How to speed up team learning

December 2, 2020

Digital marketing can be incredibly effective, but there are a huge number of variables to consider, and content has to be successful at all levels of the content stack – including copy, structure, distribution and promotion – in order to generate revenue.

Plus: the environment is constantly changing. New channels become available, company positioning evolves, available resources expand or contract, and the product adds or removes features to satisfy customers.

As a result, successful marketing isn’t so much about being great at any one thing, though of course that helps. Instead, it’s about being responsive to changing conditions, and learning fast.

We recently read an article documenting what it’s like for surgical teams learning how to perform a new type of heart surgery. This new procedure is amazingly effective but the tech involved is unfamiliar, and much harder for surgical teams to learn.

In the study, the authors observed that this particular new technology “requires greater interdependence and communication among team members”, and that’s generally true when new technologies come on the scene. These surgeons couldn’t get a better outcome without communicating a lot more.

Neither can we as digital marketers. In digital marketing today, there’s just too much going on for any one person to be able to solve problems by themselves – creating the right content, editing it, posting it, and promoting it all require lots of specialized skills that are very difficult to find in one person. So establishing a shared understanding is key.

This often takes the form of a team board or a spreadsheet where team tasks are posted, together with their relative priorities and statuses. At Ercule, each meeting with clients is structured around a simple tracker, and even if we’re not touching a specific piece of content, we use the spreadsheet to guide a structured conversation around what’s happening.

The article also mentions an experimental and collaborative mindset as a key attribute of successful teams:

“Teams whose members felt comfortable making suggestions, trying things that might not work, pointing out potential problems, and admitting mistakes were more successful at learning a new procedure.”

It’s easy to think that we have a lot of data, and therefore we know what’s going on and don’t need to talk about it. Website traffic is going up – that’s good, right? But actually, having all the data kind of complicates the additional work. Website traffic might be going up, but we need to understand why. We need to understand whether it’s converting.

Discussion helps because we can think together about what the data is really telling us. We can figure out the little things that we can do to fix the problems we’re seeing. And an open discussion is also better for junior marketers, because then they feel more liberated to actually question what’s going on. (We often find that junior marketers are the ones who actually have the best idea about what we should be doing next.)


Successful teams don’t avoid mistakes. But in addition to being highly collaborative, and experimental, they structure their work so they can engage in real-time learning — analyzing and drawing lessons from the process while it’s under way. And they set things up explicitly so that learning can happen as fast as possible.

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