To Team or Not to Teamby Jim Yates
Management consultants face a dilemma with every assignment, should they work as part of the client's team or adopt a more detached approach. Each has its advantages and risks - so how do you decide?
The first thing to recognise is that it is not an all or nothing decision. Some phases of the assignment will require a teamwork approach: at other stages you need to stand back. Similarly, you can take on different roles in the team at different points in the project.
There will be stages where you need to lead the team, those where you are covering shortcomings in the team's make up or development and others where you are providing specialist knowledge. You may also be working with or in several teams as the assignment progresses. It is critical that these stages are planned carefully - particularly the exit phase, as you will want to leave the client with a stable and productive team.
To make the right decisions at each stage you need to take account of:
- The nature of the assignment
- The Client and his situation
- The phase of the assignment
- You, your style and capabilities.
The AssignmentSome types of assignment are more suitable for a team-based approach than others as illustrated in the diagram.
Assignments with a strong audit element are probably best handled with a strong degree of detachment as you need to demonstrate your independence and that you are operating in the best interests of the client organisation rather than the sponsors of your work.
Developmental assignments need a team-based approach otherwise; it will be your change not the client's so you must get everyone involved.
The ClientThe most appropriate way to work in any situation depends heavily on the client and his situation. You need to think about both the content of the assignment and the context. You would do well to ask yourself:
- What is the relationship between the sponsor of your work and the intended audience?
- Is the customer taking the action under duress or by choice?
- Do all of the participants agree?
- What are the dominant coalitions in the client organisation?
- Does the organisational culture support the aims of the assignment?
- What is the climate?
- High or low energy?
- Hostile or supportive?
- Threatened or Motivated?
In the second part of this article, we'll look at how the phase of the assignment, and your capabilities, impact the type of relationship you should establish with your client.
The PhasesMost significant consulting assignments go through three main phases with appropriate introductions and feedback arrangements.
DiagnosisThis investigative phase has elements of the audit operations mentioned above - if teamwork is appropriate, it is likely to be with the sponsoring group. This may present problems if there are differences of opinion between the sponsors and other groups.
DesignThis phase is often crucial to the success of the project and is largely a problem-solving phase. Team working can be appropriate depending on the balance of capabilities and expertise and the degree of resistance / support. If you have been brought in because of your "expert" knowledge of either the content or process then you will need to tread carefully to get support whilst ensuring your expertise is brought to bear.
Delivery / ImplementationIn most cases, this stage benefits from a team approach but to make it work, you will need to start the process during the design phase. There is normally a subtle point where the consultant moves into a supportive role, this transition is crucial to an effective disengagement at the end of the process. You don't want to create a dependency culture - however appealing it may seem from your business perspective.
YouIt can be very easy to forget that you are part of the process and you need to be very aware of your natural style of consultancy, working in teams and communication. You need to be aware of when your natural style helps and when it might hinder so that you can provide the right contribution at the right time and bring in support where you can't provide it yourself. If the client needs new ideas and perspectives and you have no aptitude or competence in this area - bring in someone who can. If you can do it but it doesn't come naturally then you will have to act out of character. You need to know your own strengths and weaknesses before you start.
RecommendationsEvery situation is different so management consultants need a range of approaches that take account of the content, context and process of the assignment. They need to understand their natural approach, be aware of the limitations and implications of this and be prepared to adjust their approach to suit the circumstances. The choice is not about whether to be part of the team or adopt a more detached perspective but rather about when to adopt which style to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks of each.
Finally, reflecting on what works and what was less effective always helps you learn how to do better next time - you live and learn.
For more information, contact Jim Yates.
© 2004 Jim Yates