How to build happy and effective digital teams

We’re sharing the key takeaways from our talk at the Engaging Digital Comms conference on ‘Achieving Digital Zen: Why Less is More When it Comes to Successful Digital Strategies’.

We work with a wide range of purpose-driven organisations to deliver outstanding digital projects, and we often find that internal digital teams are stretched thin by competing sets of demands. This issue is particularly acute in the charity sector, where tight budgets cause small teams to be expected to handle many channels and support the needs of various departments. This can lead to stress and burnout, which causes poor outcomes for teams, and ultimately the organisation itself.

To show the way forward, we took to the stage at the Engaging Digital Comms conference (a conference for communications and digital professionals in the public sector, charities and higher education) to lay out how digital teams can take control and create better working practices to enable both better results and happier teams. This article conveys the key takeaways from our talk.

Digital teams are overstretched

We know from working with digital teams day-to-day that many face competing demands for their time from across the organisation. Our informal poll at the conference found that challenges such as feeling that projects are being chosen on a whim, not having clear priorities, and having too many systems to maintain all resonated strongly with digital practitioners in the charity sector.

Our informal poll isn’t very scientific, but more in-depth research corroborates it. The Workplace Wellbeing Index by the mental health charity Mind found that a quarter of staff feel their workload is unmanageable, with almost a fifth working 50 or more hours a week. It’s factors like this that lead to burnout and negative impacts on employees’ mental health.

Mental health in the workplace has become a hot topic in recent years, with initiatives like mental health first aiders being increasingly common. This kind of support is welcome, but often it is addressing only the symptoms, and not the cause of the problem.

Address the root cause of workplace stress

If an employee’s mental health is suffering because of the stress of an unrealistic workload, there’s only so much good that mental health support can do without tackling the underlying cause. With this in mind, we turned to research by ACAS into common causes of workplace stress. They identified seven key causes, which are:

  • High demands and workload
  • Lack of control
  • Insufficient support
  • Poor relationships
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities
  • Change without agency
  • Inadequate training

These seven issues can be effectively addressed by the five factors that make for digitally mature teams, which are:

  • Being user-centric
  • Simplifying technology
  • Fostering an open, supportive culture
  • Having a clear organisational strategy
  • Well-defined processes

Done right, digital maturity can reduce workplace stress by tackling its root causes.

Digital maturity solving workplace stress diagram

To create happier and more effective digital teams we recommend developing your level of digital maturity. This is a long process, but there are specific areas you can focus on to help your digital team take control, reduce stress and be more effective. We’ve identified three key steps you can take to achieve this; establish a digital vision, put a commissioning framework in place, and set your team's focus. In the rest of this article, we’ll lay out how to deliver each of these steps.

Establish a digital vision

Digital teams often suffer from competing demands that stem from a lack of understanding of the role at board level. To set a clearer organisational strategy and get buy-in on being user-centric, we recommend establishing a digital vision that your senior leadership signs off on. This lets you set out the long-term expectations of the role of the digital team, and what the organisation needs to do to allow it to work at peak efficiency.

Your digital vision should state clearly and succinctly how digital will deliver the mission of your organisation and what you require to deliver it. This lets you communicate to the rest of your organisation what you’ll be focusing on, so you can put a stop to distracting requests that sap your team’s energy.

If you’re struggling to engage your senior stakeholders read our guide on how to get buy-in for digital projects.

Commission wisely

Digital teams handle requests from across the organisation and prioritising them can be a major challenge. We recommend putting a digital commissioning framework in place to provide a clear structure and let you more effectively assess the value of potential digital projects. This lets you put the priorities you set in your digital vision into practice day-to-day.

Your digital commissioning framework can be tailored to the exact needs of your organisation, but it should aim to answer the following questions:

  • Which of our objectives will the project deliver?
  • Which of our user groups is it for?
  • What problem does it solve for them?
  • How do you know this is a real problem?
  • How will we know when it is working?
  • What resources will it require to create and maintain?

You can use our example project checklist as a template for your digital commissioning framework, or develop your own. Either way, this framework can be a useful tool that lets you score incoming requests objectively against whether they will help to deliver your digital vision. It also lets departments requesting new projects think through their requirements in a more structured way, ultimately leading to better briefs and better outcomes.

Set your focus with your team

High-performing teams have a very clear understanding of what is expected of them that is well-understood and documented.

So, once you’ve achieved buy-in from your SLT using your digital vision and established a commissioning framework, it’s time to bring your team together to establish what you do and, importantly, what you don’t do.

We’ve developed a worksheet you can use to establish your team’s 10 commandments for digital success. Answering these questions together is a useful exercise that lets everyone better understand the team's objectives and how they’ll be achieved.

Taken together, going through these three key steps will let you focus on what matters to drive the results your organisation values. It will let you push back on projects that waste your team’s time and stretch them too thinly, and it will make your team happier and less stressed, helping you retain and nurture talent.

If you want help to increase your organisation's digital maturity, our team can help. Book a call with Marie, our Head of Business Development, to discuss your objectives.