Starting up or changing up — we’ve talked about the importance of teams before. It’s a truism that much of our success, enjoyment and satisfaction at work comes from those we work with.

Sharing the adventure of something that matters with engaged teammates is the holy grail for many businesses, especially startups. But holier yet? The flexible team. Building that dynamic group of individuals to join you on the journey in today’s shifting workplace isn’t so straightforward.

You may have guessed that there is no one formula; indeed, our understanding of what a team is has to be flexible too.

You’ll read about ‘scrum’ teams that learn together by reflecting on the road’s twists and turns. Or Kanban Post-it process boards to chart every step and pitch. Are great teams marching together or Slack-happy nomads?

The truth is, any of these styles and techniques can work, we just need the right route plan, supplies and rest breaks.

So, what are the essential elements of building flexible teams?

1. Character-building

Your travellers should be able to handle the ambiguity that comes with flexibility, underpinned by a vision of the destination. Your brand values will provide boundaries. They’ll add to this their pride in everyone’s contributions and successful outcomes; all empowered by being in control of their own path.

Team members should be capable collaborators and ‘managers’ should be trusting leaders. Whether you choose to walk in front or beside your team is often based on those you’ve hired.

2. Lead by example

Furthermore, you should lead flexible by being flexible. It sets a tone and example, as well as helping you understand people’s varying pressures and priorities. They chose to freelance to live a certain lifestyle and leaders will do well to embrace that, not fight it. Seeking and responding to feedback builds trust, which emanates among the team. ‘Trust’ being the operative word. Without regular face to face interaction, a new type of trust must be nurtured. Trust that your team is putting in the work. Trust that they reach out to you when they require help. At the heart of this trust is open and honest — often online — communication.

A leader should see their successes reflected along with their lessons.

3. Open all hours?

Playing timezone match-up, hurdling language barriers and building rapport without those “catch you on the stairs” moments are all challenges for the flexible team. Suggested solutions here are mainly practical but often drop off the map to save time and money.

  • Invest in software that includes video functionality. Whether that’s Slack, Zoom or WhatsApp, get comfortable with video calls — they’re the closest thing we have to in-person communication. Most freelancers under the age of 30 have zero hangups about video calls; it’s an essential soft skill for leaders.
  • Maximise the ‘golden hours’ when working hours overlap across time zones.
  • Blogs and newsletters strictly for team (not wider business or industry) updates.
  • Schedule catch-ups that go ahead without fail, even if it’s just to chat.
  • Never underestimate how many times you need to communicate a message.
  • A space for casual chat that isn’t about business. Nurture a digital watercooler culture so your team can have a bit of fun, inspire or share experiences with fellow nomads.

All locations are at least one team member’s primary workplace.

4. Skill and be skilled

It’s not just about productivity and empowerment. Pooling skills and responsibilities stops any one member becoming a weak bridge and single point of failure: the brittle enemy of flexible teams.

Knowledge is a shared commodity, not a precious keepsake.

5. Time to grow

However, Bruce Tuckman, the American psychological researcher and author, probably said it best and with the most hope for flexible teams. According to Tuckman, all groups go through four development stages:

  • Forming: a lot of input and direction from the leader; roles are unclear
  • Storming: movement and shake-ups as blurry relationships settle
  • Norming: beginning to understand, commit and optimise
  • Performing: flowing between creativity and strategy with little supervision

Avoiding an unfavourable comparison with a wind-up toy, reversion can occur with twists in the road. However, it’s actually this dynamism which allows for flexibility and those essential lessons.

Growth occurs when you allow the core to get strong while you make changes at the edges.

Taking the road less travelled

There might not be obvious shortcuts and Roman roads in your future. However, trusting, investing in and showing your team the way will make for a much smoother — and more enjoyable — journey. Get in touch with our team at Freelancer Club to see how we can help you develop your flexible freelance team.

Originally published at



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