Because I have an unusual work history, a lot of people ask me how it is possible for startups to innovate so quickly while corporations can't. Since I've been employee #150,000 at American Express and employee #9 at Mint.com, here is my point of view: Organizations don't innovate, individuals do.

Every so often, someone captures the essence of what makes small companies so nimble in a way from which both struggling entrepreneurs and even larger organizations can benefit. The most recent is the trend toward project-based, often contractor-staffed, teams, newly branded the "liquid workforce" to execute at the project level and deliver products and services ahead of the competition. I've personally seen this approach work at past companies and my current startup, Mindflash. It's also been key to the success of two of our best-known "Unicorn" customers: Uber, who in major markets jumped from 15% to 46% of all paid rides in just 1 year, and Airbnb, which is on track to host 130 million room-nights per year.

Here are 3 ways to make the "liquid workforce" a successful part of your business strategy:

1.EMBED CONTEXTUAL TRAINING EVERYWHERE

According to Accenture's Report, the future of work involves adaptable workforces organized around projects with embedded training. The first challenge is making sure that training is relevant to the individual learner. For example, if you hire an industry expert, you'll want to create training focusing on unique organizational processes versus industry material.

The second challenge is distribution-and redistribution. Leverage cloud-based services to make content available anywhere anytime to your dispersed expert team regardless of their time zone or device of choice. For content that you want feedback, assessment and tracking on, many of our customers use our online public or private course catalogs.

2. FOSTER COMMUNICATION IN THE DISTRIBUTED WORKFORCE.

It's shocking to me how many organizations still struggle with real-time team collaboration. The reality is, that leading industry expert you must hire for a short-term project won't likely live (or relocate) within commuting distance of your office. In addition, like Uber and Airbnb, any rapid time-to-market strategy is increasingly likely to require successfully sourcing and training contractors worldwide.

The solution is to provide the right communication and collaboration tools to
your contractors are effective despite their distance. At Mindflash, we provide our contractors with real-time access to every person on their project team by including them in our Slack channels and Sococo spaces and realizing benefits such as immediate file and screen sharing. And these tools pay for themselves with the first round-trip plane ticket you avoid.

3. MEASURE TEAM ANDPROJECT EFFECTIVENESS

Lastly, recognize that feedback mechanisms and objective success metrics can be even more important in successfully managing fluid work and teams. We've found that the Agile Scrum methodology, including daily 15-minute team meetings, frequent sharing of even partial project deliverables, and finely-sliced milestone tracking are all elements of successful liquid team management. Jira (another Atlassian product and a Mindflash customer) and Asana are great tools to make frequent micro-meetings efficient and to ensure very public accountability.

And if you're truly ready for a seamless, end-to-end solution to liquid workforce management, consider integrating your cloud-based content and learning management system with your CRM system. National property management company TruAssets has done just that, integrating their contractor course work and quiz results with their Salesforce CRM portal. As a result, they can track, manage and measure both the training-and the related sales results-for hundreds of external vendors and contractors. Another large organization finding success with a liquid workforce is GE. Through their FastWorks teams, they're embedding lean startup practices to push themselves to change faster, make smarter decisions and stay close to their customers. And it's working. Their FastWorks approach helped them bring a diesel engine for ships to market two years before their competition.

Taken to a thought-provoking extreme, the liquid workforce strategy could result in entire organizations with no full-time employees. Accenture predicts that we'll see a Global 2000 company with this structure within 10 years. I would have predicted that company would be a Silicon Valley startup, but with TruAssets and GE's success stories, I'm becoming more open-minded. But whether you're looking to become a Unicorn, or prevent being overrun by one, it's time to dive into the liquid workforce.

Published on: May 9, 2016