Consulting firms are notorious for touting the value of their involvement in improving internal processes and operations, but many companies have built – and are building – their own internal consulting organizations to support improvement projects across the enterprise.
Do companies need internal consulting teams? Do companies need to solicit support from outside consulting firms? Is one service model superior to the other? Can both models co-exist at the same company? Can both models co-exist on the same project or program?
In a recent publication from The Vanguard Group titled, “Committee Assessment Tool for Group Behaviors”, the investment firm examines “behavioral dynamics that can influence the quality of those decisions.” These behavioral dynamics can be applied beyond investment committees – to groups of individuals across all industries and disciplines, including project and engagement teams.
The need for group harmony, the tendency to confirm preconceived ideas, the risk of “too risky” decisions, the practice of withholding information from team members, the temptation to follow what others are doing and the willingness of members to disconnect themselves from a process can produce less than optimal decisions – and dangerous outcomes for many teams.
To counteract suboptimal behaviors, The Vanguard Group recommends various structure, process and information pathways. The company’s outline of good, better and best approaches designed to increase optimal decision-making appears in the chart below:
When reading through these recommendations I couldn’t help but think about a common risk that many consulting firms refer to as “going native.” This sometimes occurs when consultants are engaged at a client’s location for an extended period of time and begin to think of themselves as an employee of the company they are serving, rather than the independent entity that he or she actually is. In these cases, the consultants’ perceptions, attitudes and behaviors mirror those of the people they work most closely with.
There are aspects of “going native” that are positive: the consultant understands the company’s objectives and challenges and has earned the respect of those she or he works with on a daily basis. There are also negative ramifications, including six that The Vanguard Group lists as suboptimal behaviors -- groupthink , confirmation bias, group polarization, shared-information bias, herding and social loafing.
The achievement of the positive aspects of “going native” and a corresponding avoidance of the negative aspects offer the best way for a consultant to provide the most value to any client. Balancing between these opposing aspects can make an outside consultant of great value to a company. Bringing insights based on what has worked – and what has not worked – for other companies can help ensure the success of the company the consultant is currently serving. Supporting this insight with the access to in-house resources and internal consulting teams can create a perfect triangle of expertise that may be lacking in many companies.
The introduction of team members who come from outside a division or department can be of tremendous value in addressing the six suboptimal behaviors. These “outside team members” may be part of an internal consulting division or from an outside consulting firm that has worked with other enterprises addressing the same business challenges.
Of course each situation will be a bit different, but keep in mind that the ability of outside consulting firms to avoid common counterproductive group dynamics, bring outside insight and accelerate improvement initiatives are powerful reasons to consider their involvement in helping any company achieve its business and IT goals.
About the Author:
CEO and Co-Founder
Don has more than 20 years of experience in leading, building, managing and operating technology companies. He has led market development and shaped the technical direction of business units focused on internal and external support center solutions, network management systems, complex networks and workflow/document management solutions.
Before co-founding Evergreen, Don was Executive Vice President and the third employee of Global Management Systems, Inc. (GMSI), recognized by Inc. Magazine as in the top 100 on their list of the 500 fastest growing, privately held firms in the U.S. Don is a graduate of the College of William and Mary.