How to Manage Freelancers—And The Internal Teams They Support

November 15, 2023 Summer Foote

One of the biggest benefits independent talent offer is the ability to seamlessly collaborate with your existing team, but there’s an art to managing blended teams that mix internal with external resources—and it’s crucial to getting results.

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).

Independents, 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. You can maximize the value of your engagement by making sure the talent is equipped to work well with your team.

Here are a few things you can do to set them up for success.

Clarify policies and processes with robust onboarding

Logistics shouldn’t be an afterthought. Clarify payment terms and provide essential training, documents, and resources up front.

Independent talent are prepared to jump right in and integrate into your project teams and company culture. That said, they won’t know your policies or processes until you tell them. By preparing them prior to onboarding, they’ll be able to get to work that much faster and more efficiently. Your pre-onboarding package should cover, at a minimum:

  • Technology needs, such as a company laptop, server access, building pass, etc.
  • Important style guides, templates, access to internal tools and systems, and any documentation related to internal onboarding
  • Payment terms and processes, including invoice portal setup info and PO requirements
  • Corporate forms related to information security, NDAs, or a supplier code of conduct

It’s also important to make sure you’re supporting your talent with necessary resources and feedback. Specific considerations include:

  • Timely access to relevant data and documentation, with access to project-specific data and materials provided within the first week
  • Regular meetings with and ongoing access to team members and stakeholders
  • Access to existing frameworks and timelines
  • Timely review of deliverables, with direct feedback from a single dedicated sponsor
  • Ability to review past findings, the current state and desired future state, and related metrics and roadmaps

Due to compliance requirements, a true interim leader may need to be an employee of you or your on-demand talent vendor. If employee status is required, factor in more lead time to the onboarding process.

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 independents 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 talent understand what resources are at their disposal. Connect them with people who can offer insight into current processes so they aren’t flying blind or duplicating past efforts.

Finally, make yourself personally available. Your independent talent might be smart, but they’ll need your help to understand the finer points of the business.

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. Structuring the contract on a milestone basis (with specific dates) can also help better track outcomes. Keep an eye out for scope creep, and make sure your talent provider amends the contract if that happens.

Learn as you go, and keep communication channels open to facilitate direct, ongoing feedback beyond just KPIs. If you’re working with BTG, we engage in those conversations every step of the way as part of our project oversight. This helps ensure expectations remain aligned across teams, from start to finish.   

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?

On the other hand, there are plenty of benefits to reengaging your current talent for additional work. You might want to have them work on subsequent stages of the current project or elsewhere in the organization in support of a different project. In either case, they’re already familiar with your leadership, goals, and processes, making for a seamless transition. If you do want to reengage them, though, you’ll want to secure their availability early, because they could already be considering other opportunities.

These are all things to be considered well in advance of the project’s completion, leveraging the input of your independent talent and your understanding of your own team’s capabilities and preferences.

Make it easy for independents to hit the ground running

Have a detailed onboarding process in place for independent contractors.

Independent talent 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 or connect virtually
    It may sound obvious, but if your independent talent are working on-site, you’ll need to make sure they have what they need to access your facilities, including any door codes, key cards, or badges. With off-site work and blended schedules being the new norm, it’s also important to outline your company’s preferred virtual meeting applications and practices.
  • 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 independents detailed information about your company—including 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.
  • Whom to contact for specific needs
    This list should include contact information for all key contacts within the organization, along with their titles. Note which contacts the talent needs to speak to at the commencement of their project work. By providing this list up front, they can get started that much sooner.

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 talent. 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?

Looking for more tips? Get our Guide to Working with On-Demand Talent

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