Make the Most of a Consultant’s Expertise

Posted by Kristin Arnold on March 26, 2009

Many teams often call on a “consultant” to come help them with a particular problem or issue.  A “consultant” can be a hired gun, an external facilitator, an internal facilitator, or subject matter expert.  Whenever you bring someone on board to “help,” the dynamics of the team change — hopefully for the better.  To increase the probability of your success, sit down with the consultant and have great conversation about what’s important to the team.  In consultant parlance, this is called “contracting.”

Alan Weiss, in his book, Getting Started in Consulting, states that the consultant and “client”  (team leader and the sponsor, if available) need to meet to gain conceptual agreement on three basic issues:

  1. What are the objectives to be achieved through this project?
  2. How will we measure progress and success?
  3. What is the value or impact to the organization?

While these three questions may be intuitively obvious, if you don’t go over these basic, fundamental issues, the team can easily get distracted.

I suggest the “consultant” and “client/buyer” meet for a casual cup of coffee or lunch to discuss these issues.  It shouldn’t take more than half an hour to cover the three questions and the additional areas that usually come up over the consulting engagement:

Team Membership. Are the right people involved?  Volunteers are best; the process owner is a must.  Ideally, you should involve every key part of the process as well as different levels within the organization.

Duration. How will you know when you are done?  What’s the deliverable at the end of the specific time frame?

Checkpoints. How/when do you want to check in with each other.  Email?  Cell phone?  Blackberry?

Boundaries. Any issues that are “out of bounds” and not an option for the team to consider?

Resources. What specific resources (money, training, specialists, support, equipment, supplies) do you think you’ll need?

Guidelines. Any specific areas to address, processes to be used, people to involve, or whatever you think needs to be considered in order to accomplish the objectives.

Logistics. Security badges, supplies, workspace issues can derail good intentions.  Think through what you’ll need to be successful.

Once you have agreement on the direction, scope, and process, the economic buyer and his/her team will be in a much better position to leverage the consultant’s expertise and move forward quickly and successfully.


In establishing conceptual agreement about objectives, ensure the following:

  1. The client is not expecting anything that the consultant cannot deliver.
  2. The client is not expecting anything that is unreasonable under the circumstances and within that culture and environment.
  3. There will be no misunderstandings later about why additional work wasn’t performed.
  4. The client is maximizing the consultant’s contribution and talents so that the project is maximally effective for the client.

Question:  What are your top three priorities when using a consultant?


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