In state government IT, teams very likely will be made up of a blend of state employees and consultants. These days, skilled workers are not content to keep the same skills. They hunger for newer and better ways to develop solutions. These are exactly the type of consultant you want on your team, but you won’t keep them long if you don’t make an effort to help them in their development.
You as the project manager or team leader need to foster an environment that is challenging to the team members while still achieving the goals of your client. This is sometimes difficult, given that a common use of consulting teams is to support the outgoing technology so the client can adopt the incoming technology.
But these challenges can be addressed if both the leader and the team members are willing to invest time in their personal and professional growth. If you have a team that works on the client site, here are some simple and cost-effective options for you to help develop the team and each interested member’s professional or technical growth:
- Lunch & learn – The learning aspect of such a session can be accomplished by having one team member describe a technique or product he or she uses, or it can be done by broadcasting a video or audio presentation, such as through YouTube or a podcast. The lunch & learn idea serves multiple purposes. First, it is a team exercise. In many environments consulting teams are supporting individual systems, and their paths may not cross daily. Getting the team together for a quick learning session brings them into the same room at the same time. Secondly, these sessions stimulate discussion about the topic being presented. Additionally, it may give opportunities to have team members develop presentation skills. It even affords team members the chance to promote their individual expertise to other team members.
- Hello World – Set aside some non-client time each day or week to have the team develop something simple but useful using a new technique or product. This takes the academic nature of learning and makes it more practical and hands-on, which helps in learning, but it also provides a product at its end. Products such as simple status reports or time tracking aids, internal messaging apps, or team event calendars and alerting can be developed. In addition to learning the new product or technique, this can also provide opportunities for team members to develop skills in new areas, such as project management, requirements analysis, and architecture. As with the lunch & learn, merely getting team members to interact together provides valuable benefits for teams that are separated.
- Pitch, pitch, pitch – As the leader of a consulting team, you should be working with your client to offer ideas for improvement that are either of low or no cost. Use this time to pitch some ideas to your client about allowing the team to try out their newly-developed skills on an upcoming project or improvement effort. Having a “Hello World” application as a demonstration of the team’s abilities will be a big help in convincing the client.
- Coaching – This is more of an individual approach than the previous options. In cases where team-based techniques are impractical, try using development planning and follow-up sessions. Use this type of one-on-one session to plan for and check progress toward the team member’s self-directed learning. While it is ultimately up to the team member to complete the learning, the leader’s involvement may help to provide practical application of what would otherwise be a purely academic exercise. Skill development in this environment should focus on areas of interest to the team member and of importance to the client or consulting organization.
- Support the mother ship – Suggest to your team members and to your consulting organization’s home office that your team members be active participants in providing content for proposals or assisting in defining architectures for solutions. By involving them in these types of activities, team members will have the chance to understand another side of the business, while sharpening their skills by doing the research needed to offer suggested approaches.
- Leverage – Use the work of others as an open door towards your team’s growth. As the client implements newer technology, try to find a small feature or need in the current system that would be better implemented using the newer. Having the technology already in place will make arguing that case much easier.
Your role as the team leader is to maintain the best possible team to support the client’s needs. If that client is moving forward, you should do what you can to move in the same direction. As the leader, you benefit by coming across as a strategic thinker. Your team members will benefit by gaining technical skills. Your consulting organization will benefit by positioning itself as able to support the client in both the older and newer technologies.