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Key objective

Build a positive and collaborative team environment.

Common problems

  • Doing 'two jobs at once' – it's best to be taken offline from your regular role to be part of the taskforce
  • Approaching the taskforce’s work like it’s a section, branch or division – taskforces are often established to grapple with problems that require the delivery of cross-cutting advice or action in tight timeframes and outside of established processes, which can be a stark change from the more BAU operational running of an established work area
  • Not sticking to and delivering on a plan, leading to confusion within the team and potentially wasted effort.

Tips for success

  • Set a clear direction and empower your team to deliver
  • Be a boundary spanner – build strong relationships across boundaries to solve problems
  • Take the time to do team building and establish rapport, team norms and work processes early on
  • Be mindful of the wellbeing of your staff (and yourself) – taskforces are often intense and can lead to burn-out if people aren't given any down time.

Leaders in taskforces should work as 'boundary spanners'

Boundary spanners are individuals or groups who work across organisational boundaries to build relationships and resolve complex problems. Leaders within taskforces should take on this role – working across boundaries to build strong relationships and a positive culture within your team – as well as outside of it when engaging with Ministers and their offices and external stakeholders.

Given the nature of taskforce work, being a boundary spanner is increasingly important in an environment that is heterogeneous and dynamic, where constraints are greater. The taskforce environment is commonly characterised by uncertainty and high levels of interdependence across organisations, enhancing the need to work across boundaries. This is especially true when facing highly complex problems.

Key attributes of boundary spanners

Interpersonal skills

  • Developing and maintaining relationships and network links
  • Developing trust
  • Communicating effectively
  • Listening and empathy
  • Negotiation, consensus building and conflict resolution

Cognitive skills

  • The ability to understand complexities and linkages between interests, professions, organisations and other factors
  • Has an appreciation of, and values, different cultures, motivations, perspectives and practices across a range of professions

Managerial skills

  • The ability to operate within networks and work with individuals with different and sometimes changing interests
  • Coordination and planning skills

Political skills

  • The ability to manage relationships between different sources of power using diplomacy and influencing behaviours
  • The ability to broker solutions through creating and assembling resources owned by others, which requires them to influence, motivate and negotiate with others

Entrepreneurial skills

  • The ability to develop new solutions to complex problems
  • Creativity and innovativeness
  • The ability to capitalise on opportunities
  • The ability to manage risk
  • The ability to broker deals between parties with different interests



Take steps to build a positive culture in your team

A challenge with taskforce teams is that they often bring together a group of staff who have never worked together before. They may be coming from other areas of the department, or another department altogether, bringing their own cultures and ways of doing things. Culture forms wherever a group has sufficient stability of membership to share common learning, experience and history – many taskforces simply don't operate for long enough for this to occur.

Because of their temporary nature, many taskforces don't engage in team building activities such as planning days that would ordinarily occur in a branch or division. It's important for leaders in taskforces to take steps to build rapport and establish positive ways of working within the team.

Focusing on 'quick wins' early on can be an effective way of not only driving momentum in the taskforce, but also to foster the development of a positive team culture through celebrating shared achievements.

Support the professional development of your staff

Being actively involved in the professional development of staff in your taskforce team is another way that can shape a positive, driven culture. While performance agreements are not usually done for short stints in taskforces, it's important to discuss development goals throughout the secondment period, with an informal 'debrief' at the end of the taskforce to reflect on growth and development and recognise achievements.

Taskforce supervisors should engage with home agency supervisors to help shape and support secondees' professional development goals, with feedback provided at the end of their time on the taskforce to support ongoing performance discussions. Keeping a record of each employee's contribution to the taskforce is an effective way of pulling together meaningful feedback on their performance. The standard secondment agreement for taskforces captures these processes.

At the conclusion of the taskforce, a note of thanks should be provided to the Secretary or Deputy Secretary of secondees’ agencies to recognise their contribution and achievements while on the taskforce.

Manage change and support wellbeing

Taskforces are often intense – uncertainty and tight deadlines can mean long hours under significant pressure. Some taskforces must respond to rapidly changing priorities, requiring staff to quickly adapt and refocus. While this may be necessary, it can be fatiguing and confusing, leading to low satisfaction and morale, with poor outcomes for wellbeing. It's therefore important support staff wellbeing through periods of uncertainty and manage change effectively. This includes:

  • ensuring you have effective project management in place – this will help you determine your resourcing needs throughout the lifecycle of the taskforce by making deadlines and peaks more predictable and creating opportunities to take leave and have downtime
  • clearly communicating the reasons for any changes in work focus or priorities, especially if this requires parking in-progress work or short turnarounds; managing the pace of change as much as possible and supporting staff to adapt is crucial for effective change management
  • providing clarity to the team on the use of flex time and time off in lieu (TOIL) – try and establish fair and consistent arrangements as much as possible within the bounds of home agency enterprise agreements, so that everyone can recoup additional time worked
  • have early conversations with staff on arrival into the taskforce to acknowledge the importance of wellbeing.
Last reviewed: 
29 January 2021