Being a professional services consultant means that there is inevitability travel involved. I've travelled on many occasions: going to conferences, supporting my sales colleagues, running training and implementations for my clients, or just simply visiting to chat with executive sponsors.
A PS team working at full steam means everyone is striving to be their client's most trusted advisor, and that leads to a lot of time away from the desk, office, colleagues. Our colleagues provide us with guidance when we're lost, lend a helping hand when we're under deadlines, and keep us grounded when we need to focus on the important things. Being in tune with our clients may seem like a great thing, but like a seesaw, if we heavily balance one side of our job, it often negatively affects the opposite side.
Drawing from experience, 3 really good reasons why PS team members should work as part of cohesive team rather than in individual vacuums are:
- Knowledge and Coaching - PS works to deliver solutions to clients using the tools provided by the organization. Not only is it important for team members to know what's on their toolbelt, it is also incredibly useful for the team to learn from each other, based on field experience, the best ways to use those tools. There's constant learning required to keep up with the subject matter, and that learning comes from within the team in the form of knowledge transfer and coaching.
- Pattern Recognition - Pattern recognition helps our team respond to clients more intelligently and with greater focus and effectiveness. Perhaps multiple clients are experiencing the same symptoms of a problem, and only through a group discussion to pattern recognize those similarities can a team define a collective problem to solve. Conversely, multiple team members may notice an attitude change that indicates an impending industry shift, so the team adjusts their approach the next time they meet with their clients to ensure they properly anticipate their needs. In either case, recognition of patterns of knowledge and trends allows the team to adjust and hone messaging for maximum impact and effectiveness.
- Accountability to Standards - Cohesive teams ensure that everyone adhere's to a base-level standard when interacting with clients and internal teams. I truly believe in encouraging team members to find their own voice and develop their own natural interaction style, but the content being delivered must be consistent across the entire team. A cohesive team ensures that everyone is 100% aware of those consistency standards, and is accountable to each other to stay within those bounds.
How can we start building a cohesive team that learns from each other, recognizes shared problems, and adheres to team norms and standards? The key is to carve out time to and be deliberate in team communications. Here are four ways that you can start building PS team cohesion.
- Holding Regular Meetings - When a team barely see each other over an extended period of time, they stop learning and stop caring. Holding regular meetings, from quick daily standups to weekly training sessions, fosters organic communication that keeps team members in the loop with what everyone else is doing. It gives people the chance to give information, get advice, seek criticism, or just organically bond with each other.
- Make Sure Your Meetings Don't Suck - Having a regular meeting cadence is great, but making sure the team doesn't dread the meeting reminder in their calendar takes effort and hard work. Death By Meeting was a great eye opener for me and taught me how to make the best of each meeting. I also make it a point with the team, for each meeting, to ensure there is agreement of the problem we are trying to solve ("why we are here?") and the expected outcome ("how are we going to solve it?"). That way, everyone feels that there is a reason to be in the room and when we inevitably solve the problem, we all feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Encourage Organic, Peer-Based Coaching - Coaching opportunities do not have to be confined to a yearly review, and definitely should not be exclusively top-down. Instead of just encouraging the team to "ask for help when needed", I make it a point for everyone to discuss what they are working on openly with the rest of the team so that the team can ask questions, offer support, or validate effort. Sometimes we don't know we need help until it is too late, so having a diversity of peer voices providing support and validation whether we asked for it or not develops a never-ending cycle of learning and growing for the sake of self and team improvement.
- Trust Each Other with Our Dirty Laundry - Stories of success always makes the team feel great because it validates our effort and direction, but openly sharing our failures and learning opportunities with the team is even more important than sharing successes. We want the team to trust each other to use our failures to improve ourselves, and not to judge each other's competence and motivation. Being guarded with information not only stunts team growth, it fosters mistrust, limits peer coaching opportunities, and breeds terrible information sharing (which is a key requirement to having really good meetings).
Fostering an environment that encourages honesty, trust, and peer coaching will ultimately make your PS team more successful in being great trusted advisors within and outside your organization.