The increasingly intense competition for highly-skilled knowledge workers pulls organizations in two, seemingly opposing ways. On one hand, companies want to maintain stability to profit from team learning. On the other hand, they want to offer a dynamic environment to find and bind talented new people. But how do you create a balanced learning environment which appropriately nurtures both the stability to learn and the desire to grow simultaneously?
The Challenge to Find and Bind Talent
When searching for their dream job, Millennials value personal development and flexibility more than most generations. These values would seemingly make the Agile organization a “must have” for young employees, as it offers both the freedom of autonomous self-organization and development possibilities–in theory. But talent like this often experiences a dissonance between their expectations of an Agile organization and the actual development opportunities they encounter there.
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Personal development is often at odds with the flat, team-based structure of an Agile organization. There’s so much to learn, and only limited opportunities for individual growth outside the team context. On top of that, organizations initially benefit more from stability in the teams, so there’s not much incentive to invest in the personal career trajectory of an individual member if it disrupts that.
Businesses need stability in teams because it preserves the acquired knowledge and hard-earned lessons learned. Stable teams fulfill their purpose and contribute to the whole by delivering a certain degree of specialization focused on a customer segment, product, or service.
Unfortunately, stable teams are the opposite of what knowledge workers prefer. Can you imagine being stuck on a team after losing interest in its purpose, or with a colleague with whom you don’t see eye-to-eye?
Knowledge workers want to develop themselves both within the team and outside of it. So, organizations must trade some stability for personal development, but how can they do both at the same time?
The Flexible Shell
One potential solution is to form a “flexible shell” around stable teams. When forming teams, it’s important for people to have as much autonomy as possible when it comes to their roles. The flexible shell could be introduced in addition to the creation of stable teams for the coming period. Team members can stipulate if they want to be part of the flexible shell or prefer the stability within the teams. These people make up the core of the stable teams so it will always be important to weigh personalities and value systems to find the right balance of team members. As such, joining the flexible shell is optional.
Those people in the flexible shell make up a kind of “talent marketplace” that supplements the different, stable teams. The marketplace allows people to organize their own team transfers. It’s easy to set up and has a few basic rules:
- A team member from the flexible shell can only transfer if another member of the shell is willing to switch places.
- The skillset of the team member and the feedback they got from their previous team are always accessible to the stable team members of their destination team.
- A receiving team is allowed to refuse a new team member from the flexible shell, on the condition that they can point to a deficit in skill or ability until these are demonstrably improved or present.
- A receiving team is not allowed to refuse a new team member based on personality or value system but has to demonstrate how to deal with these differences before the transfer can take place.
- Only one person per team can be transferred at a time.
Thus the flexible shell can maintain the stability within the team while at the same time create an opportunity for those that want to grow more than a single team would allow. The flexible shell is very suitable for those with the ambition to get to know all aspects of the Agile business operation and stimulates the natural selection of high potentials and talent within the organization.