by Ashley Sabol, Director
Okay, so you have just been told that you and your team have to undergo a major project next year. You will need additional resources and people with expertise to make this project go as smoothly as possible with minimal operational disruption. You come to the conclusion that bringing on an external consultancy will be the answer, but what next; how do you effectively collaborate with them, create a good project team working relationship and effectively use their skillsets to bring the most value to your project? In this article, we will take a shallow dive into some ways to answer these questions.
See Beyond the Bio
Most consultants come with a biography of their experience and areas of expertise. This is great for filling the resourcing needs of a project. However, I urge you to look beyond just the information presented in their biography. These short descriptions typically do not cover soft skills, personality types, and general interests in a working environment. Yet, leveraging these attributes in the consultants on your team can help make or break a project. For example, a consultant may have focused on their technical skills that meet the project requirements. They may also be a very strong communicator and even translator of highly technical information that is difficult for operational and less technical resources to understand. This type of skillset can go a long way in keeping stakeholders thoroughly informed and more at ease with the changes associated to the project and the ultimate impact it may have on their day-to-day functions.
Onboard with Intention
Onboarding is a critical time in preparing a consultant for the project at hand in more ways than one. Logistically, make an effort to streamline the onboarding process upfront. This includes issuing their equipment, providing access to the needed applications and organizing training completion. Efficiencies in this process will allow the consultants to begin work on the project tasks promptly.
Equally important, but often overlooked, is the step of relaying information related to company culture, team dynamic and stakeholder relationships. Obtaining this type of background information is invaluable to the consultant and better positions them to navigate the proverbial project maze. Formal project structures, such as sign-offs, change request approvals, and communication requirements, are undoubtedly crucial and commonly addressed. However, what often goes unnoticed are the informal structures that develop within projects. These informal structures play a significant role in shaping project dynamics and outcomes. For example, the consultant may have a point of contact in your HR system, but that may not be the person they should go to for project guidance. Or a major stakeholder receives high level updates as outlined in the Stakeholder Engagement Assessment; however, they also want informal deeper dive updates specific to their portion of the project.
These things may seem insignificant, as the project and company culture are likely innate to you. However, they are vital to the consultant that is blind to the intricacies of your organization’s inner workings. Sharing this insight will be beneficial to the efficiency, timeliness, and spirit with which the project is conducted.
Foster a Cohesive Project Team
There is often a certain stigma when consultants are brought in; that they are there to take your project team’s roles. Rest assured, that is not the goal of any consultant (and if it is, please bring it up to their managing partner). Consultants want to help a project succeed, and if they succeed, so do you and your team. Developing the proper team dynamic with your internal project team and the project consultants can be highly effective in achieving a successful project delivery and strong team cohesion. A great way to do this is to have a “2 in a box” structure which includes an internal project member and an outside consultant co-leading components of a project. The internal project member can benefit from the expertise that consultants bring, while the consultant can rely on them as an organization partner to be a sounding board before introducing new ideas to the project team as a whole. This approach helps avoid the risk of the consultants being dismissed for lack of understanding of company requirements or culture when raising such ideas. This “2 in a box” partnership enables safe navigation of political situations and an understanding of the company’s operational nuances. This method also fosters trust and allows for work balancing between the two project members, providing backup when the other is out or overloaded with tasks. A work environment such as this allows for a high-level focus on executing project tasks, which is often a primary reason for bringing in a consultant. Moreover, it helps reduce the burden of dealing with unfamiliar personnel dynamics, assessing project delivery capabilities, and understanding the nature of working relationships. By fostering a collaborative partnership between internal project members and consultants, these challenges can be addressed more efficiently.
Another strategy to help build a cohesive project team is to involve your consultants and your project team in strategic meetings. When either of the two groups are excluded, it creates tension within the team dynamic that can be avoided. Both internal and external project team members offer valuable perspectives. Consultants, in particular, bring a broader outlook based on their prior project experience. They can provide context and recommendations that benefit the entire team, even if that’s not their initial role. Consultants go beyond being worker bees focused on their specific tasks; they can also offer inadvertent training, new project management techniques, soft skills development, critical thinking, problem solving applications, and more. Creating an inclusive team dynamic unlocks these additional benefits.
Wrapping It Up
When considering hiring consultants for your projects, I encourage you to keep these key insights in mind. By employing these techniques within a dynamic work environment, you can harness a consultant’s full potential, leveraging not only their technical and hard skillsets but also fostering a conducive atmosphere for a successful project outcome.