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Use Virtual Teams to Expand Your Firm's Offerings

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In today's global economy, virtual teams are becoming the norm rather than the exception. As consultants, we immediately become a virtual member of a client's team when we sign on to an engagement. Becoming masters of virtual team management is a critical skill for any consultant, and learning when and how to form virtual teams to augment your firm's offerings can be an important path to revenue growth.

To Team or Not to Team

How many times have you attended a networking meeting and found synergy with a fellow consultant in what you offer? You get excited because both of you see possibilities, and you suggest working together. However, often times such conversations fizzle. How can you tell if teaming up would be of benefit to both of you?

Forming a virtual team and presenting a single solution to a client can be an effective way of expanding your business. This type of virtual team works best in two situations:
  • You have an established process or methodology with distinct components that lend themselves to subcontracting.
  • Your process or methodology complements work that happens before or after your process, affording a natural add-on to the proposed work.
The more specifically you define a project, the greater your chances for a successful pairing.

Virtual teams don’t work well when you try to expand your offerings into areas beyond your expertise. You may reap short-term rewards by selling a subcontractor’s services, but in the long run, you’ll do better if you avoid subcontractors who are outside your area of focus.

Will the Client Buy It?

You might be nervous about expanding your practice through virtual teams, because you’re wondering how a client will respond to such an arrangement. Keep in mind these points when talking to a client:
  • Emphasize each team member’s specialty — you’re bringing together the best!
  • Focus on the results you’ll provide.
  • Brand as one company, but be up front about the subcontracting arrangement.
  • Set and manage expectations for availability/interaction.
When you form virtual teams rooted in the knowledge that you’re creating a better solution for the client, selling the client on the solution is easier.

Making a Virtual Team Sing

The best practices for managing an in-person team also apply to managing a virtual team. However, it’s all too easy for a virtual team to fall into disarray because of the lack of personal contact. Remember these key points when forming and managing your virtual team:
  • Establish clear agreements (legal and otherwise).
  • Hold a kick-off meeting, preferably in-person.
  • Meet regularly and focus on results/next steps.
  • Maintain a balance between in-person and virtual meetings.
  • Have 1:1s with each team member to expose discontent or dissent that might not be expressed on conference calls or in emails.
  • Vary the technologies used for communicating.
Mixing up the ways your virtual team communicates (phone, email, instant messaging, and in-person) can greatly boost your team’s effectiveness. Today, many technologies exist to support virtual teams, including web-based calendars/schedule sharing, remote (and secure) file sharing, web-based conference call and presentation tools, and instant messaging (though keep in mind that most public instant messaging clients aren’t secure communications!). By availing yourself of these technologies, the world becomes a smaller place and your virtual team seamlessly expands your service offerings.

Take Your Firm to the Next Level

As consultants, we have many opportunities to define our work and try new ways of operating. Expanding through forming virtual teams — when done right — can be an effective way to take your business to the next level.

About the Author

Karilee Wirthlin, managing principal of KL Consulting, is a leading website strategy consultant who works with CEOs, VPs of marketing, and website directors to shape the vision of their website and help them shepherd that vision through implementation. Her typical projects involve global, virtual teams, including her own virtual team, client stakeholders all over the world, and the client’s other vendors.

In recognition of her accomplishments, Karilee was selected to be a co-author of the book Create the Business Breakthrough You Want: Secrets and Strategies from the World's Greatest Mentors. In October 2006, Karilee was named to the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal ''40 under 40'' list, which highlights the best and brightest talents under the age of 40 who are part of the next generation of leadership in Silicon Valley.

In addition to her successful consulting practice, Karilee serves as Past President on the board of Women in Consulting (WIC) and is a member of WIC’s Leaders Network.
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