The on-the-job equivalent of exchange student programs
It’s always awesome to come across innovative people programs so I was delighted to come across the following post from the team at Atlassian:
In a nutshell:
“A secondment (sometimes referred to as a “job rotation”) is a chance to temporarily work on a different team within your organization, or in some cases, for a different organization entirely. Think of secondments as the on-the-job equivalent of exchange student programs. And just like exchange programs, they’re an excellent learning opportunity.”
A while ago, during my Opower tenure, I set up a similar program inside our software engineering department that was modeled after Facebook’s hackmonth program.
Despite their compelling appeal from a learning and development perspective, they are rarely institutionalized as a formal People program. However, setting up an ad-hoc secondment rotation may not be as difficult as it may seem at first, and primarily includes having a conversation with your manager and the other team’s manager to flesh out a win-win-win rotation. Atlassian suggests going through the following set of reflection questions to help get to that alignment quicker:
- Is there a business need?
- Is it beneficial to both teams?
- What is the intent of the secondment?
- What is the skillset the new team member will learn?
- What will the benefit be to the team with the secondment member?
- What will happen to the team and the individual after the secondment is over?
As far as mechanics are concerned, Atlassian recommends to set up a secondment’s duration to be between 6 and 12 months and to keep existing pay and benefits as-is whenever possible.
There are a few ideas from the Facebook program that can be integrated into the program design as well:
- Define a tenure-based eligibility criterion (“you are eligible to participate in a secondment rotation after being on your home team for x months”) and perhaps even nudge managers and teammates to consider a secondment rotation when that threshold is reached and every x months after that.
- Build a shared backlog of secondment-friendly projects that either require less context to be done successfully or can effectively leverage a skill set that the team doesn’t currently have. That may enable creating secondment opportunities that are shorter than 6–12 months, a non-trivial time commitment, and still be highly beneficial for all parties involved.
One of the key challenges with setting up formal secondment programs is that they require a certain level of organizational scale in order to offer a diverse portfolio of secondment opportunities and be able to sustain teammates going on rotation for those periods of time. This often excludes smaller companies from running a secondment program and yet those companies are often the ones that can benefit from such programs the most, both in getting access to knowledge and expertise that they currently don’t have, and in successfully retaining more of their existing teammates by offering them better learning and development opportunities.
This is another example of where venture capital companies can potentially play a pivotal role, by creating a secondment marketplace across their portfolio companies and facilitating temporary and reciprocal talent exchanges that benefit all parties involved in the exchange.