All teams – established or brand new – go through changes. At times, contractors need to be brought in to fulfil a specific need with their skills. This can be a real boon to your teams, if it’s handled well and there are plenty of benefits to bringing in contractors besides hitting company objectives.
For instance, integrated, engaged contractors will impart their knowledge and experience on the rest of your team – and build an affinity with your company that could last their entire career. We see this happen often in the world of DevOps, and many of the seasoned Atlassian contractors in our roster have become long-standing partners with most of the firms they’ve worked at.
But there’s always a flipside. Internal teams can feel undermined if the contractor’s role isn’t explained properly, which can impact integration and ultimately, project success. With clear communication and establishing trust in your team, everyone can feel more empowered at each stage of the team’s development.
But what exactly do we mean by team development?
In 1965, Bruce Tuckman outlined a four-phase model of group development:
All teams go through these phases more than once. Even established teams in stage 4 of the team development process will enter the cycle again (albeit partially) when a new member joins the team – and that includes when a contractor is onboarded.
Let’s look at this process more closely.
This is where everyone’s new – however experienced they are – to the task at hand. It’s a really exciting time, when everything’s fresh and interesting. But there can be a lack of direction, and as-of-yet unknown gaps in skills that need filling.
There’ll be lots of meetings, planning and questions; but the outcome should be a set of defined goals that set your team up for success.
Read more: How to set SMART goals
This is the phase where roles are established and clear goals are defined – to be refined later.
This can be a painful phase – a stormy one, if you will. This is where your team learns that the goals aren’t as easy as they seemed at first, and that several factors have been underestimated.
This is when it’s time to take stock and reflect on the goals: and make things as simple as possible. Adjust the project goals and milestones, and make each incremental step to success smaller.
Gaps in skills can become very obvious at this point. Onboarding a contractor at this phase can help, as long as the team arrives at the decision and is included in the discussions. Done correctly, without stepping on anyone’s toes, this can also build morale; bringing in a contractor can boost confidence rather than diminish it.
Towards the end of this phase, things really start coming together. The pain was worth it – because it led to team growth, development and a better sense of the collective goal.
As the name implies, this is where things start feeling “normal”. Everyone knows who’s responsible for what, where to go with any issues and how the process works.
The team has found its feet and productivity is high. There’s a sense of pride, and the quality and frequency of work is exceptional. These are the good times – long may they continue.
But if you take your eyes off the prize, and if you fail to monitor and check in with the team, then complacency can set in. Just because things are working now doesn’t mean they’re going to stay that way forever. With team growth and development, change is inevitable.
If goals are being met but not refreshed, a lack of direction or a sense of pointlessness can take hold. Engagement dips. Productivity falls. New hires are made to pick up the slack – but this is a dangerous scenario to onboard anyone into, not least a contractor.
Attrition is to be expected if this happens. So what can you do?
Listen diligently, but maintain distance. The team knows what they’re doing now, so check in regularly and give them what they need, when they need it – including upping capacity at peak times, or filling skill gaps by hiring contractors. Don’t spoil the vibe by micromanaging, but instead get feedback often. Keep your people engaged and keep them feeling refreshed – and you’ll maintain this flow into the fourth phase.
This is it. You’re established, scaling up and performing at a sustainable level. Your team trusts each other and management fully, and successes are celebrated together.
It’s not the end of the lifecycle; because with every new member who joins the team, there’ll be a little bit of onboarding (forming), learning the ropes (storming) and getting into a flow (norming) – for everyone in the team.
This is the late stage of team development. It’s a long road to get here – but it’s well worth the journey.
ClearHub specialises in finding the best Atlassian contractors to fit with your business at every stage of growth. Our talent pool is full of the brightest and best Jira and Confluence DevOps professionals, who can add value to your team in so many different ways.