3 Steps to Unleash Collaboration

By February 26, 2013Collaboration

Collaboration [kuh-lab-uh-rey-shuhn]

  1. The act of working with another or others on a joint project
  2. Something created by working jointly with another or others
  3. A buzzword used by nearly every consulting firm worldwide

Okay, I made the third one up.  But it’s true.  Many consulting firms tout tremendous reach-back potential and a unique ability to collaborate amongst their consulting brethren to help solve client problems. While this sounds great on paper, most of these firms struggle and ultimately fail when attempting to practice this in real life.


In many cases, traditional consulting models lack the incentives or structure to facilitate true collaboration. Reasons can vary from trust issues, lack of true relationships with peers and coworkers, or in many cases the presence of an incentive program that actually rewards consultants for doing just the opposite – working hard to climb the consulting ladder, competing with their peers for limited but lucrative partner positions at their firm.

How SEI has rewritten the rulebook…

1. Hire for cultural fit and chemistry

At SEI, it takes more than just the right skills and experience to get the job. We’re laser focused on hiring for cultural fit and chemistry.  We do this by heavily involving our consultants throughout the hiring process. This ensures interviewers are keen to hire folks who share similar values and whom they feel comfortable working alongside, instead of recruiters who are incentivized to fill open positions to improve their time to fill metrics.  Also, referral hires work wonders for collaboration.

2. Flatten the organization and enable collaboration

There are both pros and cons to a very flat organization.  The largest advantage is that by eliminating competitive forces between consultants you instantly remove one of the main barriers to collaboration. You still need other tools to enable collaboration – and we have ours, called the DUDES forum – but removing natural competitive barriers to collaboration is essential for enabling collaboration.

3. Reward the right behaviors

Lastly, reward the right behaviors.  At SEI, we are rewarded for collaborating with each other.  Collaboration isn’t a suggestion or advice here – it’s institutionalized and reinforced through our performance management process, and our compensation model.

Collaboration in Action.

The DUDES forum is a simple tool – a threaded forum with notification workflow where a all SEI dudes and dudettes can post problems and questions for other SEIers to help with.  However, the business value is priceless.  It puts the collective value of the organization at the finger tips of our distributed workforce.

On my very first day with an SEI client, I was notified of a DUDES post via email. Another SEI-er needed some ammo for a CIO board meeting where he was presenting. Just a few minutes later my inbox was barraged by numerous replies from fellow consultants, offering advice, templates, and helpful hints on how to ensure the presentation went smoothly. Nearly every reply ended with “If you’d like to talk more about this, feel free to give me a call.” It was great reinforcement – I didn’t feel “alone” at my client site and I felt empowered and ready to tackle any problem my client could throw at me.  I knew I had the backing of an entire organization that would be there every step of the way.

Matt Ruehl

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