6 problems with teams

By | August 4, 2013

Teams are not always great. I recently wrote about how consulting is a team sport, but I also wanted to share some caveats. It’s not always rainbows and cute ponies.

#1: Working with new people: In consulting, you work with smart and diverse people, but they are not always the same people.  Large consultancies staff their projects from all over the country. Unless you are in New York City in Finance, you will be flying / driving to your client, and working with new people.  In fact, it’s common to meet some team mates the 1st day of the client project.

Climbing team

Like the photo above implies, you have to quickly size up everyone’s strengths, personalities, and ambitions.  Have to build trust and start performing well together immediately. Photo source (Flickr creative commons: nineonesix)

#2: Getting on the team: You don’t always get the assignments you want. Consulting firms are just pools of talent and relationships. You have to be known for something. Build a professional brand. Preferably, you are so good that people want you on their teams. You want word-of-mouth marketing about your skills and attitude.

Sadly, just because you want to be staffed does not mean you will be; it’s your job to get on that project you want to be on.  Manage your own career. See a clean summary of Peter Drucker’s thoughts on Managing Oneself here.

Staffing projects is difficult because you have to mix / match resources. These are the 4 big variables, and honestly, it is a fairly haphazard process. Sometimes, it feels like you are constantly in a “beauty pageant” trying to get staffed.

  • Availability (not on a project, not on vacation)
  • Level (partner, senior manager, manager, senior consultant, consultant etc)
  • Experience (have you done this type of work before?)
  • Geography (can we reduce expenses by having someone closer by?)

#3: Rolling off the team: Some operationally-focused projects can last for months and years.  Great revenue stream for the consultancies, and frankly, some clients have monster operational issues they-themselves, cannot unwind without dozens of consultants’ help. Sometimes, you can get “stuck” on a project, largely by accident.

The partner or senior manager may want you to stay out of convenience. You have developed rapport with the client, know your way around, and are doing good work. Convenience for the staffing manager and the client does not necessarily mean good outcomes for you. It’s funny – consultants are a high-maintenance lot of folks. We either want to get on a new project, or roll off the one we are on.  As Groucho Marx famously put it “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

#4: Dealing with micro-managers: You will find this in any organization – senior managers who fiddle too much in the details and don’t delegate appropriately. Jason Fried has a great TED talk “Why work does not get done at work” about how disruptive meetings and managers can be to the flow of real value-added work. You see it less on consulting teams because everyone is so busy, but trust me, it still exists.

#5: Staying social: Consulting teams have a lot to do in a short amount of time.  Building rapport (among the team mates and with clients) is critical. That usually means long-hours at the client site, and lots of time together with the team. Airports, rental cars, restaurants and hotel lobbies. This is fine for some people; extroverts get jazzed when meeting and hanging out with new people. Not so for all people.

If you like more one-on-one relationships, and like to have some space, this 12 hour/day constant social interaction can be a drain on your energy level. Make sure you create boundaries, if you need them. You can quickly burn-out on your team, especially if you have lots of type-A, stereotypical, go-getter consultants.

#6: Watching out for anti-mentors: There are all kinds of people. Strange people. People who are unprofessional, rude, and small-minded. Don’t worry though:

  1. You can learn from everyone. Even trolls and goblins. They can become your anti-mentors. You can learn what not to do and what not to say.
  2. All projects end. No matter how bad it gets, the project will end. “Good bye”

After more than fifteen years of Fortune 500 and management consulting experience, I believe there are only 2 types of work colleagues. It’s not based on intelligence, manners, communication style, ethics, professional success, or authenticity. It’s actually a very simple test:  Do I like working with this person?

Related: Building trust with your team (theworkplacetherapist.com)

4 thoughts on “6 problems with teams

  1. Brandon

    As usual, nicely done my friend. I’m particularly picky when it comes to teammates so this one really hits home.

    Reply
  2. kylieg15

    As an analyst on a *not so great* project, this post not only made me take a step back and appreciate how wonderful my team is, but also brightened my day in lieu of my afternoon coffee break. I guess it’s true, the grass is always greener. Solid advice for a newbie like me though – I will be sure to keep this in mind on future projects.

    I’m really enjoying your blog and I can’t wait to keep reading.

    Reply
    1. consultantsmind Post author

      Yes, it is the quality – smarts and fun – of my team that keeps me sane on most days. Consultants are nothing, if not learners. Enjoy, learn, have fun.

      Reply

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