In many consulting environments, we work in a team room huddled up working together. There are many reasons for this. From a practical sense, the client often doesn’t have cubicle or office space to house the entire team. They find a conference room or a single unused office, set up a large table and that room is now the team’s war room. Working in a team room is often the choice of the consultants too. Consultants often prefer to work in a collaborative environment where it is easy to get questions answered and have impromptu collaborations throughout the day. Working in cubicles, even when they are close together, reduces the ability to collaborate. Most consultants get used to working in open surroundings. They learn where hallways and conference rooms are to go for a private phone conversation.
When they need to perform uninterrupted heads-down work, many consultants put on headphones. I have a pair of ear buds that I use to listen to music . It’s a great way to block out noise. That can be both good and bad. After a while of working in a team room, one learns to focus even when two people are having a conversation. If that conversation is with a larger group, it can become distracting. If second or third conversations are taking place in the same room, one can feel they are working in a crowded lobby. The greater the distraction, the more one is drawn to putting headphones on. It drowns out all the noise with less distracting background music.
Are team room distractions bad?
All of this is assumes that the distractions are bad. One of the main purposes of working in a team room is to promote collaboration. When one of those side conversations occurs, you might hear what they are talking about. You may have had the same experience. It amazes me how often I’ve heard someone else jump in and say something like, “Oh, that happened to me last week. I resolved it by…” It has made me wonder how often people reinvent the wheel because they didn’t know someone had already solved the same problem. When a team member floats away on the island of headphone-land, they miss out on those side conversations. They can’t contribute to the collaboration that the team room is about. They miss out on mentoring their peers.
A Headphone Solution?
One option I’ve found helpful is the single ear bud solution. I listen to music in one ear to drown out some of the white noise, but always have an ear open to the conversations in the room. As I type, I’m listening to Canon in D Major. I’m also listening to a conversation by two business analysts working to determine the correct way an application should work. People say you can’t successfully multi-task. You can only focus on one thing at a time. I agree. I’m not actually listening to the side conversation. I’m listening for a problem. I’m not actually listing to Canon in D Major. It’s just beautiful background music that doesn’t distract me from my thoughts. A good consultant develops a skill of balancing heads-down work with maintaining an awareness of his or her surroundings. If working in an environment where side-conversations are too distracting, it may mean that consulting is not in your blood.
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com