Sometimes young, innovative companies start an initiative and it gets a lot of publicity at the beginning then sort of fades away. The idea - however clever and forward-thinking it is - just doesn't pan out. For example, Amazon shuttered its Amazon Webstore program in 2015.
However, occasionally the ideas work and Facebook's Hackamonth program is one that seems to be paying dividends, and it offers some lessons for any small business above the "solopreneur" level.
The program allows Facebook engineers (and I've heard that non-engineers can participate as well) to work outside of their regular areas for a month to explore different ideas. They can pick an existing team to join and pitch in for a month or they can put together a team and launch a completely new idea. An interesting twist to this is that if things work out with the new team, the engineer can stay on.
One of the obvious upsides of working in a different area or on a different project for a spell is how it will help prevent burnout. This is always a major problem with engineers and probably one of the reasons there is so much job hopping in areas like Silicon Valley.
However, there are other benefits as well. In terms of productivity, we tend to do our best when our projects or tasks are a bit on the challenging side. That's when our brains get truly engaged and our ability to focus is heightened. When we're not challenged, our mind drifts. When we are overly challenged we can freeze up...or at least get so bogged down that our forward progress nearly stops.
I've discussed the positive aspects of cross training before. It gives your small business tremendous staffing flexibility as well as the ability to get everyone in your team plugged into the positions for which they are best suited and enjoy the most.
However, let me add that it's highly likely that you'll also enjoy a higher level of productivity when you get members of your team working in new areas. The challenge of learning about different aspects of your small business, and the opportunity to contribute in new ways, will give employees an added incentive to do a good job. You'll discover that they are truly focused on the new tasks and projects that they are working on.
Facebook's Hackamonth program is in its fifth year. If having employees work outside of their normal areas wasn't benefitting the company, Facebook would have allowed Hackamonth to slip quietly into oblivion some time ago.
Why not find some opportunities to do your own version of Hackamonth? The cost can be next to nothing. You really have very little to lose while the potential gains in employee productivity, creativity, loyalty and longevity are huge.