Speed consulting is a group technique that draws on the experience of participants to advise another participant on how to address a specific problem or issue. It uses small group conversation and a fast-paced schedule to focus participants on providing concrete, actionable advice.
Steps in Speed Consulting
Identify some issue owners
In advance, identify a number of people (around 10% of the total) with a program implementation challenge which they would like help with – they are to play the role of the client who will be visited by a team of brilliant management consultants. Implementation issues should not be highly complex; ideally, each issue could be described in three minutes or less. Brief the issue owners privately coach on their body language, active listening, acknowledgement of input, etc. Remind them that if they are seen to have stopped taking notes (even when a suggestion has been noted before); they may stem the flow of ideas.
Arrange the room
You need multiple small consultant teams working in parallel, close enough to generate a “buzz” from the room to keep the overall energy high. Round tables or circles of chairs work well. Sit one issue owner at each table. Everybody else at the table plays the role of a consultant. The issue owner will remain at the table throughout the exercise, whilst the groups of “visiting consultants” move around.
Set the context
Explain to the room that each table has a program implementation issue and a team of consultants. The consultants have a tremendous amount to offer collectively – from their experience and knowledge – but that they need to do it very quickly because they are paid by the minute! They have 15 minutes with each client before a bell sounds, and they move on to their next assignment.
The time pressure is designed to prevent any one person monopolizing the time with detailed explanation of a particular technique. Instead, they should refer the issue owner to somewhere (or someone) where they can get further information. Short inputs also make it easier for less confident contributors to participate.
Start the first round
Reiterate that you will keep rigidly to time and that the consultants should work fast to ensure that everyone has shared everything that they have to offer. After 15 minutes, sound the bell and synchronize the movement to avoid a “consultant pile-up”.
Repeat the process
Issue owners need to behave as though this is the first group and not respond with “The other group thought of that!” They may need to conceal their notes.
Check the energy levels at the tables after the second round. More than two or three rounds can be tiring for the issue owners.
Ask for feedback and reflection on the process
Emphasize that the issue owners are not being asked to “judge” the quality of the consultants! Invariably, someone will say that they were surprised at the breadth of ideas and that they received valuable input from unexpected places.
Ask members of the “consulting teams” to do the same. Often they will voice their surprise at how sharing an incomplete idea or a contact was well received and how they found it easy to build on the ideas of others.
Challenge them to offer up partial solutions, ideas, and suggestions when a program challenge arises with their colleagues.