Dedicated Project Teams: How Internal Gigs Close the Skills Gap
What is a dedicated project team?
Dedicated project teams, or dynamic teams, are temporary teams formed to accomplish a specific task over a defined period of time. The most innovative companies are using these flexible team structures to allow their employees to explore new career interests and create career development opportunities. Dedicated project teams also allow companies to accomplish greater business goals, including building new products, bringing innovations to market, and outsmarting the competition during times of talent scarcity.
As more people are joining the gig economy in the pursuit of diverse experiences, organizations can look at dedicated project teams as a way to create internal gig experiences—encouraging employees to remain at the organization. Internal gigs may be the answer to both the need for employees to continuously reskill and the demand for organizations to support those efforts with meaningful experiences.
Hard skills and soft skills development
“Skills” is the new buzzword in HR. The World Economic Forum names complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity among the top skills required of global leaders by 2020. The critical skills your employees must have in the near and distant future may be difficult to predict; all we know for certain is they are changing. To remain relevant, employees must continuously reskill, and organizations hoping to attract and retain the best talent will be the ones that provide systems and tools for employees to recognize and build their skills.
When HR leaders think of skill-building tools, most likely think of traditional training tools, such as LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, or Skillsoft. But, what we know from the 70/20/10 learning model is that most skills are learned on-the-job. We also know that people who are able to apply new learning in context retain their new knowledge and are more likely to apply it in the future. At the same time, companies that are growing exponentially have more work than people to complete it and, as a result, are demanding more from the employees they do have.
Internal gigs solve talent gaps
Google famously built internal gigs into their 80/20 work-time concept beginning in 2004, allowing their employees to spend 20 percent of their time exploring creative ideas. It led to some of the best Google product innovations such as Google News, Gmail, and AdSense. While Google has recently stopped formally using this process, citing the need to have a more structured means of innovation, the idea continues to be implemented successfully in other forward-thinking companies.
One RiseSmart customer uses internal gig teams to address needs that arise in the organization that weren’t included in the initial business strategy. Participants pursue areas they are passionate about and willing to put in extra effort above their regular responsibilities, which must be maintained. Feedback channels are open between the internal gig team leads and the company’s leadership to ensure the efforts of the team are attributed to the individuals on the gig team.
Toyota and GE have also used a form of internal gigs, rotational assignments, to integrate recent college grads into their organizations while providing opportunities for those new to the business world to explore their expanding interests. While the rotational assignment models of the past continue to hold value for many companies, all great ideas evolve.
Implementing internal gigs
If you’re thinking that internal gigs might be a solution to some of your organizational challenges, here are five steps to help you implement a more agile team model at your company:
Step one: Recognize and publicize where internal gigs already exist in your organization.
No doubt internal gigs are already happening at some level in your organization. There are people in your organization known as those who “get things done” and they’re likely frequently tapped with additional assignments. Mine your internal information networks to capture some of the stories of development already happening and capture best practices. Publicize these wins as a way to encourage the practice to spread to other managers and business areas.
Step two: Create a cultural imperative for managers.
Managers who are unprepared to allow their people to explore career options will be major roadblocks to all career development initiatives. If you’ve tried unsuccessfully to institute a mobile workplace initiative, it’s likely that mid-level managers were at odds over “talent poaching” and other outdated attitudes toward internal gigs. Unless all managers are held accountable for encouraging team members to seek out and respond to requests to join dynamic teams for specialized projects, internal battles and politicking will cause initiatives to fail and employees to leave your organization.
When companies allow individual managers to restrict mobility, employees will not feel safe enough to look for internal opportunities for career growth. Companies who allow this type of behavior are, in fact, telling employees that their interests and career development goals are not important. Ask your executive team to take a firm stance and communicate to mid-level managers that talent sharing is in the best interest of achieving overall company goals, and most importantly, retire the term “poaching” from the company vernacular.
Step three: Create non-comprehensive job descriptions.
If your company still has current job descriptions (and more companies are walking away from this practice), consider leaving space in them for responsibilities that can’t be predicted today. Giving employees partial job descriptions ensures critical tasks will be completed while allowing employees to discover innovations and news ways of contributing. As an added benefit, employees who are interested in their work are likely to be more productive overall.
Step four: Provide managers with some simple guidelines for forming project teams.
While the idea of forming internal gigs may seem intuitive, take the guess work out of the process by providing best practices to managers who may want to participate, but may not be sure how to form and launch a gig team. Providing them with a simple framework and easy process will help get them started.
When you provide guidelines for establishing internal gigs, include information about how to:
- Make the project time-based
- Identify a specific objective for the gig team to accomplish
- Set measurable goals and methods to measure success
- Establish a simple set of required skills (no more than 3 – 5)
- Build a team based on the stated skills and goals
Step five: Develop a company-wide system to promote internal gigs
This is an important step to ensure equal access. Often gigs are promoted through established networks, which tend to favor employees who are more networked and presumably more outgoing. To ensure your initiatives are inclusive, companies must promote internal gigs in a way that communicates opportunities to all employees. Consider adapting your internal ATS process to include internal gigs, allowing projects and roles to be promoted to all employees, regardless of department or geography. You can also use less formal—but equally inclusive—methods of promoting internal gigs, such as internal communications tools like Slack, SharePoint, or Yammer.
Creating a culture of development begins when people have the space to explore, managers encourage exploration, and HR has the processes in place to ease mobility. Instituting a culture that uses internal gigs to solve discrete challenges allows your company to uncover the hidden gems of talent that might go undiscovered otherwise. Giving employees opportunities to follow their interests and build skill through internal gigs is not only a way to engage people, increase retention and attract the best talent, it is a great way for organizations to remain competitive and innovative and readily fill talent gaps.