Many organizations use both internal and external consultants, as different requirements arise. Indeed, some use hybrid internal-external teams, with an eye to leveraging deep institutional knowledge and memory as well as external perspective, objectivity and expertise.
Too often, though, internal and external consultants are thrown together haphazardly, as the organization brings in an external consulting firm and then throws internal consultants at them. As a result of this failure to design teamwork up front, internals and externals may discuss roles and expectations, but fail to work as true partners. To achieve the best results, project sponsors should strive to define and establish the principles of a good partnership before launching a project. It is this partnership that creates the synergies needed in order to extract maximum value out of the combination of talents.
Here are 4 simple ways to ensure the creation of a successful consulting partnership:
- Involve internal consultants in the process of hiring externals: This early engagement will help eliminate some of the naturally arising tensions between the teams and foster better teamwork.
- Keep an eye out for the status of the relationship: Project sponsors should not assign accountability for the partnership to internal consultants. Rather, the external consultants should be held accountable for the success of the project and the project sponsor should monitor the relationship.
- Co-locate to improve teamwork: External consultants should be co-located with internal staff when possible so as to build mutual trust, knowledge-sharing and confidence.
- Hire firms with a track record for partnership success: Avoid consulting firms that don’t believe in a partnership model. Some firms have rigid ways of doing things and aren’t open to the possibility that internals and externals as a unit can be greater than the sum of its parts.
The best consulting firms not only believe in a true partnership model; they also have experience successfully partnering with large internal consulting teams. Adaptability to client requirements is also key. There is a time and place for standard methodologies, once a firm understanding and working relationship are in place.
In several ways, internal and external consultants may complement one another. It is up to senior management to enhance the value extracted, by nurturing a powerful partnership between responsible parties. As the old adage says, “two heads are better than one”, but only if the two heads are working together on an efficient, effective use of time, money, and know-how.
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