When and how to use consultants to improve your team

getting external help

There will come a time where you don’t have all the answers. At some point, you may need to hire consultants for your team to learn new skills or solve a problem. There is nothing wrong with this, and there are countless consultants and specialists out there willing you take your money.

However, I’ve seen several leaders make missteps when bringing in external help. When used appropriately, hiring consultants can quickly see your team improving. When used poorly, team morale can suffer and costs rise as the need for external help never seems to end.

I worked for several years in large consulting firms. I’ve seen what it can do to team morale when a consultant is more highly regarded than a leader’s internal team. But I’ve also seen it done well and actually leave the organisation in a better state than before.

When do you need to hire consultants?

Obviously it’s nice to be able to solve problems within your team before looking to hire consultants. However, sometimes hiring in technical experts is going to be faster and more cost effective. Some situations where external help is beneficial include:

  • When you require technical knowledge that you and your team doesn’t have. This could be to do with emerging technologies or trends that you haven’t had a chance to keep up with. Rather than spending time learning it from scratch, you can shortcut the process by learning from somebody who has experience already.
  • When an opinion from outside of your organisation will hold more weight. Sometimes trust inside organisations can be eroded after various failures or issues. A directive may then be given to get an external opinion rather than try to solve problems internally. You may have the skills and knowledge to solve the issue at your disposal. However, sometimes an external party is beneficial because they can take on the risk of failure for you.
  • When you require a service that is outside of your core skillset. It’s nice to be able to develop skills in your team. However, you can’t be skilled at everything. Perhaps you need a new website created. If you don’t run a technology team, it may be unwise to develop these skills when you could enlist help from an external agency.

Using your consultants effectively

There are some ways of working with external parties that will make things easier. Not only do you need to ensure you’re getting the job done efficiently and effectively, you also need to manage morale in your team.

First, understand your team members’ skills and motivation

Before you run off and hire consultants, look internally first. You might be surprised at the skills and capability available right under your nose. If you continuously enlist external parties to do interesting new work while your internal team are overlooked, you could create a motivation problem.

Some leaders have a tendency to value outside advice more than within their own team. Just because they are familiar with their team, they assume they can only perform their assigned roles. However, many high performers would love to step up and take on new challenges, and learn new skills. Overlooking them consistently will make them feel like their skills aren’t valued.

Using external consultants can make your team members feel unappreciated. If they are keen and capable, why not give them a chance to show you what they can do?

Hire consultants, then partner with them

So you’ve brought in a consultant to help you. Whatever you do, don’t let them work in isolation, or without the input of your team. Where possible, partner consultants up with people in your team.

This prevents consultants going off script and developing solutions that aren’t appropriate. It also allows team members to learn what the consultant is doing, and why. If you leave your external help to work in isolation, only having key discussions with you, you could miss something.

Remember, consultants aren’t there for the long haul. They will do their work and leave. You and your team will be left with whatever they have produced. You want to make sure that the work they do is guided by the input of the people that matter – your team members.

Good consultants will work with you, not deliver something to you. If that’s not how they are working, force them to by partnering them with a capable team member.

Try not to make key decisions with only external opinions

So you’ve hired a consultant to deliver a framework to help your team. The last thing you want is to make key decisions without gaining feedback from your team members. You and the consultant working together may design a brilliant solution. However, you may have trouble getting your team to buy in to the solution, if they haven’t been involved.

When your consultant hands over the solution then disappears into the sunset, your team will feel like they don’t matter. You should never show too much respect to the opinions of external consultants at the expense of your own team. You need to gain input on any frameworks or solutions from your own team members. They are the ones that will need to work with them, long term.

You want your team to be here for the long haul. You want them to trust you and to feel valued. If you place other opinions (no matter how brilliant) above theirs, eventually they’ll feel like you don’t respect them. When your brilliant consultant leaves, you’ll be left with a disgruntled team.

Hiring consultants is inevitable and valuable. You can’t know everything. Use it with care and be intentional about how you engage with these experts.

First, understand the skills and motivations of your team members. Then make sure you partner them up with external consultants to learn and co-design the solution. Don’t make key decisions regarding your team without the team’s input.

It’s pretty simple really. Don’t place consultants on a pedestal at the expense of your team. Sure, they’re often smart and capable, but they won’t be with you for the long haul.

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