Working Successfully With Subject Matter Experts

Whether you are working with a consultant, an outside company, or someone within your organization, you may find it difficult to integrate a subject matter expert (SME) into your project team for many reasons. Communication may be an issue due to the very reason you need an SME?you’re not in the same field and you don’t share a common knowledge base. Additional stumbling blocks might be that you find it hard to communicate, or there’s no sense of teamwork.

Working Successfully With Subject Matter ExpertsWhile there may be some obstacles, both big and small, building a good working relationship with your SME is crucial for both sides in order to reach your goals. Here are some ideas for establishing a base of communication and teamwork that can help you succeed.

Setting Parameters

Because SMEs usually work for themselves, it’s important to establish a timeline for the length of the project. Set realistic milestones and deadlines that everyone agrees to meet. Another detail to nail down is how the expert will be available to you and project members, whether it’s by email, phone, or in person (consider including “best times to contact” as well).

It may also be helpful to establish some deadlines for returning emails and phone calls. SMEs are likely to be working on projects with other organizations. Setting some guidelines will ensure that everyone stays on the same page.

Promote Communication

Give the SME an idea of who other team members are, along with their knowledge and experience levels. Remind your expert not to assume that the topic is familiar to everyone and ask him to use simple explanations and examples. Be sure to stress the need for common language and not to lapse into technical jargon that might be confusing to others.

On the other side of this coin, ask project members to have questions ready in advance of meetings. You may want to send the questions to the SME beforehand so he or she can prepare answers and options. Be sure to email a detailed agenda to the expert as well. It will make your meetings more productive.

Take Charge of Meetings

Don’t expect or allow the SME to run meetings. That job belongs to the project leader, who essentially functions as the bridge between the organization and experts. The project leader interprets questions and answers to promote understanding between all team members and ensures the SME delivers the information and insights needed. Learn how to be an effective team leader when you learn more about ACU’s masters in dispute resolution.

Include the SME in project updates and acknowledge his or her contributions in team meetings, as you would with other team members. This will help make the SME feel more a part of the project and the team. It may even help them be more proactive with information and ideas.

SMEs are found in any field, from finance to IT, marketing, distribution and more. Their knowledge and insights can aid organizations in a variety of endeavors, from developing marketing strategies to establishing distribution chains and much more. Establishing project goals and communication guidelines can help you make the most effective use of their expertise.

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