When I was in high school, I was selected to be in an ensemble, a singing quartet that performed throughout my senior year. Practicing and performing with those three people is one of the fondest memories of my life. The singers in the quartet were selected based on our ability to work together and for how well our voices blended, not based on our individual singing abilities. Working with that group is something that I will always be proud of and will always look back on with a smiling face.
Now, I’m lucky enough to work with a group of people who collaborate and perform in the same way, and it’s beyond anything I had envisioned when we first created the company six years ago. Of course we talked about having an ensemble, it is in our name. We knew from the day on the whiteboard when we were brainstorming names that we wanted to bring insight to our clients and the industry (thought) via a new way of working together (ensemble). We didn’t know how it was going to work because we’d never really seen it done before. Jim and I just knew that we met in choir and always enjoyed making music together and felt that “ensemble” was a great word to describe the special unity we had and that we hoped to cultivate in our company.
Some of my partners described it the other day as the way they’ve always seen Jim and I work together and I suppose that is true. I saw it start really forming with Thought Ensemble when we wrote our first book, Reboot. We knew we wanted to invest in writing the book and we knew we had to get Jim out of client work for a few months to focus on it. At the time we were four people and John and I did the lion’s share of client delivery, so that Claudia could run the back office and Jim could write. We all applied our strengths in the best way we could to achieve our goal. When the book was done, we all talked about putting in place a compensation model we had envisioned in the business plan, but we agreed we didn’t want to do it because we didn’t want to “mess up” the great culture we had. To this day, partners are all paid the same and no one is compensated based on individual sales or hours worked.
Since then, the goals have changed and our capabilities have expanded with the addition of several new people. What has continued is the way we work together. It is truly different than anything I’ve ever experienced or heard about from my friends at other consulting firms. Our clients are floored when they find out that they get not just one partner’s brain on their project, but two or three, because of the way we work together to solve hard problems. New employees who come from other consulting firms are skeptical at first that the senior leaders of our company will spend their time really working together to solve problems versus just fighting about staffing or competing about who sold what. But, half the time we aren’t even sure whose deal is whose in the pipeline. We still talk every week about who should own the next step to sell it, but we do what’s best for the company and the client instead of worrying about commission. We do know who owns the delivery of a project, but that doesn’t mean another senior person might not spend more hours actually doing the work if that’s what works out best. Yesterday, someone who works closely with us said “You all are the most competitive group of partners I’ve ever seen and yet you never compete with each other.” Maybe that’s it.
Whatever it is, I’m grateful. And I intend to figure out how to scale this “ensemble” culture as we grow…