Engage your team

“Arnaud, are we using you in the right way?”

I joined Accenture’s strategy group right out of grad school and was assigned to my first project for a large petrochemical company. It was a huge project, and the engagement team had dozens of consultants. After a few days, the senior manager in charge came to my office for a chat. And then he said one of the smartest things I’ve heard in a business setting: “Arnaud, are we using you in the right way?”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how I thought Accenture was doing things right when asking people to help their peers be successful. This, I think, is another example of them doing things right. It’s brilliant for two reasons: he made me feel important and he was increasing the collective wisdom of his group.

I mean, here I was, the youngest thing in the team, fresh out of school. No experience, no power, no expert knowledge of the client’s problem, and here comes this über-busy fellow who takes the time to get to know me and ask my opinion. All of a sudden I transitioned from feeling like a small, forgotten part of a horde of anonymous consultants to a critical component of a team. Talking about bringing up my self esteem!

Obviously I had no answer for him right there and then. Nobody had ever asked me that question. So I asked him for a couple of days to answer. But this little question has been in my mind ever since.

As a team leader, the name of the game is to use each person to leverage their skill set best: each should be doing the things that they can do better than anyone else. Anybody in charge of managing teams knows it’s not an easy task, but this little question helps you gain tremendous perspective by enabling you to see your operation from a radically different point of view.

So, if you are in charge of a team, periodically have a short, individual conversation with each team member, and ask them if you are using them in the right way. You might get some outstanding ideas. If you don’t, at least you will make them realize they are a critical part. And that is already quite a return for such a low investment.

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