Professional Services

How to make a new service team?

New service development is a team sport. How do you convene a winning team of professionals, when everyone is busy with their own work and lives? How to create a new service team that has the ability to develop the service and create a new revenue stream?  

Innovation champions need to be team players to be successful. Consider Steve Jobs, not someone  known for being a great team player. Yet, even he thanked his success to being able to gather around him a team of excellent people 1. For organizations with less extrinsic leaders, teamwork is even more important 2.

Intrinsically motivated team members

Given all the constraints there are with selecting innovators in a professional service organization, I have yet to find a team that had the luxury to be selective in terms of skill-set and personal characteristics. Thus, the best way to form a powerful and effective new service development team, is to convene people motivated to solve the problem at hand.

Fortunately, motivation can compensate for a lot of malfunctions, from difficult-to-work-with characters to serious knowledge gaps. Whereas nothing can compensate for the lack of motivation.

A group composed of intrinsically motivated team members are thus your best option to take on the job of tackling a problem, developing a new service, and generating new revenue streams. That is, a team that consists of people who all have a passion for the same problem the team is assigned to address. Such a group likely lacks the necessary skill set to do so. This problem, however, can be solved relatively easily through training and coaching.

Compensating for the lack of skills and experience

By definition, professionals are highly educated. Yet, in all those years of education, few have learned how to renew their profession or how to generate new revenue streams. If a practice management course is included in the curriculum, it typically covers how to run the business. How to innovate is rarely taught.

Perhaps not being taught how to innovate is a good thing. Learning how to innovate in theory is not that useful anyway. It is the practical experience that counts.

Training and coaching are a great way to overcome the lack of new service development skills and expertise in a team. Such training and coaching has proven its value in the entrepreneurial community 3.

Business school, such as the Rotterdam School of Management, offer new business development courses. However, these courses are often focused on the individual, and are not team based. The benefits of in-house training programs and coaching are that they enable teams to learn and develop the specific skills they need and that work in their context.

Missing skills that cannot be easily taught

In some occasions, essential skills are lacking that cannot be picked up easily. Skills like computer programming, statistical analyses etc, cannot be learned adequately in the available time frame of a development project.

Fortunately, it is becoming easier to develop apps. There are example of law schools programs, like Iron Tech Lawyer at Georgetown Law that teach such skills. However, these programs are still relatively rare. As a result, lawyers – and other professionals – with programming skills are still a very rare breed.

Instead of developing expertise and skills like statistical analyses it may be smarter to in-source these skills for the duration of the project. That is, hire team members who already possess the relevant knowledge and who can participate in or support the development team.

It can also be useful to seek out partnerships to compensate for missing skills in the team and organization.

Strategic alignment

With teams build around intrinsic motivation, how are you going to align their activities with the strategic objectives of the organization? How to optimize the innovation process for the organization’s needs, the expert’s interests, and available expertise?

Below are two ways to keep bottom-up initiated initiatives aligned with your strategic goals.

Guide team formation efforts

As stated above, new business development is a team sport. Putting a team together requires effort. Management can control the areas in which teams actually get initiated, by providing guidance to these formation efforts. It can be as simple as providing a lunch meeting around a specific topic. Such a lunch meeting enables people with similar interest to get together. The only thing management has to do, is to make sure that such a meeting results in taking action.

Alternatively, especially for organizations with offices in many locations, a training platform like T4 can be used to support team formation.  By supporting team formation in the desired areas, management gets the opportunity to control where most of the activity will occur.

Use funding to create alignment

Another way to unsure alignment between team’s interest and the organization’s strategic direction, is through funding. Trying to manage professionals is like herding cats and the only way to make cats move in the desired direction, is by moving their food. In other words, you can align the activities by making budget available for the execution of projects aligned with the organization’s strategic direction only.

A final note on teams

Time is a scarce resource in the professional services. Hence, most new service development teams start with 2 or 3 people. For the ideate phase, that is an appropriate number (The Ideation is about figuring out whether the endeavor is worth pursuing and it does not take an army to do so).

The development and especially the implementation phase need larger teams. By this time, it is clear the new service will make it to practice. This transition often does not go unnoticed. Success draws supporters. Thus, at these phases, many others will want to join the winning team. Development teams sometimes have the tendency to keep these late-supporters out. They should not. These supporters may not be very useful to move the project along, however, they are invaluable when the service takes off. The success of a new service offering is ultimately limited by the number of service providers. So the more bystanders the team can train along the way, the faster the new service can scale upon success.

In innovation terms, you would place these late-joiners in the outer shell of your team. They are part of the effort and will play an important part when it comes to generating new revenue. However, while the team is still in development mode, these supporters don’t have to join the inner core. The inner core can remain a relatively small team of 5 to 8 people, that keeps moving the project forward as fast as possible.


  1. Isaacson W. The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs. Harv. Bus. Rev. 2012(April):93-102.
  2. Martin RL. The Innovation Catalysts. Harv. Bus. Rev. 2011;90(6):82-87.
  3. Hallen BL, Bingham C, B, Cohen SL. Do Accelerators Accelerate? The Role of Indirect Learning in New Venture Development2016, Available at SSRN: