What is a taskforce?
Taskforces bring people together for a limited period of time to focus on addressing specific problems across organisational or functional boundaries. They are an important part of the Australian Public Service (APS) landscape and are commonly used to tackle high-priority issues.
What it's like to work in a taskforce
Because taskforces need to meet an objective within an agreed timeframe, things tend to move faster than they do in your average branch. There will likely be periods of significantly high workloads, but with the reward of contributing to a tangible outcome at the end. It's important to consider your own circumstances and whether the taskforce environment is right for you at a particular point in time.
Taskforces may be formed by BAU staff members, but more often than not, they involve the creation of a whole new team to work together on an issue. These could be people from across your agency, or across the APS if it's an interagency taskforce. You'll likely be working with new people with different levels of experience and backgrounds. It's a great way to expand your networks and gain exposure to new ways of thinking and working that you may not always get in a traditional branch. This can be extremely beneficial for your career in the APS.
Many taskforces are brought together to produce work in a short period of time (three to six months) that may ordinarily take one to two years. This contributes to the fast-paced environment and may require a degree of agility from taskforce staff – you may work on one deliverable and then need to pivot to a new piece of work, depending on how your team is structured. If you're a fast learner and willing to pitch in to help achieve a team goal, taskforces are a great way to expand your skillset and gain experience in work that you may not have had the chance to do previously.
You've been asked to set up a taskforce, but you don't yet have an agreed scope or resources.
In this phase, you want to understand the problem your taskforce is addressing and use this to develop a clear and agreed scope and terms of reference. You should determine what your deliverables will be, and the timeframe for achieving them.
Getting your scope right will help you to identify the skills and expertise needed within your team, establish the right governance arrangements, and plan for the stakeholders you need to engage with. It will also enable you to set up your necessary administrative arrangements – including budget, accommodation and procurement.
Taskforce set up
You have a terms of reference and you're setting up a team.
With your scope now agreed, you need to source the right mix of skills and experience to make up your team. You also need to ensure your administrative and corporate arrangements, such as accommodation, finance and IT, are in place for the life of the taskforce.
After bringing together a new team, an important first step is to set up an effective structure that will ensure the taskforce meets its objectives; taking the time to do team building and establish ways of working will help you hit the ground running.
You should also establish your project management practices and have a workplan to guide you from start to finish. Part of planning your work involves allowing time for an effective handover and closure period at the end – so take the time to review the closure and handover section, including the handover checklist, and build this into your overall taskforce plan.
Work is underway, including analysis, stakeholder engagement, coordination and product development.
In this phase, the team is in a rhythm with established information sharing mechanisms and feedback sessions. Stakeholder engagement is underway, along with any quantitative or qualitative data analysis or problem solving work to feed into the development of products. Governance meetings should be occurring as needed to get engagement and decisions at critical points of product development, with good project management keeping you on track.
You are supporting decision making and preparing to handover ongoing responsibilities.
At this point, you are completing your final deliverables and preparing for the closure of your taskforce. This will include a comprehensive handover for the BAU or implementation team – ensure you include all necessary records, especially those documenting why decisions were made. You should also be supporting your staff to transition out of the taskforce and back to their substantive roles, or helping them with their next move, and working with the host agency's enabling services to wrap up all corporate and administrative support by your end date.
It's important to take the time to reflect on your experience with the team, reviewing what went well and not so well throughout the taskforce and identifying lessons for the future.