What Makes a Good Consulting Team?

Working with a team on a consulting project is a powerful way to expand your scope and attract larger projects but it takes finesse to get the most out of the team’s potential. It’s not just about standard work processes like sound contracts and strong evaluation designs. There is something about the chemistry of working with other independent consultants that needs to be attended to. A positive team experience I had recently has made me reflect on its characteristics:

1.     A multi-disciplinary team. Everyone on this team of seven had a different skill set. Several of us had not met before. We needed to be confident of each other’s strengths to know who could do each task the best.

2.     Regular contact. At project start-up, we had two in-person meetings and a dinner to celebrate our new contract. It was important to have a physical reference as we worked in different cities. We then scheduled weekly conference calls for the next year and a half (i.e., the life of the project). These could be cancelled as needed but the routine was better than trying to pull a meeting together when an issue arose. Knowing the Wednesday morning call was coming up helped us problem solve as needed.

3.     An appreciative philosophy. Our project had an Appreciative Inquiry focus but it was interesting to see how the study philosophy trickled down to team functioning. You could see team members’ confidence growing as they realized that their contribution was valued.

4.     Regular reporting. A monthly status report allowed us to track our progress in terms of data collection. We were able to trouble shoot access and response issues quickly and while this monthly two-pager seemed a chore at first, it turned into resource for annual reports and conference presentations.

5.     Our own workshops. Towards the end of the project we facilitated our own workshops to interpret findings and craft recommendations. The final report and associated toolkit were stronger by far than anything we could have produced separately.

The project has been over for six months now but the chemistry continues. We have a dinner scheduled for next month—to talk about another project!

Gail Vallance Barrington

Originally published in the Independent Consulting TIG Newsletter, Volume 7, Issue 1. March 2016.

Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up & Management: A Guide for Evaluators & Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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