Get the right mix of skills, experience and expertise to deliver on your objectives.
- Sending out a blanket request for staff without specifying the skills or roles needed to achieve taskforce objectives – the result being the wrong skill mix or a lack of critical subject matter expertise
- Agencies sending their 'representatives' (usually EL2s) in response to a blanket request for staff, resulting in a structure that is too top heavy
- A lack of diversity – having too many of the same types of people limits the team's ability to undertake the breadth of its work
- Taking on staff without at least an informal interview to manage expectations about the work and environment and ensure the person is the right fit
- Retaining staff who may not be the right fit for the taskforce.
Tips for success
- Use your scope to define your deliverables, and determine the skills you need to get to achieve them within your timeframe
- Seek out staff with attributes suited to the taskforce work environment and include these in your request for staff; skills and attributes should be balanced across the leadership and team levels to ensure the right mix
- Use the request for staff template provided to simplify the process of sourcing staff
- Establish clear expectations at the start – an effective taskforce member is not just a representative of their agency, they must work as part of a team to deliver on a shared goal. This often means recommending courses of action that do not fully align with their home agency’s agenda
- Conduct informal interviews of staff that have been nominated by other agencies, or that have been shortlisted through an EOI process, and build in a standard review or trial period.
Certain attributes are suited to taskforces
Taskforces are frequently fast-paced, with tight deadlines and uncertainty a common experience. This kind of environment isn't suitable for everyone. When determining your staffing needs, it's important to take into account personalities and work preferences alongside specific skills requirements.
Key attributes to seek out for taskforce work include:
- being flexible and agile
- the ability to work both independently as well as collaboratively in multi-disciplinary teams
- the ability to work well with ambiguity in a fast-paced, uncertain environment
- the ability to harness diverse views
- a commitment to continuous improvement.
Determining the skills you need
Your scope and deliverables should inform the skills you need in order to achieve these outcomes. For example, depending on the nature of the taskforce you may need staff with experience writing Cabinet submissions and new policy proposals, staff with technical expertise, staff with experience running a public consultation process, etc. The taskforce skills checklist is a useful way of mapping your taskforce requirements to the skills needed to fulfil those requirements.
Image caption: Taskforce skills checklist
It's important to consider your resourcing requirements at all levels. Blanket requests for "high performing" staff can result in an unequal distribution of staff (i.e. too many EL and not enough APS level staff). Instead, any requests should stipulate the skills and attributes required, and the suggested level.
If the taskforce is developing a body of work to hand over to a BAU team for implementation, consider sourcing a secondee from the BAU team – their insights will be critical for a successful handover.
Thinking strategically about your staffing requirements will also ensure you achieve diversity in your staffing mix, rather than a group of people who all think and act in the same way.
If specialised skills or expertise are required beyond those available from APS staff, these can be sourced through external contractors and consultants. It’s important to identify these requirements early on and factor them into your budget. Using consultants or contractors can also provide an opportunity for skills and knowledge transfer to general staff.
Subject matter experts vs. capable generalists
You should consider the balance of subject matter expertise versus generalists in your staffing mix. While subject matter expertise is important, taskforce work also requires staff who are fast learners and can pitch in on a range of tasks. Depending on your objectives, subject matter expertise may be better sourced through consultation, rather than through your staff; at other times, a greater weighting towards subject matter experts could be more beneficial than a range of generalists. Above all, your scoping and project management should help identify from the outset when, how and for how long the taskforce may need to be supplemented by specific expertise, whether internal or external. Project management will also help to identify transition points at which your staffing mix may need to change as work progresses.
Develop a secondment agreement to ensure a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities
Negotiating a secondment agreement between the agency and host organisation will ensure a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each party. The secondment agreement should include:
- a description of the activities or role
- the term of the placement
- performance management arrangements
- training and development
- termination of the arrangement.
As part of the secondment process, both secondees and their home supervisor should discuss and put in place any ‘staying in touch’ methods, so that secondees can be kept in the loop on changes at their home agency and stay socially connected to their regular team.
Make informal interviews and review periods part of your onboarding process
Because taskforces often need to bring staff together quickly, standard recruitment procedures – such as a formal selection process and interviews – are not always followed. This can mean that some staff members recruited for the taskforce may not be the right fit for the type of work or the environment.
Unless your taskforce is only operating for a short period, it's a good idea to make time for informal interviews with staff offered by agencies or that have been shortlisted through an EOI process to discuss the work of the taskforce and get a sense of their aptitude for both the role and the environment. To ensure a smooth process and focus on finding the right people, you could consider appointing a member of the team to oversee recruitment and onboarding, especially in the set up phase of the taskforce.
The interview should be followed by a review period which allows the employee to settle in and adjust to the taskforce environment. The review period should be scaled based on the length of the taskforce – this could be three months for a 12 month taskforce, or a month for a six month taskforce. During this time, both the employee and the taskforce leaders should consider whether the taskforce is the right fit for the employee. If a decision is taken at the end of the review period that the employee should return to their substantive role, they should be appropriately supported through the transition process.
Review periods should be treated as a standard process that every staff member goes through, without judgement or impact on career progression if a person chooses to depart from a taskforce in that time. Given the pace and demands of taskforce work, they can sometimes have a negative impact on wellbeing, so employees should not be penalised if they decide the taskforce is not the best for them.