We’ve all been in … the meeting. The one in which you’re supposed to come up with a slew of kick-ass new ideas to create, deepen, or expand your content marketing program. The one that sucks hours – even days – away from your precious productivity.
It’s that torturous time where the conflicting personalities and priorities of each of your team players all come to a head – where Kevin’s rigid planning kills any hope of originality; where Yvonne wants opinions from everyone under the sun; and where Ernie bemoans the emotionless dribble that you’ll inevitably end up pushing out in compromise.
You scratch your head, knowing that everyone needs to come together to create content that builds lasting audience relationships and delivers results. But if your team’s dynamics are constantly at odds, how can you hope to come up with innovative ideas let alone bring them to life? If Red Bull, Marriott, Emerson, or GE manage to do it, why can’t your team?
We need to rethink how we build teams
To get that level of creative thought from your team, you first have to explore the distinction between a role and a functional archetype.
A role is what a person does – it’s the behavior assumed based on a particular situation. You hire for the role of a chief content officer, a managing editor, or an audience development manager.
In contrast, a functional archetype is an innate pattern of behavior – who that person is and how that person naturally operates in the world regardless of the specific situation. Distinct team member archetypes are why we say, “Let’s get Jenny, she’s a natural people person” or “Where’s Chris? … He’ll know how to map this all out.” It speaks to how they’ll perform at a task rather than what set of tasks they’ll be expected to perform.
Here’s why this distinction matters …
When hiring for an open position, you probably go through the standard drill: Pull out the job description, update the roles and responsibilities, and post it. You’re looking for people who can fill a role … deliver a behavior in a particular situation.
But focusing team-building decisions solely on what people will do is a big contributor to the problems inherent with organizational silos. You have people filling the roles of digital marketers, content marketers, demand generators, product marketers, and brand managers, but they all struggle when expected to reach across the aisle. Everybody becomes so glued to their role and how they’re supposed to behave within their own function that they inadvertently create roadblocks for everyone else.
Let’s compare that to a team that’s focused around personal archetypes instead.
Plato once said that your archetype describes “your ideal self.” When people embrace who they really are, that’s when they function at their best. Archetypes are the secret forces behind all human behavior. They dwell in our unconscious and influence our every move – much of the time without our awareness of them. So, for example, if you’re a natural people person, that talent is something you’ll apply to every role you play throughout your career.
This gives us an opportunity to rethink how we look at the Kevins, Yvonnes, and Ernies who attend “the meeting.” Can it be that the thing we dread the most about working with them is actually our strongest business asset?
Yes, it is. And it’s also the key to creating the highly aligned, collaborative, and innovative teams that we need to pursue our content goals.
Meet the citizen innovators
A citizen innovator can be anyone – at any level of an organization – who plays an active role in the process of creating, sharing, and executing innovative, reliable, and consistent ideas in pursuit of a specific objective.
In the struggle to balance the art and science of content marketing, citizen innovators are the ones who can build a bridge to greater creativity, process efficiency, and team collaboration. And when their abilities are properly applied and nurtured, they hold the power to change the very way you think of innovation – from enterprise-wide concerns like product development and business modeling to the larger cultural trends that impact content strategies and creative campaigns.
Not every citizen innovator looks or operates the same; and that’s really the point. Each has their own ideal self (as Plato calls it) and brings a unique set of personal strengths and talents to the work they do – I call it their natural genius.
Yet, those skill sets do tend to fall into one of the six archetypical categories outlined below – which are inspired by researcher models of team archetypes, combined with my own in-depth study and experience as a team leader. When balanced properly, you’ll architect a whole-brain team – one that’s ideally suited to break through the barriers to content innovation and cross-team collaboration rather than constantly bump up against them.
Natural genius: Planning and executing
Innate strengths: As the name implies, this archetype loves to create strategy and get things done. They have an eye for priorities and how to execute so they can show results. Delivering value is at the heart of the strategists. They know and understand the bigger business blueprint and are adept at shepherding work through the process and out the door. When it comes to innovation, they can “see around the corner” and intuitively know the steps to get things done.
Where they need balance: They like to have concrete plans and be able to measure and report progress. But sometimes strategists get so caught up in executing the big picture that they lose sight of how to bring others along for the ride. That’s when they need to look for a culture shaper to help tell the story of change.
2. Culture Shaper
Natural genius: Communicating change
Innate strengths: This innovator architects the brand and oversees how it’s being expressed. With culture shapers comes the rise of the storytellers – the people who create a compelling story arc over a long time and then infuse it into the narrative of the organization. They use it to activate and inspire employee trust, participation, and courage.
Where they need balance: Culture shapers are savvy at helping those around them realize that maintaining the status quo is a bigger threat than the risk of doing something new. However, the culture shapers can get so caught up in the execution of the story and getting it right that they may lose sight of the most important element – people. When that happens, they need to partner with a psychologist to bring empathy into the equation.
Natural genius: Fostering empathy
Innate strengths: By smashing the traditional perspective of a highly rational approach to solving problems, the psychologists understand unstructured innovation. They explore perceptions of an idea from every direction. This is where empathy in business comes into play: understanding what it’s like to be the customer of this idea.
Where they need balance: Psychologists understand the evolving role of trust not just in marketing but in business today. But there are times when they get too hung up on how ideas make people feel and get mired in politics. That’s when they need an orchestrator to come to their rescue.
Natural genius: Leading fearlessly
Innate strengths: Orchestrators naturally choreograph processes and keep things humming. They know how to keep all the parts and pieces in sync and get things done. Orchestrators advocate for the experience of the customer. They think about how to establish relationships earlier in the process, with both internal teams and external customers and partners.
Where they need balance: This archetype knows how to maneuver the political steppingstones in every corner of the business. However, their fearless leadership can, at times, give them a reputation as being a lone wolf, which can make programs feel more like piecemeal projects. To address this, they need to look for a collaborator to help them integrate all the parts and pieces.
Natural genius: Integrating
Innate strengths: Ideas can never go anywhere by themselves. Creativity and innovation rely on partnerships and socialization. Collaborators love to get involved with some or all of the process, help improve ideas, and then champion them. They understand how to capture the attention of people from other groups to excavate blind spots and nurture relationships. This helps them create powerful ideas and increase the chances of success.
Where they need balance: Collaborators care less about getting personal credit and more about building bonds; so, their ideas have a greater chance of finding success. But their focus on bringing everyone together can mean that ideas get flat over time. That’s where their partnership with provocateurs proves invaluable.
Natural genius: Challenging the status quo
Innate strengths: These nonconformist thinkers question long-held assumptions and generate highly original ideas. As creative disrupters, they lead the way in coming up with new ideas to create transformation within all areas of the business.
Where they need balance: They fight organizational inertia with novel thinking and unconventional approaches to problem-solving, which can rub other players the wrong way. And though their ability to push past the obvious makes them sustainable and prolific idea generators, their natural talent for ideation can fall short in execution, which is why they need strong partnerships with strategists.
When you strike the right balance of individual strengths, you get a whole-brain team – one that not only looks to others with the right skills to balance their own blind spots, but that is also confident that their natural genius is a strong asset to their organization.
When strengths are at odds, the work suffers
What we see when we start to look at these different archetypes of innovators is that they impact how each integrates with the other team members they work with – including how they will likely perceive feedback and suggestions, as well as how they may perceive the value of their contribution in relation to that input.
For example, in looking at the chart above, based on responses from thousands of people worldwide who’ve assessed the archetypes of their team members, you’ll see an interesting story unfolding:
More than half (51%) of respondents identify as either culture shapers (26%) or psychologists (25%), which makes sense in the more customer-focused world of content marketing. Strategists (14%) are also an easily recognized function, and we give credit to the envelope-pushing provocateurs (13%).
While content marketers may say they are equipped to drive change in marketing and transform their business, the chart above shows otherwise. The natural collaborators – those who innately know how to reach across silos and integrate with IT, finance, HR, and so forth – are in short supply (12%). However, the biggest dearth of natural talent shows up with orchestrators (8%) – the people willing to have the difficult conversations that are necessary for teams to progress. Avoiding these talks doesn’t keep the peace, it holds back content marketing teams, hurting their credibility and keeping them from realizing their highest potential.
How leadership can architect a well-balanced, whole-brain team
You may be sweating bullets about now, wondering if you’re going to have to hand out a bevy of pink slips so you can get your dream team in place. Relax, it’s much easier than that.
First, determine your own innovation archetype by taking this quick assessment I’ve developed. Understanding how you work and bring new ideas to the table will give you context for how you’ll be interacting with those on your team, as well as across your organization.
Next, have your team members take the assessment. This will enable you to audit the makeup of your current team and get a better understanding of where – and why – conflicts are likely occurring. For example, if your group is heavily weighted toward psychologists and collaborators, you’ll have insights on why everyone likes each other but might struggle to come up with ridiculously exciting ideas or manage the barriers to executing them.
The exercise shows you where you need to shore up your team. This could be with input from people in other parts of your company who have the archetypes you lack or through new hires.
Becoming a more cohesive, innovative content marketing team doesn’t have to be overwhelming. One degree of change in your perspective on new ideas and who can bring them to the table can make a 180-degree change in the quality and efficiency of your output.
The shift from focusing solely on roles to taking a broader view of archetypes will help you quickly develop greater alignment across your team. And alignment is how you turn an ordinary content marketing team into an extraordinary one.