Being a part of a winning team is often considered a baseline objective for individuals in the professional world. In general, people feel a sense of belonging, purpose and camaraderie as the result of being a part of a team.
In particular, individuals find that they are able to experience these values when their membership on a team is recognized and valued. And while many perceptions of the concept of “team” are thought of in the context of the sporting world, for most, these same perspectives and principles hold true in the world of consulting.
Being an equally valued team-member / contributor in a consulting firm can be challenging to realize due to firm dynamics, personalities and competing individual priorities. Finding a consulting firm where individual voice and perspectives are not only heard but also considered and incorporated can be difficult—but it is not an impossible task.
Champion-level consulting firms are able to balance their approach in this area and, in turn, offer their team members a strong sense of connectedness and empowerment that helps drive employee satisfaction and retention as well as powerful client successes.
Consulting firms that strive to create a team-driven culture should absolutley consider the following guiding principles and tenets to successfully foster such an environment:
Roll Up Your Sleeves
Firms that structure their teams so that all members, from the senior partner to the junior analyst, are expected to contribute their intellectual capital, experience and “sweat equity” on an equal basis are taking a solid first step. Taking such an approach generally means that all members of the team are expected to work hard, put in the required time and do the tasks necessary for the firm to succeed, regardless of title or level.
To borrow a metaphor from the sports world, teams where the star player, the journeyman position player, the rookie and everyone in-between comes to all practices, spends hours studying film of opponents and spends extra time in the weight room developing strength and endurance, are the teams that typically are the most competitive and succeed together.
In the consulting world, organizations that can cultivate a similar mentality and approach find that there is no perception of separate classes of team members because in performing consulting work, there are no different classes—each team member has a critical role to play in ensuring the team’s success and, ultimately, notching a win for the client.
Train and Mentor for Continued Growth
Another key step that successful firms employ has to do with training and mentoring. Firms that develop and employ both formal training, as well as some form of mentoring, elevate themselves in the eyes of their staffs by emphasizing the importance of connected and valued employees. Firms that get high marks in this area typically provide a combination of defined, formal tools and methods to develop skills and understanding as well as create individual mentoring opportunities for more junior staff. This helps junior staff benefit from the prior experiences and wisdom of those at later stages of their careers. Combining these approaches underscores the importance of developing the team in all respects.
In much the same way a professional sports team provides formal skills development during practice while also simultaneously encouraging senior players to spend time counseling younger players on the bench, firms can implement formalized training programs while also encouraging one-on-one senior-to-junior employee engagement. This is critical to helping the collective team members continue to grow, develop and encourage connectivity and collaboration.
Provide “Step Up” Opportunities
Finally, firms that find success in engaging and supporting connected employees continuously aim to identify and provide real opportunities for their employees to “step up.” Formalized training and informal mentoring are important, but so are opportunities to be able to experience the real world on an individual basis. Firms that can identify and support employees in using new training and/or jumping off of received mentoring lessons in live client engagements are meeting an equally important need.
Identifying and managing these types of opportunities must be closely coordinated—you don’t put an undrafted rookie quarterback with no live game time into the Super Bowl. However, finding opportunities for that rookie to take snaps with the first team in practice, or to lead the first team in the fourth quarter of a game that is already well in hand, can provide the experience and confidence needed to succeed. The same is true for finding real world opportunities for junior team members—this experience is far greater than classroom or textbook examples and use cases could ever provide.
As a result, providing junior staff with responsibility for a portion of an executive presentation with a friendly client, or designating ownership of an important internal initiative to a junior staff member can also provide real world experience for that employee in excess of any run of the mill experiences they might otherwise have to rely upon to further develop their “step up” muscles.
Have a Team-Driven Culture
Organizations that create and follow these approaches can effectively develop and curate a team-driven culture that promotes collaboration, mentorship and mutual support. A team-driven culture helps both individuals and the organization at large achieve key goals and milestones time and time again.
While there are certainly examples of organizations that may achieve short-term success by focusing on developing star players rather than star teams, organizations that place an emphasis on and develop a team-driven culture and methodology generally experience longer term sustainable success. That success is invariably the result of a deep sense of connectedness and satisfaction from the organization’s team-member employees and is derived from the value they know their organization believes they bring to the team.
Adam Cummins is a director at Pace Harmon an employee-owned business transformation and outsourcing advisory services firm providing guidance on complex transactions, process and operational optimization, and provider governance.