The McKinsey Engagement by Paul N. Friga
CategoriesSales Consulting

‘Almost all major Business Decisions are the result of Team Problem Solving.’

McKinsey consultants are the special forces of the business world. Their specialty is ‘team problem solving.’ Their method is not magic; it’s quite teachable, although it requires discipline and the ability to tell a good story.

Although McKinsey itself does not use this term, the acronym ‘TEAM FOCUS’ helps remember the elements of the McKinsey method:

  • Talk – A team that cannot communicate cannot solve any problem
  • Evaluate – Teams must be able to assess their performance and make course corrections
  • Assist – Team members help each other
  • Motivate – To persuade the team to pull together, learn what drives each individual
  • Frame – Define the basic issue or problem that your team must solve. What are its ‘issue trees?’ What hypotheses will you use to test your assumptions? Framing is the most vital step in the TEAM FOCUS model
  • Organise – Frame the issues using ‘content hypotheses,’ or primary questions.
  • Collect – Gather meaningful data
  • Understand – Figure out how the data relate to ‘proving or disproving the hypotheses’
  • Synthesise – Mould the data into a believable, compelling narrative

There are three ‘Rules of Engagement’ for each element to help understand the concept and provide guidelines for implementation


Team problem solving is an interpersonal process. Its most important element is simply talking. If team members cannot speak openly to one another, they will never get anywhere. To improve your team’s communication:

  1. Communicate constantly: Over-communication is better than under-communication. Discuss everything related to the problem at hand. Interact by e-mail, telephone and in person. Document everything
  2. Listen attentively: Put aside your personal agendas while others speak. Give all speakers the respectful attention they deserve
  3. Separate issues from people: Ideas are good or bad on their own merits. Keep personality out of the equation—especially your own


‘You can always find something positive to say about any person—it just may take a little more looking’

To evaluate progress, establish goals. Team members must commit themselves to giving and receiving feedback, and must agree on the team’s objectives and the metrics they will use. To evaluate the work of the team, look at each members work style, areas of responsibility and achievements

  1. Discuss team dynamics: Do this at the beginning of the project, at the midpoint and at the end, in the form of an ‘after-action review.’ Discuss personality styles, conflict resolution and progress reporting
  2. Set expectations and monitor results: List all tasks and determine the order in which the team must do them. Assign tasks and ensure that each member takes ownership of his or her activities. Discuss timing. Track and document everything
  3. Develop and re-evaluate a personal plan: A team is only as strong as its members, who must learn to assess their individual strengths and weaknesses realistically. Even more important, members must share their self-assessments with one another. Team members should commit to improve in their personal areas of weakness, for example, regarding listening skills, ability to be non-confrontational


In addition to understanding who does what and to giving and receiving feedback, team members must be willing to step out of their usual roles to help others when necessary

  1. Leverage expertise: List the skills of individual team members, and then assign tasks accordingly. Make sure the team has members who possess the skills it will need to do its work
  2. Keep teammates accountable: Team members must accept responsibility for their own parts of the project. Everyone should carry equal weight. Use status reports to inform members about their progress
  3. Provide timely feedback: Make sure it is balanced and constructive


Each team member has a different motivation: Money may motivate one; ambition, another; pride yet another. To optimise team performance, find out what drives team members

  1. Identify unique motivators: Personality often determines motivation. Use ‘personality profiling tools,’ such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DISC (dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance), Big Five (openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism) and Strengths Finder, to evaluate the personalities on your team
  2. Positively reinforce teammates: Be observant. Put team members ahead of yourself. Be sincere in your praise. Don’t pressure team members. Stay in touch with the team even after the project is over
  3. Celebrate achievements: This is the best way to build positive energy. Acknowledge every important milestone


You can’t solve a problem you haven’t identified. This is where framing comes into play

  1. Identify the key question: Use precise language such as, ‘How can we improve profitability?’ Discuss the issue fully with those who know about it and whom it affects. Get their input about possible solutions
  2. Develop the issue tree: ‘Information trees’ ask, ‘What is going on?’ To make an information tree, list every aspect of the issue – all the ‘topics for consideration.’ For example, if profits are the issue, the information tree will include these branches of information: revenue, which again breaks down into price and quantity; costs, which you can split into information, such as variable cost per unit and quantity, and fixed costs. Document all information. Outline the time frame
  3. Formulate hypotheses: ‘Decision trees’ ask, ‘What can we do?’ To build a decision tree, begin with a hypothesis. Every ‘hypothesis must be falsifiable,’ that is, using data you can prove it true or false. ‘The company should improve its operations’ is a weak hypothesis, while ‘the company should double its capacity, increase employee annual bonus programs and cut its product line by 33%’ is a strong one. In addition to the main hypotheses, develop supporting or sub-hypotheses—(‘If this hypothesis is true, what else needs to be true?’)


Develop a strategic approach for your analysis. Follow these rules of engagement:

  1. Develop a high-level process map: It will answer such important questions as ‘Who will do what?’ and ‘What will the end result look like?’
  2. Create a content map to test hypotheses: Test the sub-hypotheses first
  3. Design the story line: Develop an initial story line early in the process, then amend it as you learn more. As data accumulates, the story line becomes a ‘storyboard.’ The important players must be able to follow the final story line easily

‘Begin working on the final presentation story very early in the project – almost on day one.’

‘By the end of the project, [the story] will have developed and morphed into findings, conclusions and ultimately, recommendations’


You cannot prove or disprove your hypotheses without relevant data. Therefore, collect what you need

  1. Design ghost charts to exhibit necessary data: These are ‘draft slides’ that illustrate your problem-solving ideas. They consist of titles that address the ‘so what?’ questions; ‘data labels,’ or educated guesses regarding the data; and the data itself, presented visually with illustrations such as bar graphs, pie charts or flow charts. Do not be reluctant to develop such initial slides: The problem solving process is iterative
  2. Conduct meaningful interviews: These are even more important to problem solving than ‘secondary data.’ Talk to the appropriate people. Be smart during the interviews. Don’t steamroll interviewees to get the data you want. Write up interviews as soon as you finish them
  3. Gather relevant secondary data: Keep the primary issues and hypotheses in mind.   Cite all data sources on charts and slides


Data without insights are meaningless. By the time you reach this stage, you should be able to support your hypotheses. Understand the information and formulate conclusions that can help you come up with recommendations

  1. Identify the so what(s): Ask yourself how your insights will affect further analyses and the operations under review
  2. Think through the implications for all constituents: Figure out how the insight will affect the ‘consulting team,’ the ‘client project team’ and the ‘client implementation team’?
  3. Document the key insights on all charts: Put these ideas at the top of your slides. Express them in complete sentences


Develop a sound, convincing argument for your recommendations

  1. Obtain input and ensure buy-in from the client: If your client doesn’t follow your recommendations, your work is pointless. Keep the client fully involved. Include all implementers. Discuss your story with the client before your presentation
  2. Offer specific recommendations for improvement: Tie each of your recommendations to ‘governing points’ such as a ‘change in strategic positioning’ or ‘operational improvements’
  3. Tell a good story: Start with the recommendations and then follow up with the data. Use a deductive structure. Group ideas logically. Use terminology that they understand. Different audiences may require different levels of data and detail