How to embed agency teams in client companies

April 13th, 2016

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Modern companies change so quickly that it’s becoming difficult for agencies to properly service them if they aren’t close to the action.

It’s why agencies such as ours are building embedded teams in client offices. Teams get closer to their clients, gaining a deeper understanding of the organisation’s needs, culture and politics (all valuable insights). Tight integration with clients also earns trust from the outset, which frees up both sides to work more effectively together. Results come more quickly and creativity grows.

There are, however, five key areas that agencies must consider if they are to avoid some of the common problems in embedding teams – and get the best out of them.

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An embedded team should fit seamlessly into the company, not be an odd one out.

Photograph: Alamy

1. Pick your team with care

Whether existing employees or new hires, building a strong team that can best represent your agency is key. Look towards senior team members who have been at the company for a while, rather than more junior personnel, as they have the experience and track record to present the best image of your company. Remember that team members will be liable and in the thick of it (just a short walk away) if something goes wrong.

If hiring a new team, make sure everyone interviewed is aware of the pros and cons of being embedded. Pros include being partners and specialists, working collaboratively as part of a team and continually affecting change within the organisation to come up with better ways of working. The main con is assimilating to a new working environment in which you are 100% accessible. It can feel relentless.

Letting someone go in blind may force them to leave once they realise the challenges, which will make you look unprepared to the client. An embedded team should look like a confident investment and fit seamlessly into the company, not be a rotating door of employees.

2. Prepare the team before they’re embedded

Build a team that understands the on-site, embedded dynamic. It’s high pressure to be constantly client-facing. It can be exhausting and stressful.

Team members must also prepare for emotionally volatile situations. In an embedded situation, the team will receive feedback immediately from the client, which may not always be well prepared or presented. Given the lack of a cooling off period, feedback could even be upsetting. Pick people who are good communicators, confident in accepting criticism and educated about the team-client relationship.

3. Value your agency’s identity and culture

Make your own culture part of the sell. Agencies shouldn’t involve just themselves in the client’s culture – they should implant their own. The most successful embedded teams will feel part of both organisations, so take the best from the client, but incorporate your agency’s methodology and processes.

Don’t forget to share. Embedded teams should stay in regular contact with those inside your agency. Not only can they bring a fresh perspective on things from the client side, but you can update them on other clients (the wider picture) while they’re focused on just one.

4. Set boundaries

It’s important to keep professional boundaries between the embedded team and the client. While the team should be friendly, they’re still in a professional relationship with those around them and should act as such. The embedded team should service a client to the standard it expects from external agencies.

5. Ensure your methodology is strong

It’s vital that you have a strong methodology and clear internal processes if you want to ensure embedding a team is effective. Don’t try this if your processes aren’t watertight; under pressure, it will become fairly obvious where you lack rigour.

This article, written by Matt Iliffe, originally appeared in The Guardian.