How to Create a Positive Collaborative Environment for Freelance and Full-time Employees

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How to Create a Positive Collaborative Environment for Freelance and Full-time Employees

The workforce landscape is changing drastically. New generations are stepping in to replace the droves of retiring Baby Boomers, women are high-tailing it out of the corporate world to start their own businesses, the demographic makeup of the workforce is shifting the majority to the minority, and organizations around the country are hiring freelancers instead of full-time, in-house workers.

To face these major changes, managers need to study up. In the freelance workforce alone (now 53 million strong!), there is a lot of nuance to navigate. Taking the basic skills of effective management, and applying them to the new freelance workforce works—as long as managers are aware of common challenges that may pop up.

I’ve identified four common challenges that occur when managing freelance employees.

  1. Inefficient communication between managers and freelance employees
  2. Difficult collaboration between full-time employees and freelance employees
  3. Projects not being completed correctly or on time by freelance employees

… and the big whopper…

  1. Trying to maintain organizational culture and values with freelance employees

Last week we tackled inefficient communication between managers and freelance employees. This week, let’s look at collaboration between your full-time employees and freelance employees.


Here’s a likely scenario:

PROBLEM: The freelance employee keeps butting heads with the full-time, in-house team leader. Their arguments take up half the meeting, and the rest of the team now dreads the project.

Freelancer’s Perspective: Does Jackie think that just because I am freelancer, I don’t know what I’m talking about? I was brought on to this team project because I am an expert; she just keeps getting in my way of leading the team. 

Manager’s Perspective: Wow, did I make the wrong hire? Jackie, the head of the product development team, is constantly butting heads with my freelancer, Peter. Peter questions everything Jackie says, and even tries to lead the meetings! Just because Peter isn’t here day-to-day, it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t show respect for the director of the project he is supposed to help. Maybe he’s a freelancer because he has no idea how to work with others!

SOLUTION: When bringing a freelancer into a collaborative project, it’s important to identify everyone’s roles on the team. If no one knows who is in charge, or who is handling the operational aspects, you’ll have double work being done. In addition, the entire team dynamic will crumble, and the project will suffer.

In the example above, the conflict could have been avoided if the manager clearly told Peter that Jackie was head of the development team and team lead, while Peter’s role was to provide creative input toward a more innovative product.

How to Create a Positive Collaborative Environment for Freelance and Full-time Employees

One of the most effective ways to ensure positive collaborative environments between freelance and full-time employees is by using GRPI. The GRPI model is an approach to team development created by the Systemic Excellence Group. If you keep up with my blogs—you know it’s a personal favorite!

GRPI is an acronym that describes team characteristics in order of priorities towards performance. Here is what each letter stands for, and how it can help foster positive and productive collaboration between freelance and full-time employees:

  • GOALS: It is the manager’s job to make sure that all members of the team, whether working in-house or freelance, know the end goal they are working towards. Clearly identifying the goal of any particular project to the entire team sets up a framework within which the team will operate. How each individual contributes to achieving that goal will become clearer. Likewise, it will become clear if any individual is contributing in a way that doesn’t move toward the stated goal. project leader
  • ROLES: Clearly communicating the role of each member of the team would have really helped in the scenario above. Everyone needs to know the role they play on the team, as well as the role their team members play. A freelancer is even less familiar with the roles of other employees because they don’t interact on the same level as those who physically work together in an office. Because of that, managers need to be even more deliberate about defining roles for freelance and full-time employee collaborations. This avoids double work, inefficiencies, conflicts, and misunderstandings—all of which can get in the way of project completion.
  • INTERACTIONS: Part of a positive collaborative environment is the creation and maintenance of a positive organizational culture. Managers can start with themselves by showing integrity, acknowledging their own mistakes, being kind and keeping promises. This is true even with freelancers. Maintaining organizational culture with employees who do not work in-house is one of the biggest challenges managers face when working with freelance employees. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at how to tackle this challenge in my next posts.

Freelancers typically don’t have the opportunity to forge personal relationships with full-time employees, who may have worked together in the same office for a considerable amount of time. By following the GRPI model with confidence, managers can help relieve the anxiety that comes to both freelancers and full-time employees as they attempt to collaborate.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the third challenge I’ve identified when managing freelance workers: Projects not being completed correctly or on time by freelance employees.

Until then, can you think of an example you’ve witnessed where collaboration seemed impossible? What was going on? Were goals and roles clearly defined? I’d love to hear real experiences with collaboration between freelance and full-time employees. Leave a comment below, send me an email, or find me onTwitter!



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