Consultants: The Collaboration Tools You Use Affect Stakeholder Engagement

Your success as a business consultant, among other things, hinges on the level of collaboration you achieve with clients.

Getting your team in lockstep with your client, and their various stakeholders, is crucial for the success of any project or engagement. “When a consultant is on the ‘same page’ as their clients, it becomes easier to achieve common goals and objectives within a set timeframe,” says the team at TekPartners

It’s also important for getting clients to buy into your ideas in the first place. The better you can collaborate and communicate with team members at all levels, the better your chances of getting buy-in, explains the team at Parker + Lynch

But merely calling for more collaboration isn’t enough. You need to use tools that allow everyone to collaborate and work seamlessly together. 

Cloud-based task management tools are fantastic in this respect. By encouraging their adoption, you can improve teamwork, strengthen both internal and external communication, and ultimately prove your value as a consultant.

Intuitive Design Encourages Immediate Productivity

People expect smooth user experiences. When software is easy to use and sufficiently familiar, onboarding times decrease, and people can focus their energies on getting work done as a team.

Intuitive often goes hand in hand with a visually appealing user experience. “It’s been proven that humans are visual learners and studies have shown that visual information is retained longer than written or spoken information,” says writer and political scientist Marcus Johnson. “So it makes sense that visual collaboration tools are increasing business productivity.”

Visually appealing tools are a genuine pleasure to use, but they also make the actual process of working easier. The easier a tool is to use and understand, the quicker you and your clients will be able to see a project as a whole and break up the work into manageable projects and tasks. 

From there, a project management methodology like Kanban facilitates quick, intuitive workflows. This gives everyone involved — from junior associates to external stakeholders — visibility into who is doing what, and what progress is being made. 

Kanban is incredibly flexible and scalable, making it perfect for business consultants who are just as likely to work with small teams as they are entire departments or businesses. 

As well as increasing the accessibility of projects, Kanban fosters accountability among individuals, notes the team at Tech Wire Asia. When everything is accessible and shared between team members, responsibility and ownership are shared, too.

Silverline Communications CEO Laura Taylor found that using Kanban removed the silos that had formed in her organization and fostered a culture of collaboration. Rather than having two teams with two separate to-do lists, everyone worked from within the same digital environment. The result? Separate team members gained the ability to help others complete assignments, and they did so willingly. 

Little by little, that convergence of intuitive design and visual workflows creates efficiencies all across your organization. That’s the theory behind any piece of collaboration software, and real-world results confirm that theory. “Companies that utilize team collaboration applications report having significantly increased group and personal productivity, have faster time to market, and execute projects [faster],” explains Wayne Kurtzman, a research director at IDC.

Coworkers collaborating

Dedicated Communication Spaces Keep Everyone in the Loop

Great communication lies at the heart of every successful consulting project, says Oracle’s Steve Olenski, a veteran in the field of customer success. Consequently, finding tools that enhance collaboration become an essential part of your job as a consultant. 

Online cloud collaboration tools have a number of features that promote communication. These typically include feeds that display recent project activity, the ability to comment on specific tasks, the ability to like each other’s actions to encourage one another along, and email notifications that cue everyone in on a project’s progress.

These features are then integrated into a dedicated online space in a way that significantly improves communication and teamwork. That’s one reason Bluescape Software’s Shawn Murphy calls cloud tools a democratizer of conversations. All too often in face-to-face meetings, one or two people will dominate the conversation. Collaboration tools, however, provide a space where everyone can add their two cents without being shouted down by more vocal staff. 

“Inclusion is a non-negotiable for high performing teams,” Murphy writes. “A homophilous group will struggle to be innovative and to think creatively. No matter the differences, gender, sexual orientation, experiences, backgrounds, or even cognitive diversity, you want collaborative efforts to be fueled by an assemblage of people united by a common purpose.”

As Louder.Online co-founder Aaron Agius writes, companies that are successful at promoting collaboration invest time and money into creating these environments. “File-sharing software can help your team access the resources they need to do their jobs — as can internal collaboration software,” Agius writes. “But further than that, create spaces — both physical and virtual — where your team can share their insights, discuss their failures, and give each other constructive feedback.”

That same dynamic applies to external communication. A good collaboration tool will help you engage your clients and other external stakeholders. In doing so, you both keep everyone up to speed on how a project is going, and you demonstrate your value as a consultant. Frost & Sullivan’s Roopam Jain writes that in a document-heavy business like consulting, keeping clients up-to-date on progress is as important as delivering end results.

consultant

Permission Controls Keep Individual Team Members Focused

It sounds counterintuitive, but an important aspect of collaboration is limiting access or keeping junior team members on a need-to-know basis. Permission control isn’t about secrecy; it’s about creating efficiencies by not accidentally introducing extraneous information that might derail someone’s work.

Case in point: Imagine a project calls for one of your mid-level managers to delegate tasks to someone in an entirely different department. This can be tricky to navigate, the team at UK-based MTD Training write. On the one hand, this manager must communicate tasks as clearly and transparently as possible. The manager must also share what the overall vision for the project is. 

The key, however, is not to let the recipients of the task get bogged down with details and minutia outside the scope of the tasks at hand.

The same holds true for clients, who don’t have time to worry about a consultancies internal operations. The client doesn’t want constant updates, nor does the client want to be forwarded long email threads detailing a question. The client only wants results. With a robust cloud collaboration tool, consultants can limit a client’s exposure to day-to-day workflows. 

Ultimately, there’s a little irony embedded in collaboration. The process must be open and transparent to be effective, but delegating tasks and communicating progress to stakeholders requires a little opacity to maintain efficiency. Good collaboration tools will have that balance baked into their design so you will be able to easily share what you need, but also throttle updates so you don’t overwhelm a client with information.

Images by: Headway, CoWomen, Christina @ wocintechchat.com