Within a larger group or company, the skunkworks are a small group of people working secretly on new, special, advanced projects. The skunkworks can also be the place where those people work.
Part of speech:
It’s usually a noun: “their skunkworks,” “the company’s skunkworks,” “we got to visit the skunkworks.”
It can also be used loosely like an adjective: “the skunkworks staff,” “these skunkworks inventions.”
It can appear as two words: “skunk works.” (Other than that, there are no other forms besides the registered trademark “Skunk Works,” with the capital letters.)
How to use it:
Use this folksy, colorful, casual term to label the secret projects, secret teams, or secret offices in any large corporation, real or fictional, especially those in the engineering and technology industries.
“CEOs with a long-range view knew that if even 10% of their skunkworks and laboratory inventions could be brought to market someday, the R&D was well worth the effort.”
— Douglas Rushkoff, The Guardian, 22 November 2000
“[In his book The Mastermind,] Ratliff anatomizes an operation — traversing shell corporations, safe houses, precious metal stashes and an in-house skunkworks staffed by Romanian engineers functioning as a pop-up military contractor — that trafficked coveted North Korean methamphetamine, peddled an explosives recipe to Iran, sought to produce a guidance system for Iranian missiles and mocked up a mini-submarine for stealthy transit of contraband.”
— Stephen Phillips, The Los Angeles Times, 15 February 2019