When a project team starts up, there are the typical team building practices that take place. Although some teams implement formal team-building exercises like walking together on a beam, that’s not the type of thing I’m talking about.
There are natural team building activities that take place early in a project that establish alliances for the remainder of the project.
These alliances determine who gets coffee together, who will team up for certain group tasks and who will have lunch together.
On almost every project I’ve ever worked, I’ve seen the tendency for like-minded people to congregate for coffee breaks, afternoon tea and lunch.
A non cohesive team
In a consulting environment, there are often two groups: the consultants and the clients. They often don’t do a lot together. I’ve also seen a group develop based on nationality. I’ve seen groups of Indian team members do lunch together on a regular basis because they have similar dietary habits.
Every once in a while a friendship between a client employee and a consultant develops which bridges the gap a bit. But the common tendency is for consultants to go to lunch together while the client employees congregate in their own groups.
While there is nothing wrong with a dichotomy like this, it can evolve to a project of two separate teams. It makes it hard to create a spirit of camaraderie and can even evolve to animosity between the team.
It is the consulting team’s responsibility to create an environment of inclusion and collaboration. When leaving for lunch, ask client employees if they’d like to join. Better yet, ask them to pick the restaurant. Additionally, include client employees – the whole team, regardless of who they work for – in any extra activity like that.
Weekly team lunch
One project on which I worked, we implemented a regular team lunch every Wednesday. This was not sponsored by the consulting firm or the client; everyone paid for their own lunch. And it was optional. Nobody was forced to go.
There were people who went almost every week and some that almost never went. But it was a way to include everyone on the project in something we could all do together, to get them outside of the office walls for a while. It got clients and consultants talking and sharing stories about their families, vacations and other non-business topics. It was a great way for us to get to know each other as people rather than client counterparts and billable consultants.
The humanization helped us to develop a better team rapport causing us to get along better, becoming a more cohesive team.
Other ways for a cohesive team
This doesn’t need to be limited to lunch. Other activities can work just as well. Drinks after work, a team movie outing or any other team outing can work. The important goal is to break down the barriers between consultants and client employees so that team members see each other as teammates, developing as a more unified team.
What activities have you used to bring your team closer together?
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