It makes sense to be – and to use – a freelancer in a world of agility.

Agile organizations are set to become the norm. A recent survey of 2,500 business leaders by global consultancy McKinsey found that about one quarter of performance units are already organised on flexible, agile, lines. However, three quarters of respondents say that agility of their organization as a whole is a top (or a top-three) strategic priority. Nearly 40% of respondents are already making their organizations more agile, while another 30% have plans to begin the process.

McKinsey suggests that agility demands a totally new way of thinking on the part of all people who are involved. Success no longer comes from capturing value from competitors, customers and suppliers: instead, it comes from co-creating value with all stakeholders. Key people need to be engaged and empowered, rather than directed and managed. Effective leaders are those who inspire passion in other team members, rather than merely instructing and directing. Uncertainty is unavoidable, and must be embraced: making detailed plans to minimize risk may be a waste of time. New technology is not a supporting mechanism and one that provides services according to the corporate budget: rather, it is fully integral to every aspect of the organization.

There are, in broad terms, three kinds of manager in an agile organization according to McKinsey. A ‘chapter leader’ is responsible for hiring, firing and nurturing talent. He/she does not manage his/her people directly. Rather, he/she ensures that the right people are allocated to the right squad within the organization. However, the ‘chapter leader’ has very little involvement with what those people do from day to day. A ‘tribe leader’ focuses on adding value for customers. He/she sets sets strategic priorities for the squads that carry out the actual work on a day-to-day basis. In essence, the tribe leader rents resources rom the chapter leader. The ‘squad leader’ inspires and develops the team that is working on a particular project or problem. The exact role of the squad leader may well evolve over time as circumstances change.

In the agile world, the opportunities to work as a squad leader or squad member will be far more numerous than the opportunities to work as a tribe leader or a chapter leader, both of whom usually have corporate revenue- and/or cost targets to meet. This leads to a number of questions. What happens, for instance, if the chapter leader is unable to provide a squad member (or leader) that is required by a tribe leader? What happens if there is no immediate need for a squad member – in any of the tribes within the organization – once a particular project is completed?

Central to the answer to both of these questions is an external market for freelance talent such as Toptal. The market efficiently provides the right people at the right time to the tribe leaders. The market can efficiently absorb and redeploy squad members who are surplus to requirements. An external marketplace, which has insights from working with many different organizations, is more likely to provide squad members and leaders with the right insights. In market research, for instance, the right analysts for a particular project may well be those that best understand how the line between corporate intelligence and PR/communications is often blurred. This is one reason why Insight Discovery often – and successfully – uses freelancers. Custom research will add value if it simultaneously provides actionable insights, promotes the sponsors and provides illumination in opaque markets.

Taken to the logical extreme, the rise of agility should provide a massive competitive edge to those organizations that understand it and that can embrace it. There will also be huge opportunities for properly run talent market places such as Toptal. For Freelancers, who are able to offer their talents, through those market places to the right squads in dynamic organizations, agility could provide a Golden Age.


Andrew Hutchings