Does contracting kill flexibility in your team? I have heard so often that putting everything down in a contract only leads to problems. Because then a team member is no longer flexible in their tasks and responsibilities. Some managers use this argument to avoid drawing up detailed contracts (or contracts at all).

I don’t agree with this line of thinking. Because I believe everyone has a right to clear expectations. And because I think a contract can include clarity on the flexibility required. So how can you create space for flexibility in your team?

Flexibility in hours?

First of all, let’s look at what kind of flexibility you are looking for. Maybe you want to make clear you expect someone to work more hours than usual in certain periods. For instance, because of a deadline or an event. This is usually included in overtime arrangements. Or the contract highlights that for this position (higher management, director) overtime is considered part of the job.

Flexibility in roles?

Maybe you want to make sure someone understands that in a small nonprofit everyone needs to help out everyone. The director may need to help write a project report. The finance manager may do the bookkeeping, too. The project coordinator may need to double as assistant to the director, setting up meetings. When you don’t have very many people on your team, nobody is too good for any task that needs urgent doing. This is usually included in the job description, in a general item including ‘any other task assigned’ to the job.

Flexibility in focus?

Or perhaps you want to make clear you expect someone to be flexible in the focus of their work. For example, you hire someone to run a project in community X. But you expect them to be able to coordinate a project in community Y, too. Or maybe you have projects with different thematic focus. And you expect that a coordinator is able to coordinate activities regardless of the theme. In these cases, do not refer to a location or theme in the contract. And keep the job description free of these details as well. Or include in the requirements that a project coordinator is expected to be able to coordinate any of the organization’s projects, regardless of location, theme or funder.

Flexibility in mind?

It’s also possible that you want your team member to be creative. Someone who is open to experiment, try something, learn from it and move ahead with fresh lesson learned on board. This is the kind of flexibility that is hardest to pinpoint in a contract, of course. Because it is more about mindset. And it requires an organizational culture that cultivates and supports that mindset. Nevertheless, it is something that you might want to highlight during the job interview and in the job description.

My 4 Tips

Here are my 4 tips for you:

  1. Contracting is about creating clarity in expectations. That includes clarity on where flexibility is required and why that is important or necessary.
  2. Be clear for yourself about the kind of flexibility your organization needs from its team. And consider what that means for the type of person you are looking for. Not everyone can, by personality or personal circumstances, be equally flexible in all areas.
  3. If you require a great deal of flexibility from your team, make sure that you are showing the same yourself.
  4. Make sure you show, very outspokenly, appreciation for any flexibility shown, whether asked for or not.

Have you seen my checklists?

If you are interested in checking all areas of agreement between you and a staff member and in organizing your staff files, you can get my free Staff File Completeness Checklist here.

If you are interested in learning more about the legal aspects in differentiating between employees and contractors, get my free Contracting Checklist here.

Want to know more and ask questions?

If you want to discuss this more – jump into the Facebook group and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!

Here is how you can join my free Facebook group

You can join my free Facebook group how to become a professional and resilient nonprofit with Suzanne Bakker here. This group is a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.