How do I develop my content development team?

Tom DiMartini | 06/21/2016

How do I develop my content development team?

Please let me start by saying one thing: I’ve got the best team of eLearning professionals with whom I have ever worked. They’re collaborative, they work extremely hard, have a passion for their position and the business, and they make coming to work an absolute joy every day. I just have one question: How did it ever get this way? It’s quite funny. They are different in just about every way. Novice, intermediate, experienced. Different backgrounds, different interests, different goals. Some creative, some in-the-box thinkers. I sometimes wonder how they even get along. They all seem to be open to criticism, sometimes harsh criticism, from each other. Is this typical, or is this unique? Or did I just get lucky?

And when I really think of it, maybe there are a few strategic ideas that I can pass on to my colleagues: 

Start with a 1-to-1.

The best 30-60 minutes you can ever give them, is the one-to-one chat. Nothing is recorded (unless you make a promise that you need to keep). As a matter of fact, bring no pen or paper. Just sit and listen. Listen to their professional goals – long and short term. Listen to their professional needs. Understand what they need to get better. Ask about the working environment, from their desk to the front door. Ask them how they would make things better. Ask about the team, how they get along and what they need to collectively raise their game. Then, ask them about your leadership. Allow them to be critical. If they say, “You’re the best manager I’ve had,” keep pressing. You obviously don’t walk on water, so what do you need to improve? If an answer is hard to come by, or if you are new to the group, ask them what they look for in a leader. If you take yourself out of the equation, they may be more open to share. Twelve years ago I had an employee tell me, “You’re not approachable.” Ever since that day, my door remains open and I make darn sure I “walk the room (even when the room is remote)” every day to just say, “Hello.” I’ve never heard that complaint since. Allow these talks to occur frequently.

Put their needs before yours.

Repeat after me: you serve them, they don’t serve you. Every action of every day should reinforce this mantra. It starts with the 1-to-1 and continues with open communication every day. Encourage transparency to allow for the free-form flow of communication and ideas.

Make their professional development real.

Professional development for my group has taken on a completely different look. First, they are given time to develop themselves professionally. Currently, it is at 2 ½ hours of recorded time per week. For example, we give them access to Lynda.com so they can take courses at their own pace. 

I set some ground rules around professional development. I encourage taking time out of their day to work on side projects that help to add a skill, increase their competency of a chosen tool, and/or can benefit the organization. We all know, that the latter is easy to obtain if they follow this path. Other ground rules include:

  • Professional Development projects must be pre-approved by me. Outline the project in detail. Submit the tools that you will use or need. Who will be on the team? (Working in teams of 2+ is highly encouraged!) How will this benefit the team members? How will this benefit the organization? Will it solve a problem or give us the ability to [fill in the blank]?
  • I will either accept it out right, reject it with modifications for acceptance (if they agree to the modifications, I’ll accept it), or reject it.
  • They can fit this in based on their schedules. That’s why I won’t structure a schedule of ½ hour periods each day. But they can’t take your full 2 ½ hours at once. One hour maximum per session. It’s up to them how it is scheduled.
  • They should include a high-level project plan that notes scheduled progress meetings with me.

Why the rules? Because they put the client first and then sacrifice themselves in that pursuit. Also, ad hoc “scheduling” usually never achieves anything.

Play to their strengths, while strengthening their weaknesses.

The 1-to-1 is a good way to identify and evaluate the individual talents of each team member, this way you can see how they all fit together. This is also a great indicator for identifying skill gaps that you can use to hire your next person, or on which to train your team today. From this information you can assign projects that use each person’s area of expertise. You will also be able to design individual development plans that can be used for the professional development plan outlined above. 

Not only will you set up team members for success, your clients will appreciate the results as well. So, how do you develop your teams?

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Tom DiMartini

Tom is Head of Production at Cursim

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