There are times in the evolution of an IT organization where bringing in a new team member from the outside has significant value. While at key evolutionary points it might make sense for this new injection to come in the form of a new, permanent hire, there are times when simply bringing in a consultant can have the same value. The “value” in these cases is not fully supplied through additional technical expertise. Sometimes, an outside resource can prevent proposed solutions from being constrained by Group Think. IT teams who work together for a while come to know and understand the implied constraints that often surround proposed technical and process architectures. These implied constraints may come in the form of known manager biases, past group experiences, perceived realities of the organization (correct or not) and the simple desire to “fit” and be perceived as a team player. Many organizations do purposefully cultivate a specific corporate culture aimed at helping all members of the company to understand the guard rails within which the organization wishes to operate. New hires to IT teams such as data center operations, network engineering, database administration or software engineering certainly need to learn and understand the corporate culture which may help to define the big picture of the overall IT strategy. At a tactical level however, new hires can bring in new experiences, challenge team assumptions and ask fresh questions. In short, a new hire can point at the elephant in the room that current team members understand is there but also understand that they should not point out.
While new hires will likely cause the existing team to cycle through the typical stages of group development (forming, storming, norming, performing), it may be a move that pays dividends at key evolutionary milestones in an IT departments growth. There may be other times however where an outside resource can add value to a particular decision. Consultants are often sought out for their technical expertise or their real world experiences with other clients. Sometimes, the value of a consultant is also his or her “unbiased” opinion on a particular technical design or process improvement effort.
Whether it is a new hire at a strategic evolutionary milestone in the IT departments growth or a consultant brought in to evaluate a specific thought process, part of the value an outside resource provides is to point at your elephants.