Interim Teams: How to Make Them Work for Your Business
Appointing a team of interim managers isn’t easy, but done properly, it can be well worth the effort. Here’s what to consider to make sure the decision is rewarded.
Interims are often seen as a lone rangers. Specialised professionals who fix problems, with help of no one but the highly experienced voice in their brain.
But sometimes businesses need the help of more than just one person, which is where interim teams come in. These are collections of specialists, often with a wide range of skills and experiences. They have capacity that doesn’t exist within the business as it stands.
Employing an entire team of interims sounds like a big step, and it is. There is a lot of investment and risk involved. But with the right planning, thought and strategy, an interim team can be the just the thing your organisation needs.
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: find a consultancy, recruit new staff or work with an interim.
For the sake of the 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 among 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 a values and egos clash after you have hired someone. At senior levels this can lead to costly disagreements and dysfunctional working relationships, the opposite of teamwork.
6. 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.
- Provide a clear 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, don’t silo them. An interim team should be embedded within existing team frameworks, to ensure knowledge transfers are happening ongoing;
- Ensure there’s 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.