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How to Motivate and Manage Web Teams

Posted on 7.07.2016

:: By Gareth Simpson, @SimpsonGareth ::


A website is only as good as the team behind it. So what can a manager do to boost morale and help team members work more productively? Are technical team members inspired in the same way as creatives?

Don’t let your digital asset spiral out of control because of bad management. Let’s take a look at some effective methods and strategies to motivate and manage Web teams.

Set realistic boundaries, but avoid personal ones 

“Realizing a vision within a framework requires true creativity.”

Boundary-setting can actually be a huge motivator for better creative work. People think that the imagination always needs limitless space to operate; the truth is that sometimes creativity needs boundaries and limits to be able to function properly. Remind people of budgets, deadlines and capabilities, not because you want to rain on their parade, but because you know that the rain will ultimately bear fruit. Remember, you can’t throttle people with negative boundaries if you can’t then justify them.   

Make sure writers and designers are aware of the cost implications of development time, but don’t always make product development the bearers of bad news. Resentment can fester between different departments if one has to always set boundaries for the other. It’s your job to set realistic boundaries that hinge on external factors like time, budget and scope. Avoid the personal.

Smart goal-setting for better workflow 

Targets help projects move forward and pace the workflow. This is especially important for a Web project; if left to themselves they seem to inch forward for ages, then suddenly start hurtling at uncontrollable velocity. 

Goal-setting is also important for team morale. If one section of the team is lagging behind, they will slow the entire project. Web goals need to work across teams- there is no point having a content team charging miles ahead of the development team. 

When setting goals consider the following:

How are targets and goals communicated to the team?

Are there any consequences for missing a target or goal?

Who is responsible for goals? How invested are people in reaching them?

How are goals monitored or measured?

How can you make your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic & Timely)? 

Facilitate communication

Work gets unnecessarily duplicated if digital teams don’t communicate. Maybe a design didn’t get to development in time, or content came in on a design project too late. Don’t let this happen to your team by facilitating collaboration and communication. 

Make sure everyone is properly introduced and prepped before they start their work.

Use online team management tools to lighten the email inbox load. Encourage cross-team adoption and monitor activity. 

Have meetings- whether that’s a daily standing meeting, SCRUM or a big weekly update- it’s your choice. Whatever you do, make sure you think of meetings carefully and allocate time sensibly- time-wasting meetings won’t be popular.

Make sure every department has a voice in team decisions. 

Give everyone space

Communication is key, but don’t be one of those oversharing families.

Recognize the importance of interpersonal relationships and connections, but appreciate that the varied nature of Web teams (developers, writers, designers, SEOs, etc.) means that people have different preoccupations. Don’t force everyone to join in with the Friday night drinks if that’s just not their bag and they have other ways they'd like to spend their time. 

Clarify roles, delegate responsibilities 

Whether your Web project is informed by a complex governance schedule, or is much smaller, roles and responsibilities will need to clearly defined.

Recognize that roles will stay, but responsibilities may change. A developer may need to help with SEO, or a writer will need to help with images. Explain responsibility changes clearly.

Don’t let anyone’s role become too divorced from what they were hired to do.

Avoid having conflicting roles or have a flat management structure to avoid confusion.

Don’t forget that remote workers also need to feel part of the team. Make sure they are included in any larger strategic discussions or meetings and give them space to feedback and contribute regardless of where they are located. 

Be mindful of team dynamics

A disparate group of people with different skillsets are thrown together in a short space of time to complete a project under pressure. This can be tough on team dynamics. 

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with the terms "forming, storming, norming and performing" in 1965 (later adding “adjourning”) to describe how teams are formed. Be mindful of this team timeline when assessing performance, but don’t get so caught up in analyzing your team’s micro-culture that you lose sight of the individuals. 

Manage less to motivate better 

Micromanaging a Web project is never a good idea, so don’t fall into this trap. 

A classic models of motivation, Douglas McGregor’s X and Y people, explains how motivating teams often means managing them less. Traditional management models often assume workers are demotivated X people who need constant pushing and surveillance. But in fact by micromanaging in this way, you are not giving the motivated Y worker have enough space and autonomy. It’s worth checking whether you are motivating your team to work as Ys, or micromanaging people down to become Xs. Know when to step back. 

Foster the right (positive) team culture

Positive motivational attitude isn’t just pop psychology- it works. Whether you create mood boards, offer team incentives or use daily inspirational quotes to remind people of where the team should be headed - the choice is yours. Have people share their motivational stories and make motivation a part of your team culture. Don’t dismiss the value of positivity, and embrace humor when you all need to have a laugh and take a step back. 

Know your team, but motivate the individual

Address motivation on an individual level too. How to set goals and provide feedback will be governed by what each team member is seeking to get out of the project, both personally and professionally. Do they want acknowledgement? Autonomy? Team recognition? Acceptance? Adjust your management techniques accordingly. 

Recognize that career development and people plans are important in the Web worlds. Digital skillsets are highly sought after - if you don’t reward people well, they will walk for an organization that will. 

Reconsider your role as a manager

Don’t manage your Web team like a 1950’s ad exec in a pinstripe suit sipping whiskey.

It’s important to rethink the ‘traditional’ role of managers within a digital framework. From the tech giant Google to Ryan Carson at Treehouse, managers are being removed and flat management structures implemented instead. You might not be able to do away with management, but consider whether you could give teams more ownership to innovate without you. 

Consider Outcomes

Don’t forget to think of the next steps. After all, a lot of the team will need to keep working the go-live date. Have a strategy in place for post go-live promotion and Web launch PR. Think beyond the end of the Web project to the future of your team. 

Managing and motivating a Web team is about drawing a fine line between autonomy and project outcomes. What do you think every good Web manager has in common? 


Gareth Simpson is a SEO Consultant based in Bristol, UK. Prior to going freelance, Gareth worked for an agency, managing their clients’ digital marketing campaigns. You can learn more about him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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