Consulting is generally thought of as a one-man or one-woman show. But as freelance and consulting gigs grow more prevalent, it becomes increasingly important that you as a consultant know how to play nicely in the sandbox.
Use these tips to make sure your co-consulting experience is positive, even when common conflicts arise.
1. Overcommunicate whenever possible.
The best consultants speak in plain language, ensuring that everyone understands what’s expected of them. If you’re a copywriter working on a project with a designer, for example, it’s important you connect from the start on how each role reflects the broader client strategy. If you’re consulting on separate components of organizational change or internal structure, make sure to talk through exactly what each of you will be responsible for.
2. Clarify roles.
Many freelancers can sustain that lifestyle because they’re “jacks of all trades,” but that can also make roles more difficult to define. From day one of the project, your clients should be sitting down with you and the other involved consultants to manage roles and expectations. If they don’t, request a meeting to clarify duties. Skipping this step can result in extra work, churn, or redundancies in service.
3. Remember that the clients run the show.
I once spoke with a prospect who had hired two competing consulting firms. The firms exhibited the worst behaviors: undermining each other, constantly selling their services, and trying to extend their engagements. Though the client should have maintained control of its consultants, this still exemplifies the importance of managing expectations and avoiding power struggles.
4. Keep a friendly attitude, even when competition is fierce.
Sometimes it’s obvious you’re being pitted against other consultants, but maintaining friendliness and professionalism—even then—is the only way to ensure everyone’s success.
Once, my company was using three consulting firms hired by a bank, and the ensuing problems arose because each firm was hired separately: The incoming CEO chose a consulting firm he knew and liked; the chief financial officer serving as interim CEO brought in another firm to help; and the board recommended a third firm.
It was clear each firm sought to support its benefactor’s agenda at the expense of the bank’s. The only reason this venture succeeded was that all the consultants found common ground and collaborated for the mutual interest of the client’s success.
5. Maintain a client-centric mindset.
As the bank example illustrates, your client’s success should be your ultimate goal. Taking this focus will ensure that your working relationship with other consultants produces positive changes for the client and moves the organization forward. When conflicts do arise, connect offline with other consultants to agree on the best steps for your client, setting all egos aside.
As a consultant, you know how valuable your work can be for an organization. The key to your success is to work well both alone and with others, maintaining an intelligent and proactive approach during each stage of the consulting process.
Sona Jepsen is the vice president of consultant relations at Fidelity National Information Services (FIS). Her department drives solutions for sales teams in consultant-led opportunities.