Great comms teams: the 5 essential ingredients

“Italian food is all about the ingredients, and it’s not fussy and it’s not fancy.”Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck

Our work brings us into contact with communications teams of all sizes across government, charities, the NHS and universities. But what makes for a great comms function? Like the finest Italian dishes, the best teams we meet stand out for some very simple ingredients.

It isn’t their technical skills, their approach to managing projects or the size of their budgets that define great teams for us, although all of these things matter. Most of the qualities that mark out the great from the good stem from attitude, outlook and culture.

The great teams...

  1. Know their priorities and keep them front and centre: Comms teams are working harder than ever before. The best teams we see are clear about the ‘big picture’: what they’re there to achieve, what their priorities are and whether they’re meeting their objectives. It sounds simple, but it’s easy to lose sight of this when juggling the demands of a 24/7 news cycle, social media and the needs of internal departments. 
  2. Learn from their successes: Taking time out to reflect on what’s working well can seem like a luxury when life is busy. We also have a tendency to focus our analytical powers on the problems we see. The best teams are good at building on success and replicating what works. Watch Dan Heath’s convincing account of why you should focus on ‘bright spots’ during times of change here.
  3. Work collaboratively: Good communications is intuitive, and very often finding the answers to difficult comms problems depends on collaboration with other departments. Organisations are not well-served when their comms function becomes purely a service department at the beck and call of others, or equally when comms takes on an overly controlling role. Some of the most creative activity we’ve seen has been devised by comms and policy colleagues working hand-in-hand. 
  4. Build trust and understanding: No matter how good you are, without buy-in from the top your team’s influence internally will always be limited. The best teams talk regularly to senior management to ensure they understand what they’re trying to achieve, and to explain what’s needed from them in turn. It’s the informal face-to-face conversations that count as much as the meetings, written strategies and plans.
  5. Stay close to their audience: The best teams know who they need to engage with to meet their objectives. Whether it’s through formal research or more informal means, they take the time to understand their audiences.

Our quick test might help your team take an objective look at the way you work and identify any areas for development. 

We can’t all be fine Italian chefs, but it’s helpful to remind ourselves that success in comms is often about “simple” winning formulas and good working relationships, rather than “fussy” products and “fancy” activity.