I lead a Strategic Learning Partnership with a major Life Sciences client, and it’s a job I love. My team runs a significant portion of my client’s learning operations; it’s a huge responsibility, and one we take very seriously. Nothing we do is by accident—we worked hard to set this team up for success. We worked with our client to really understand their needs. Here are a few of the steps we took to guarantee success:
Even though we’re not officially part of the client organization, our Strategic Partner team needs to act and behave like we are. After all, we’re still part of their learning organization and what they do. It was crucial to get involved with their operational team to learn everything that we could about who they are, how they work, what kind of processes they do (and don’t) have in place, as well as how their day-to-day business functions. Our goal was to be seamless; we didn’t want to be outsiders, we wanted to be part of the team.
2. Relationship Building
We focused on getting to know the leaders in our client’s learning organization as quickly as possible. Mutual success required building good, solid relationships with their leaders and helping them to get to know us as well. As we learned more about one another as both people and leaders, we became more comfortable working with one another, building trust in one another, and developing a rhythm for working together through successes and challenges. Solid relationships build solid partnerships.
3. Team Structure
Our Strategic Learning partnership provides a managed learning service, the key word being “managed.” Part of the value we provide to our client is that we don’t just provide resources; we provide processes, tools, and someone to manage all of that. While keeping your team structure as flat as possible is a good goal, the size and role diversity of your team helps determine the management structure. While there are best practices, every team is unique; if you have a globally dispersed team, or a team with virtual resources, you may have some additional management needs beyond just a numbers game. Managing individuals can become more challenging when are dealing with different work environments, cultures, languages, time zones, etc.
4. Team Building
We wanted our team to feel like they were part of the client organization, but also have their own identify. We all want/need people to onboard as quickly as possible and become productive, but people also need time to get to know one another, to really learn about your team and how you fit into the larger organization, and about how what they are going to do on a daily basis will contribute to the success of the business.
We made sure everybody was prepared to do their job, but we also made sure they bonded with the other team members; collaboration is one of the keys to productivity and creativity. There are a lot of great ideas for building teams without taking people offline. For example, have people share pictures about something they enjoy outside of work in the rest of their life. Use web cams to let people see one another and get used to each other’s faces along with their names. Pair people up to work on projects together that don’t normally work together, where possible. There are lots of little things that you can do to help build a stronger team, and it needs to be an ongoing process, not just a one-time thing.
5. Operational Processes
Starting up any new team requires implementing some basic operational processes to get everyone and everything started. Some of the basics include time tracking, project tracking, one-on-one meetings, giving performance feedback, monthly reporting of activities and progress, project tracking (where appropriate), monthly reconciliation of work effort against plan, etc. Processes will evolve over time, but you need some basic operational processes in place to function well and start to get business moving as smoothly as possible.
Being a Strategic Learning Partner means doing more than showing up and doing the work. It means integrating with your client’s team. It means focusing on building an effective, efficient, and collaborative team. Our goal is always to provide our client with a highest possible level of service, to provide them with ideas, impact, and efficiency beyond what they can provide themselves. After all, that’s what makes us a “Strategic” Learning Partner; we’re not just doing the work– we’re mapping the future.
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Kari Borroel is an Account Director and a consultant for Performance Development Group.