HUD web managers on field trips whenever we got them together. We always met in one of HUD’s field offices (it’s really good to get the web team away from Washington DC), and we’d use part of one day to visit some of the projects HUD funds in that city. There’s nothing like actually being in public housing and talking with residents and managers to see the agency’s work from the eyes of the customers.
  5. Do content reviews. Have everyone come with one or two pages that are giving them trouble. Go over your writing standards (if you don’t have any, here’s an example from HUD). Then pick 4-5 of the problem pages, have everyone rate them individually, and then put them in groups of three and have them come up with a joint review, including suggestions for improvement. Whenever we did this as a group, we always saw lightbulbs go on. And we always improved the pages we reviewed.
  6. Do show and tell. Pick some of your star performers and let them show and tell about a page or something they’ve done to improve web communications. Always encourage your team to share best practices.
  7. Do a focus group. Ask some of your colleagues to invite family or friends (people who don’t really know your business) to come in for an informal focus group. You don’t have to hire someone to facilitate – just do it yourself. Pick a few pages of your website (or social media sites) and ask for feedback. Keep it easy and relaxed. After your guests leave, discuss what you saw and heard; and create a “to do” list.
  8. Do usability testing. There is absolutely nothing more instructive than watching people try to complete tasks on your website. This can be a terrific thing to do in your web team meetings. Again, ask colleagues to invite family or friends to volunteer for some informal usability testing. 3-4 should do it. Have them come at intervals of 30 minutes or so because you’ll test them individually. Come up with two or three scenarios typical of the kinds of things citizens might do on your website (at HUD we used things like: pretend you want to buy a home but you don’t have money for a downpayment. See if there are programs that could help you). Then ask them to sit down at a computer and complete the task, while team members watch. I guarantee you – you’ll learn something from it. Usability.gov has lots more tips on doing scenario tests.
  9. Brief them on the goals of the governmentwide web manager community. We serve best when we serve together, and your web team needs to know where the broader web community is headed. Invite a member of the Federal Web Managers Council to speak to your group or have a discussion about the FWMC White Papers. Get them thinking about how they fit into the bigger picture and what they can do to help.
  10. Eat together, play together. There is nothing better for team-building than eating together and playing together. Do brown bag lunches or go to meals together. Set up web trivia contests or do other team games to break the ice. Make sure you stir up the group – don’t let them just sit with people they know. The goal is to build relationships so you strengthen the network.
We did routine “team” meetings at HUD for years, bringing together web managers and coordinators from across the country. EPA also gathers its “team” routinely – and very successfully. The point is: do it!

Face time builds trust among team members. Conference calls and wikis are great; but every now and then, get your folks together, in the same room. Provide some structure, and give them time to get to know one another – forge personal relationships. People leave these meetings feeling they’re part of something important. They get out of their silos and see customer service from a broader perspective.

Take time to nurture your web team. The benefits are huge.

1 comment:

Ed Dzitko said...

Candi...thanks for posting this. I can't stress enough to our customers just how important these team meetings are, particularly when you are using a content management system. It's especially true at the municipal level where the teams are smaller, and skillsets so varied.