At Business Talent Group (BTG), we’ve seen the rise of high-end independent talent power a new path to organizational agility and performance. We’ve also seen companies stumble while trying to make the most of this formidable resource. In this series, we’ll share best practices that we’ve honed across 10+ years of work with F1000 companies—and help business leaders unlock the real promise of on-demand talent.
One of the biggest benefits independent consultants offer is the ability to quickly integrate with your existing team and workflow. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to manage freelancers. There’s an art to supervising blended teams that mix internal with external resources, and it’s crucial to getting results. Freelancers are an extension of your team, after all, and the better a team works together, the more successful they are in reaching their goals.
Your in-house team is looking at their long-term prospects at the company. They’re exposed to internal politics. And they possess a high level of knowledge about the organization (which can also contribute to any baggage that they’re carrying).
Freelancers, on the other hand, are focused on a specific, short-term goal. Unless you’ve worked with them before, they probably don’t know a whole lot about the way things are done at your company. But if you can’t successfully integrate them into the in-house team, you won’t get maximum value from their expertise.
Here are a few things you can do to successfully manage freelancers.
What Executives Can Do
1. Make it easy for everyone to apply their expertise
By giving everyone a clear way to contribute, you inspire ownership while preventing duplicate work.
Cultivating successful blended teams starts by carefully defining your mission and rallying everyone around it. Encourage the team to get to know each other, since they won’t have worked together as a unit before. This helps promote communication and makes it easier for your external resources to fit themselves into the day-to-day operations of the full-timers.
Don’t forget that your consultants rely on you for the things they need to be successful. Outsiders often have to get the visible endorsement of the boss. Start by making sure your internal team understands the importance of the project and when and how they should pitch in. Then, help your consultants understand what resources are at their disposal. Connect them with people who can offer insight into current processes. And point them to previous research so that they aren’t flying blind or duplicating past efforts.
Finally, make yourself personally available. Your consultants might be smart, but they’ll need your help to understand the finer points of the business.
2. Be clear about deliverables
Set clear timelines, milestones, and roles for everyone involved in the project.
Designate a team lead, and communicate early and often about what you need and how you expect everyone to work together. Reconfirm individual commitments throughout the project and adjust accordingly as priorities and pacing change.
Defining roles and deliverables can be especially difficult when you are working on a large, long-term project like a post-merger integration or a complex business transformation. In those situations, it can be helpful to apply a formal management framework like Agile to facilitate a clearer process for evaluating and assessing progress. Learn as you go, and keep communication channels open to facilitate ongoing feedback.
3. Plan ahead
Task one person on the team with thinking through what happens once the project is complete.
Plotting next steps is especially important for blended teams. Why? Because some people may move on once the project is over, leaving you with little recourse if questions come up afterwards. If you are working on a strategy, for instance, make sure that you’ve determined what you’ll need to implement it. Is a deck with recommendations enough, or should you develop a more detailed playbook? What about training materials? Will you need to reconfigure people’s job descriptions, compensation, or incentives? How else can you bring your full-time employees along and facilitate knowledge transfer?
These are questions that should be answered well in advance of the project’s completion, leveraging the input of your independent consultants and your understanding of your own team’s capabilities and preferences.
What Companies Can Do
1. Make it easy for independents to hit the ground running
Have a detailed onboarding process in place for independent contractors.
Independent consultants can be an awkward fit for companies whose buying channels have been optimized for large professional services firms and contingent labor partners. Maintaining a thoughtful onboarding process will help you make sure they are set up to hit the ground running—and deliver maximum value. A smart plan should include:
- How to enter your facility
It may sound obvious, but if your consultants are working on-site, you’ll need to make sure they have what they need to access your facilities.
- How to securely access your systems
Project security should be established in advance, along with how team members both internal and external will access and share information.
- How to understand company operations
Give your consultants detailed information about your company—org charts, business processes and templates, and any documents you might have about cultural and ethical commitments. This isn’t a matter of courtesy; it’s about enabling your external resources to help you more efficiently.
2. Share company-specific best practices
Help executives understand what others at your company have done to promote project success.
Corporate executives have varying levels of experience and sophistication when it comes to working with independent consultants. Help them facilitate a strong team dynamic not just by sharing best practices, but by promoting the experiences of others at your company. How have others maximized value and minimized institutional roadblocks? What else have your company’s first movers in this space done to succeed with blended teams?
Leah Hoffmann is BTG's Marketing & Content Strategist. A former journalist, Leah worked for Forbes.com and The Economist before joining BTG. She is passionate about clear thinking, sharp writing, and strong points of view.