6 Principles for Consulting Teams

I’ve worked on a lot of consulting teams over my career. Many of them have been mixed teams including our employees, other contractors, and even client staff. Everyone comes with different backgrounds, perspectives, and personalities and it’s important to get everyone on the team pulling in the same direction to get the best results. You’ve probably remember times when a team wasn’t clicking either within itself or with the client. It’s not fun. It’s feels bumpy. It takes effort. It’s draining. And you feel things could be so much better.

One tool I’ve used to orient teams and get alignment is a set of team operating principles. These principles aren’t rules, per se — they define the basics for our attitudes and outlook and guide our actions. I’d much rather have a few principles that can be applied by intelligent, well-meaning people in a variety of situations than a ton of rules covering every conceivable situation.

There a few keys to making these principles work. First, think about how you want your team to operate. What has worked? What hasn’t? Where have there been problems? What lessons can you learn from them? Try to keep the number of principles to a minimum – preferably fewer than 10. Any more than that and they will be hard to remember for the team and will start feeling like rules. Second, engage the team in discussing the principles. For the principles to have the desired effect, the team really has to own the principles and want to follow them. That takes a lot of time, teaching, conversation, and reinforcement — especially from team leadership. Third, talk about the principles with the client. Explain how you want the team to operate and what they should expect to see as a result. And here’s a tough one: ask the client to hold you accountable to them when they don’t see you behaving according to the principles. I’ve had some breakthrough conversations with clients because we had team principles in place.

Here are some team principles I’ve used in a few different places with pretty good success. We had much better clarity within the team and with the client about how we should be operating. And the conversations gave us a great basis for having some really meaningful conversations as situations popped up. The principles may seem like “motherhood and apple pie” stuff, but honestly, that’s kinda the point and probably indicates you have a good set of principles. Clarity and simplicity are powerful.

1. We are here to make the client successful.

The client has goals to accomplish and they want us here to help them achieve those goals. They have other options to get the support they need, but they chose us. We can be successful individually and as a team only if the client is successful.

2. We are one team where each person has a role and everyone shares in the team’s success.

We operate as a team. We share the same goals and work together to achieve those goals. Each of us has a role and responsibilities for which we are accountable, but we also collaborate and support each other for the good of the team. We check our egos at the door and we’re happy when other team members are successful because that reflects well on the team. We look out for each other.

3. We build great relationships – inside and outside our team.

Great relationships make it easier to get things done and done well. We invest in relationships wherever we can, including other team members, consultants, the client, and outside organizations. We act with honesty and integrity, we don’t burn bridges, and our default position is one of trust.

4. We conduct ourselves with professionalism at all times.

We produce excellent work. We are responsive to the requests made of us. We solve problems, instead of just raise issues. We show up on time and prepared when and where we are needed. We follow through on the commitments we make. We never lose our cool and we always have our act together.

5. We treat everyone with personal and professional respect.

We treat others as we would want to be treated – as team members, professionals, and fellow human beings. We think ahead about what others might want or need and provide it when we can. We give credit where credit is due. We tell the truth even if it’s difficult to say, and we listen to the truth even if it’s hard to hear.

6. We respect the role of the client and consultant.

We understand there are boundaries between client employees and consultants and we respect those boundaries. We are not the client, although we do represent them in some cases and our actions do reflect upon them.

I’ve used these principles for consulting teams serving clients. You could probably tweak them to work for almost any team in any environment, even if you’re not in consulting — or even in IT. If you have additional principles you use for your teams or suggestions for how to improve these, I’d love to hear them. Life’s too short to work on teams that don’t click.

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