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Using Interim Managers

by Roderick McInnes


Why Teamwork Isn’t Dead

Most businesses working with an interim would be forgiven for thinking they are appointing a lone ranger type figure.

A common assumption is that an interim is a professional who doesn’t do teamwork, who fixes problems, implements change, then quietly walks off into the sunset.

A survey we conducted earlier this year indicated this is far from the truth. Interims are team players, with 68% of respondents having worked in an interim team in 2014. It will be interesting to see the results of our 2015 survey.

Teamwork And The Interim Team

Even interims that aren’t part of a team don’t work in a vacuum. They engage with various business functions as they fulfill their remit. Interim teams, however, are a different proposition. These are teams of specialists, often brought in due to their wide range of skills and experiences. Interims are appointed to solve problems, deliver change management, rescue organisations from difficult positions, or step in to fill a temporary, sometimes unexpected, vacancy.

There are a few things worth considering when assessing whether to employ an interim team, which means considering how to put teamwork at the heart of your strategy.

  1. A Mission Statement

Working with interims usually happens when an organisation lacks the in-house talent to deliver a project internally. There can be numerous reasons for this: an opportunity, challenging circumstances, gaining a foothold in a market or country, difficulty implementing change, an unexpected leadership vacuum, or a dozen other situations that require an outsider’s perspective or new talent, of some description.

At this point, a company can be faced with three choices: appoint a consultancy, recruit new staff or work with an interim.

We have talked about interims compared to consultancies in a previous article, so for the sake of argument let’s assume you want to weigh up the pros and cons of an interim team.

Firstly, this means assessing current teams and respective workloads, to be sure there is not, realistically, the resources to solve your specific problem internally. Avoiding a ‘them vs. us’ mentality, when bringing in interims is important since interim teams will need cooperation from functional managers when driving forward the change you need.

Empower them with a mission statement that gives the interim team sufficient latitude to accomplish your goals. Ensure you have buy-in from the relevant managers and departments; make sure the path has been cleared before they land. Most interim teams are there to deliver specific projects, which is easier without them taking departmental crossfire, or worse, a prolonged siege before they can achieve anything of value.

  1. A Singular Deployment

There are two ways to recruit an interim team: on demand, or deployed like a special forces team, in one go. A team with a singular purpose, a clear mission statement and recruited at the same time, for this reason, has a greater chance of success.

Whilst interims are not ego-driven since they don’t set out to establish political turf or dominate departments, recruiting at the same time bonds interims more closely, before they deliver value.

  1. Appoint a Leader

Interim teams need a clear chain of command. It will help ensure success to have in an interim team leader, a first amongst equals, to drive the mission forward, and a single point person for the organisation. This way ego clashes are avoided and everyone has a role to play within the team.

  1. Ensure Ongoing Engagement

An effective team isn’t a unit kept apart from internal teams. The most successful interim teams are their own unit, whilst being embedded, or at least a functioning part, of other teams within your organisation.

The aim of most project-based teams will be to leave a working legacy that can be implemented going forward, either by a permanent team that they will help hire and train, or in the case of change management, by your existing staff, throughout the organisation.

This should mean that training and handover of intellectual property is an ongoing process. When interim teams leave without passing on new procedures or knowledge, it can leave organisations questioning the value of their involvement. Lines of communication, within the company should be established and actively maintained by all members of the interim team.

  1. Assess Cultural Fit

Cultural fit is a key consideration, when hiring any new member of staff. The same applies when working with an interim team. When assessing team candidates, make sure to ask the right questions to ensure there’s a strong values alignment. There’s nothing worse than finding values and egos clash, since at senior levels that can lead to costly disagreements and a dysfunctional working relationship, the opposite of teamwork.

  1. Provide Ongoing Feedback

Interim teams are comprised of self-starters, who are skilled at making decisions and leading other teams. However, leaving them in the jungle to fight without support and feedback could result in them getting bogged down in difficult situations when a simpler route exists.

Don’t ignore the fact that engagement works both ways. Interims will come armed with questions, but not all will cover the knowledge transfer they will need to be successful. Institutional expertise can help guide interims when they need it, but those in leadership roles mustn’t stick too rigidly to their usual ways of doing things either; since that’s one key advantage from working with interims.

Here are some of the key points to remember when using a team of interims:

  • Give them a mission statement: Big enough goals to provide a challenge and demonstrate a clear case for working with interims;
  • Recruit and deploy a team together, giving them the ability to bond in the early days of the mission;
  • Ensure the team has a leader and a clear chain of command within your organisation;
  • At the same time, dont silo them. An interim team should be embedded within existing team frameworks, to ensure knowledge transfers are happening ongoing;
  • Ensure theres a strong cultural fit between the team, organisations values and those they will be working closest with;
  • Provide ongoing feedback, to ensure everyone is on the same page and the mission is going according to plan.

Do you think teamwork is dead? What has your experience of working in, or managing teams been like? We value your views and opinions so please leave a comment below and share your experience.

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About the Author

Roderick McInnes

Roderick is responsible for all aspects of the marketing and communications mix, ensuring Alium maintains its market position as the leading provider of interim and transformation talent in the UK and internationally.

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