Harnessing the wisdom of the team

When organisations believe they can’t find the best advice and solutions to issues from within, they often resort to bringing in external consultants. Staff surveys on how to improve things company-wide which have resulted in unproductive and snide ideas such as: “sack the management team to save money” can be a further incentive to bringing in fresh ideas from third parties. 

But what if we asked our own people for advice differently in order to get better results? Instead of a broad question on how to improve things company-wide, why not ask your teams this: “What would make your job easier to do?” 

Achieving different outcomes

When asked this question by an associate consultant, a customer services team all agreed that not having to respond to huge volumes of progress chasing queries would make their lives easier and more productive. Call volumes halved overnight when a message was added to their call system which stated that if a query had been sent less than 10 days previously, the team would not be able to provide any updates. 

Here’s another example: instead of asking: “How can we stop generating so much paper?”, why not ask: “Why don’t you photograph your documentation?” (This is assuming you accept digital images of documentation). 

As a result of being asked this question by one of my colleagues, a team for a large housing benefit organisation began photographing documents on their phones and then emailing these instead of sending hard copies which then had to be scanned. The result was that one million less documents were scanned every year, saving the organisation considerable resources and time. 

Staff at one of my research agency clients were expressing frustration with a client who kept focusing on minute details that were bringing project work to a halt and jeopardising the deadline date. I suggested that rather than focusing on addressing and responding to these irrelevant issues, they should instead ask their client what the project was aiming to achieve. Asking this question refocused the client on the strategic importance of the project and enabled the agency team to provide reassurance that their methodology would achieve the project objectives. 

Asking the right questions is key to solving issues

The best ideas often do come from your own people but the problem is that we are asking for their ideas in the wrong way – or simply not at all. 

In my opinion, the type of consultant who is really needed to bring out these ideas is a facilitator of internal ideas who is able to ask the right questions. This is not the same as a third party who comes up with their own ideas and advice, often out of context. The key is asking the right questions. 

If your staff can offer their own useful ideas through skilled questioning, they will also feel empowered and are likely buy into any subsequent proposals for any change more readily. Even though they have been facilitated to do so, they will believe that they are the ones who have come up with the new ideas and this is why they will be more agreeable and less likely to complain.  

The first step

The consultant facilitator should start with a brainstorm session in which staff are asked to discuss questions such as:


·         What’s the one thing that makes your job unnecessarily difficult?

·         What’s the most important issue for the organisation and why?

·         How will this benefit us / what will this give us?

·         What’s the idea behind this?

·         Why don’t we do this….?

·         How does that sound / how do you feel about that?

·         What stops us doing this?

·         What else do we need to discuss?

·         What would be the best way to proceed? 


I believe the important next step is then to empower staff to put their ideas into action – even if it is only on a trial basis. Critically though, it’s important to make this trial zone a safe space for them to operate so that if their ideas don’t work, there won’t be any negative repercussions.  

If you empower staff to believe they are empowered and have a real voice, you will discover that their inclusion achieves better decisions and results for your organisation in the long run.