Illustration of a woman holding up a picture of her team

Not-so-breaking news: we work in the era of the personal brand. With the social media-fication of our communication styles and the dismantling of the forty-years-of-service-gets-a-gold-watch commitment between employers and employees, we’re required to be hyper-conscious of how we present our professional selves to the wider world.

Maybe-breaking-news-if-you’re-a-tad-self-centered: your personal brand isn’t only about you. In a professional context, your personal brand is an amalgamation of the companies you’ve worked for, the role you have now, the experiences that led you there, and (note my italics here) the achievements you’ve amassed not by being a lone genius, but by collaborating with others.

Add it all up, and what people see on your LinkedIn profile isn’t your personal brand, per se. It’s the brands of the teams you’re part of – from ad-hoc project teams, all the way up to the team that is the entire company. And if you manage those team brands effectively it can provide tremendous value for your career.

Kobe, there’s no ‘I’ in team.

– Shaquille O’Neal

I know, but there’s an ‘M-E’ in that motherf*****.

– Kobe Bryant

It may seem counterintuitive to share the spotlight in the era of selfies, so let’s unpack how leading with your team brand helps enhance your personal one.

What is team branding, exactly?

Team branding is the process of shaping the perception others have of your team. It follows a similar arc to all brand management processes. You start with defining your team brand, which is really just how you want your team to be perceived based on collective skills, strengths, weaknesses, and personalities. Crafting this definition should be a collaborative effort to ensure an honest and aligned point of view.

From there, the team strives to live up to this perception in every way: how you work on projects, how you share successes, and yes, even how you show up to the office holiday party (if you can remember all the way back to when we did such things).

Benefit from your teammates’ strengths (while you shore up your weaknesses)

The first step is defining your team brand. For a personal brand, this definition is formed in isolation and reflects one point of view: yours. You may get input from mentors or allies, but ultimately, you’re crafting an idealized version of yourself that you hope others will see and appreciate.

Defining your team’s brand and your place within it removes the hope factor and allows you to understand what others do see. As teammates discuss the roles they play in relation to each other, they earn a sharper understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses.

Then, when individual strengths and weaknesses are bundled together and presented as the team’s collective capabilities, one person’s strengths mask another’s weaknesses. This gives everyone the benefit of a more positive perception while (and this is just a friendly suggestion here) they address their weaknesses behind the scenes.

Create a built-in accountability buddy

The thing about sharing your strengths through the lens of your brand is that you kinda have to live up to those strengths. And in this age of semi-anonymous screen-based snarking, woe betides those who don’t.

The bigger your company, the more likely that your team fields requests from colleagues you barely know. But if your team has a strong brand within the company, people will come to you because they know you by reputation and are confident you’ll deliver on the expectations set by your brand.

For my team, this means every request we receive is followed by imposter syndrome telling us we won’t be able to do it, that we’re not the experts they think we are, that the whole charade is collapsing around us. (Ok, ok, maybe that’s just me. But still!)

How to overcome impostor syndrome and discover the brag-worthy you

After a few deep breaths, the anxiety fades, and we get to work. And you know what? We tend to deliver. Not because we’re exceptional, but because the brand we present to our org reflects an honest assessment of what we can offer. The anticipation of “public” accountability keeps us grounded as we define and live by our team brand.

Take the awkwardness out of personal branding

Before my time at Atlassian, I ran an independent creative studio. Pitching for new business was crucial to our success, but it was a grind. I’m not wired for calling attention to myself (I’m the type who scrolls through Twitter every day but never actually tweets). So talking openly about what a great job I do was uncomfortable territory. 

The discomfort slipped away when we got a few projects under our belt and the story focused on our team, not me. Pitching our collective accomplishments and talents became a way for us to lift one another up while still kinda-sorta bragging about how great we were as individuals.

Such celebrations are a fundamental part of the team branding process. When anyone on the team experiences success, that success is shared loudly and widely by everyone on the team to boost the overall perception of the group. This alleviates the pressure to brag about your achievements to advance your career while facilitating a positive culture within the team.

Set yourself up for your next team

Unless you’re applying for the role of Wimbledon singles champion, the next job you’re after will require teamwork. When managers assess candidates for promotions or expanded roles, they certainly vet for individual skills and experiences. But when they get serious about the final few candidates, they’re almost certainly asking themselves one question above all: who will fit best in this team?

By leading with your team brand, you help them get to the answer. You know that case study you’re proud of that shows how you drove a gazillion dollars in revenue or infinite impressions? Everyone knows you didn’t do that alone. But by presenting it as a collective accomplishment – while highlighting your specific contributions – you paint a clearer picture of how you fit into a collaborative dynamic. 

Design thinking is the low-pressure way to figure out your career (and life)

And when you get that killer promotion, your old team will be sad you’re leaving, but remember what I said at the top: we’re in the era of job-hopping, which means they, too, are likely to switch teams in the not-too-distant future. By emphasizing team successes throughout these career movements, each team member becomes an advocate for the other, ultimately creating a network actively pushing each member towards greater individual achievement. One great big, happy team of teams.

3 exercises for building your team’s brand

At this point, you’re thinking “Developing my team’s brand sounds like a great investment, Robert! But how do I, like, do that?” As I mentioned earlier, the process should be a team effort, and requires the group to discuss their strengths, weakness, and aspirations in an open, honest, vulnerable way. There’s no one-size-fits-all process for an experience like that, but I’d recommend you block off a full day to focus on it. We have a few great exercises from the Atlassian Team Playbook you can build into the agenda:

  1. Roles and Responsibilities – This exercise clarifies why each person is on the team and what they’re responsible for. You’ll also uncover any gaps (either skills that aren’t represented on the team, or responsibilities that nobody owns). You’ll come away with a realistic picture of your team’s capabilities that will help you define an authentic team brand.
  2. Elevator Pitch – Not just for start-up founders anymore! The next step is to come up with a concise explanation of the work your team does and why it’s valuable. (Don’t stress if you’re not good with words. The instructions for this exercise include a template you can use.) Your goal here is to capture why your team stands out and how you can help other teams reach their goals. Remember to keep it real, though. Think “LinkedIn humblebrag”, not “Instagram airbrushing”.
  3. Communications Plan – Here’s where the rubber meets the road. This exercise takes you step-by-step through the strategy and execution of promoting your team’s work amongst your colleagues. You’ll think through questions like who your various audiences are, which communication channels are best for reaching them, what they need to hear, and how often they need to hear it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go “like” a few of my teammates’ tweets.

There’s no I in team, but there’s one in “team branding”