In a previous article, we shared about how to work with your consultants successfully.

We pointed out that you are only in control of what you can control.

This sounds like an obvious statement.

Unfortunately, many of us communicators spend a huge amount of time trying to control (or influence) systems, processes and teams that we have little control over.

For example, we share information with other functions about timelines, media relationships, industry developments, hoping to influence them to speed up/slow down/re-assign priorities/move on from items on their wish list, roadmap or functional objectives.

There’s no negative intention. We are simply trying to control our organisation’s output to provide the best possible context or timing to do some action.

Instead, we should be looking at what we do have control over and optimising for those sets of actions. This way, regardless of the cards we are given, we are always able to play them. Not always well, but we do not have to give a game up for being unprepared.

This mindset extends to working harmoniously with our consultants as well. Our consultants are not an external appendage that we can remove at will. With the right process to drive shared success, they can help us accelerate our timelines (if we want to) or clear our roadmaps effectively.

strtgcommsgrp - consultants and team

Working with consultants to achieve your communications objectives

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Unknown origin (but possibly African)

Working with consultants can confer benefits to your organisation that might require more effort if you work alone or only with your inhouse team.

While there are multiple areas that can be challenging in working with a consultant, there are also advantages.

Some advantages are quick to realise in the relationship, while others accrue over time and experience.

Some ‘quick wins’ include tapping on a knowledge base and capabilities previously inaccessible by the brand, gaining external and neutral perspectives on the brand’s assets, channels and messaging as well as additional talent to add on to programmes and campaigns and support with implementation or execution. 

Long-term benefits include access to the network and community that can build collaborations and partnerships that are anchored by the same consultant.

A competitive edge that comes with time occurs when the consultant (and their team) is mapped to the brand’s teams or functions, allowing the opportunity for the brand to take on or implement concurrent programmes.

This increases efficiency, and if the consultants are sufficiently integrated, improves effectiveness as well.

Why is alignment and harmony a critical stage to achieve when working with consultants?

Alignment and harmony between the organisation and the consultant creates a solid foundation for effective collaboration, trust, and decision-making.

Successful outcomes of a positive organisation-consultant relationship includes: ensuring and working on clear goals, efficient programme/project execution, and successfully achieving desired outcomes.

What does this look like in practice?

Alignment ensures that both the organisation and the consultant have a shared understanding of the goals and objectives of the consulting engagement. It helps establish a common vision and direction for the project. When there is clarity and alignment in this understanding, it becomes easier to work collaboratively towards achieving those goals.

Collaboration becomes more effective. Both parties work together seamlessly, leveraging their respective expertise and resources. This collaboration is an essential cornerstone for achieving successful programme/project outcomes.

With consistent alignment, trust and confidence is built and sustained between the organisation and the consultant. Coupled with a shared understanding and agreement on the project’s direction, the organisation trusts that the consultant understands their needs and can deliver results. This trust is crucial for open communication, knowledge sharing, and successful implementation/execution.

Over the course of the relationship, more efficient decision-making happens as there is agreement on priorities, strategies, and actions. Minimally, this helps avoid conflicts and delays, ensuring that the programme/project progresses in an efficient and effective manner.

Here’s an extra step that will provide a boost to the programme, project or campaign.

Achieving alignment and harmony from an early stage increases the chances of successful implementation/execution. This does not stop with the communications team. It extends to key stakeholders and decision-makers within the organisation and the chain of command. When there is co-ownership by key stakeholders within the organisation, it becomes easier to gain support for initiatives, overcome resistance and contribute to achieving outcomes.

strtgcommsgrp - harmony between a team and their consultants

Sidebar: From a human relations perspective, how does one know what harmony looks like?

Achieving harmony is important for positive relationships and a supportive work environment.

In many workplace cultures globally, harmony holds great significance. Here are a few indicators of how harmony is/can be recognised:

These indicators are not universal. Different cultures and contexts might have a different expression of harmony. Pay attention to specific cultural norms and values.

We would not recommend trying to create a template of actions of behaviours that seem to mean ‘alignment’. Instead, it’s about creating a safe and secure environment for team members to practice various ways of expressing themselves with an outcome of achieving harmony.

Achieving workplace harmony requires consistent and frequent efforts to build trust, encourage open communication, and create a supportive and inclusive environment.

It is important to emphasise to team members and demonstrated through the organisation that it is a shared responsibility to cultivate and maintain harmony. Harmony can become a system that contributes to both the overall workforce well-being and the organisation’s productivity.

Optimising for alignment and harmony between the in-house team and consultants

Here are 7 recommendations that we use to guide this process of achieving alignment and harmony:

Determine the baseline and the non-negotiables. Put these down into writing, or better yet, create a standard operating process. These can include matters such as team goals, objectives for the year/quarter, meeting outcomes, frequency, cadence, and other aspects that the team recognises as a structure.

Whether it is to access capabilities, to lead projects or to increase resources. Depending on the reason, consider what areas and outcomes the consultant will be responsible for, whether jointly with the in-house team, or solely responsible as part of the scope of work.

Integrate the consultant’s areas, scope, and capabilities. Secure buy-in and understanding from management, as well as coordinating or project ownership with inhouse team members.

Allow time and space – usually up to a month – for the consultant to research, read and ask questions (no matter how basic it can be).

As both the internal team and consultants are learning one another’s work style, try not to set immediate outcomes or take pains to over-explain as it might give either team an inaccurate impression of the work culture. Remember that the goal is to optimise the specialty, capabilities, and resources a consultant brings, and not just add another pair of hands to the team.

As the team moves to the empowerment stage, the team leader should start thinking in terms of clearing obstacles for the combined team to do their best work. These obstacles can include older approaches or methods of doing things or helping other business stakeholders become familiar with the people and the work done.

This can help optimise the consultant’s performance or delivery of outcomes. There are genuine reasons for withholding company sensitive information and data from external parties, so this is not about opening full access to sensitive information but instead ensuring that the specialist has the bigger picture and perspective.

Working together as one team provides the consultant with support that they are working towards business goals and not being the ‘odd one out’ looking in from the outside and generally being ineffective

strtgcommsgrp - co-ownership with team and consultants

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