Let's call it the freelancer collaboration question: you're working on an important project, and you've put the best team in place. The need for a special skill set means that bringing in a freelancer seems like an attractive idea. You wonder, however, just how well the person you bring in will be able to work with your team. Will the results be better than what you could accomplish in-house, on your own?
To start, let's look at why you put your team together in the first place. First of all, there's greater creativity in numbers. Teams can offer more, working together, than individuals can on their own. Dr. Keith Sawyer argues this in his book "Group Genius: the Creative Power of Collaboration" when he asks: "What’s the magical chemistry that happens when a team improvises in response to every move by their opponents, without saying a word, and wins the game? The answer can’t be found in the skill or creativity of any one player; the entire group makes it happen."
The idea that better solutions come from greater numbers is a business model that's catching on just about everywhere. More and more, companies are relying on a wider approach, looking for new ideas and new input from as broad a range as possible. Sometimes, it's internal; in India, for instance, the IT services company Accenture has put into place a program called IdeaHarvester where all its employees, over five hundred thousand of them, can share their insights into what might serve to improve the company overall. Talking to the Economic Times, Accenture’s Mohan Sekhar, said: "The program is about cultural change. We need to lead in innovation and all our programs – from Accenture Labs to our initiatives with colleagues, employees and customers – are focused on this."
Every team can use a hand now and then
All the same, no matter how good your team is, there are limits to what they can do, and that's not just because of their knowledge inventory or their skill set is big enough. A team that's been working together for a while starts to suffer from a phenomenon called "groupthink", a syndrome first described by Dr. Irving Janis in the early 1970s. Janis realized that tightly knit groups who are working together towards common goals can come to value group agreement so much, they suppress any desire they might feel to dissent from the majority opinion. (It's a "go-along-to-get-along" mindset). When this happens, groups lose their creative edge, and all the benefits that come with working together rather than as individuals go out the window. Of course, not all teams suffer from "groupthink" to a crippling degree, but nearly all groups that have worked closely together for a while will end up sacrificing innovative thinking in favor of mutual agreement.
An outside advantage
Enter the freelancer who, even while joining the project team and embracing its common goals, contributes a fresh approach and an outsider's insight to help restore the benefits of working in numbers. What's more, the freelancer has seen many different ways of approaching and executing projects, having participated in a much wider range of activities and in a greater variety of creative environments, and has a better understanding of what works best in any given situation. A fresh set of eyes is always helpful, but a set of eyes with a greater scope of experience and no restraining commitment to doing things the way "they've always been done" is even more valuable, and not just because the results for that one project will be better. Freelancers can help upskill your team, sharing their knowledge and leaving the in-house group with more tools of their own for their next endeavor.
A question of integration
The benefits of fresh new thinking are pretty clear to all, but you don't normally hire a freelancer to stimulate change, no matter how helpful that change might be, or to impart new talents. You hire them because they have the skills you need for the task or project at hand. Still, project leaders may worry whether freelancers will not be able to get up to speed in time, work with all the different systems that are already in place, understand the company's unique needs, interact effectively with those already in place and integrate their work with the existing technology.
Well, in point of fact, this is exactly what freelancers do. If you're wondering if someone who makes their living working in close cooperation with hundreds of different individuals across dozens of companies on projects of different scales or timeframes will be able to communicate effectively with your team, work with your in-house systems and assimilate knowledge of your company quickly, the answer is yes. Freelancers are experts at working well with others, many others, straight from introductions on. Why? Because they have to be, if they want to succeed in their field. They're worked with many different systems, companies and approaches so, on the rare occasions when they do encounter something totally new, they're quick studies of company cultures, new industries, new technologies and novel products. What's more, they can provide real tactical support; they can, for instance, help with process mapping in situations where their experience outstrips that of the team.
Today's freelancers constitute a unique talent pool, a resource ripe for synergies. In the "The Handbook of Research on Freelancing and Self-Employment", Michel Syrett notes that: "Every organisation should consider how it can widen its access to talent. The proportion of employees who will do what it currently takes to climb the corporate ladder is shrinking... People at the periphery consist of those who have opted for part-time, self-employed or contract work from choice and not necessity and who possess skills that previously would have been confined to the core." In , published in the Harvard Business Review in 2012, Jody Greenstone Miller and Matt Miller pointed out that a particular class of freelancers was taking up a new position in the work world: “They’re increasingly trusted by corporations to do mission-critical work... super-temps are growing in number and we think they’re on the verge of changing how business works.”
A two-way street
To get the most out of anyone that you hire to do a job, you have to trust the person and the skill set that you're hiring, and you have to invest in onboarding them, too. In one sense, freelancers are just like your in-house team. They're talented workers trying to bring value to the company, and the effort you make to integrate them, along with the work you do to ensure that the right architecture and documentation are in place and that the freelancer has appropriate access to it, will pay off handsomely. At the same time, freelancers are already experts in their field; that's why you've called them in. Nonetheless, the more integrated you allow them to become, the more effective they will be. In any case, you'll always get more than just the help that freelancers can provide in their area of expertise because collaboration is, in fact, at the heart of freelancing. With communication skills that they've honed over scores of projects, and with adaptability and agility as core components of their job description, freelancers are ideal project partners who will leave any in-house team that they work with richer for the experience.