Archive for the 'Consulting Skills' Category

Synch asynch, swim aswim, to be or…

While a number of issues (economics being a key one… budget cuts, etc.) seem to be moving more of formal learning to the online domain, one of the key issues that I gather is how to maintain a sense of community. I recall that my instructor of instruction strategies for adult learning, Gretchen Schmidt, who is Director of Educational Policy for VA Community Colleges, said that in the CC system evidence showed that learners who were part of a cohort in an online learning program tended to stick it out. Whereas learners who were not, had a higher rate of drop out. She said that over time, learners in a cohort were able to get to know each other and feel connected. Whereas learners who didn’t have that continuity with a group didn’t have the community of learners/practice to support their journey.

Is there anyone out there… the need for community… [Photo source]

The CTE tips on creating an asynchronous community seem to be important to me. I find that even when I join a physical class of people that I’ve never met (and most of the class also doesn’t know each other), it takes quite a while for the environment to open up. Of course, how the class is conducted definitely impacts this. If there is a mix of collaborative activities in pairs, or small group, and more class discussion, it can help very much to get to know other learners and build a sense of community.

I have not experienced a course that has been totally online. While I have participated in webinars of several different types, these have primarily been short (1-2 hours max), one-off sessions. The webinars would count as synchronous, I believe and things like blogging, online discussion, commenting, wiki use, and such, would fit the asynch category.

One thing that struck me from Michel Martin’s post on her 9 lessons learned from running a webinar was the idea that more slides are better. I can see the need to keep the audience/participants engaged and yet the quality of slides does seem to be important. Her reference to Beyond Bullet Points seems be in synch (or asynch…?) with my interest and experience of presentations. I have been subject to ‘death by powerpoint’ both in person and via a webinar. The effect is quite similar – zoning out, not being able to stay with the story, if there is a story. Of course there is always a story. It may be just that storytelling skills need developing.  The intention being that slides should tell a story. There’s a great video by Garr Reynolds, a presentation expert, that gives some excellent guidelines for presentations.

So, to synch or asynch and swimming or not, seems to be about connecting to a community of learners to support us on the journey. Finding and developing that connection and community just might be relate to being, or not… reaching or realizing our potential, being or becoming what we aspire to. Happy travels…


Philosophy of Practice – Consulting

Consulting Skills – Philosophy of Practice

What can I say about my philosophy of practice for consulting? Hmmm… There is really so much I think that I’ve learned about consulting this semester with the study of Block and Schein, class discussion, and our projects themselves. But what can I say about the values and assumptions I now hold about consulting?

One of the first and perhaps simplest things is that a consultant-client relationship is a helping relationship. I may have expert knowledge, but in all likelihood I do not know the client’s system and culture to fully asses the situation. I will need the insight and help of the client to define the  problem and help me discover the situation and collect the data.  I’m also not so interested, for the most part, in becoming just an extra pair of hands to get something done for someone else that they didn’t want to do. Really being of help is not such an easy thing to do. So much of my own biases, beliefs, and assumptions can sneak into a situation unsuspectingly and skew the data, or analysis, or maybe the recommendation.

collaboration_babesIn this regard, another thing that strikes me is that it is the client who owns the problem and the solution. And as a result of this, I have to figure out a way to help work with them so the problem gets solved, permanently, if possible. That will come if the client is committed to the solution. And, the client will be committed if they are involved in the whole consultation process on a collaborative basis (50/50,  client/consultant) as much as possible, from first defining the problem, to planning and doing data collection, to analyzing the data and making recommendations for implementation.

And this way of working will take some skills or approaches that are not  so much in practice or rather not ones we have an opportunity to readily learn in all of the learnin’ we’ve done. The main things I’m thinking of are inquiry and dialogue. Inquiry is simple in concept – just listen actively and maybe give a few prompts, or ask some exploratory questions. And then there’s confrontive inquiry. That’s a bit more risky, but I can see the value in it. I think the key to this is that the confronting is through asking a question to encourage the client to think in an alternate way about the subject at hand. And then there’s dialogue, really having an open conversation where i suspend, for a while, my judgments and biases, and check to see how I’m reacting to what the speaker is saying..

What else?

Helping, collaborative, authentic, curious, inquiring, in dialogue, build trust, feedback when asked or open, maintaining respect, accessing my ignorance, what does the client want? What do I as a consultant want from the client? if I don’t ask, it probably won’t happen just by chance…

understand resistance – it’s mostly just control or vulnerability issues…, confront it and be silent, yes, be silent…

look at how the problem is being managed…

how’s this for an organized, systematic philosophy? And refer to Block, and Schein whenever needed. otherwise, ask somebody – share the problem…

don’t worry, you’re going to make mistakes, that’s part of being flawless, isn’t it? or is the flawless piece that i fess up to my mistakes with the client and see what to do next? be authentic… be authentic… and be authentic…

Engage, get everybody in the room for dialogue, otherwise, it’s less likely to really happen.

developing shared meaning

Consulting Skills – Post 5

dialogos… developing shared meaning through the means of the word.

The focus of the consulting skills class and the org learning class seem to be on parallel tracks, converging… In Org Learning we’re exploring org culture which seems to be built on the tacit, underlying assumptions that evolve over time in an organization. In Consulting Skills, we are exploring the essence of dialogue, which seems to me to also require a significant amount of reflection in which we examine our own personal assumptions. Here we go again… digging out our own erroneous ideas, concepts, thought processes and being willing to consider alternative perspectives. Oh, this learning stuff just doesn’t stop, does it ??!!  Yes, I know I have soooo much stuff hidden in the blind, concealed, and unknown self…  how to get it out?? Is it through the process of deliberate feedback, dialogue, self-introspection, meditation, bloggin, or… ? Don’t they have some quick-fix on the market for this yet?? “…take this and all biases and erroneous assumptions are gone.”  Hmmm… is this what adult learning is about? …that I don’t know anything (or rather a little or maybe even very little…) about my own self?

Well, I know so much stuff influences my daily actions – untested inferences… whoa! These are so significant. And, I’d like to change some of them at least, but I know I’m not always conscious of how they affect me until or unless I trip over them sometimes. And I guess this is a point where self-introspection can help – to look back at those situations where I’ve tripped and made a mess and see what my thinking was leading into the situation. And perhaps some of those lightning-fast reactions where I run up the ladder of inference could be mitigated.

The concept of dialogue that Schein puts forward where I suspend judgment and entertain what the speaker is saying and watch the process going on inside – watch my thinking and see if it is in accord with values… i do like the idea, but it’s the act of suspending that is quite the challenge to put into regular practice. And yes, it is very helpful to consider the possibilities, reflect on situations where it could have helped, and then…, try again next time.

Indeed, all of this learning is hard work, but harder still is to stay unaware of such influences on many aspects my daily life and work. I may travel slowly down this road of self-awareness and development, but I do feel it is ever so essential on the path to becoming more human…

Buildling trust…

Consulting Skills – Post 4

We’ve had our second meeting with our client. It really took us another step. The first meeting seemed to be a lot about getting to know each other, the two people from the client org (president and program director) and the two of us. It was really necessary to sit back in the pure inquiry mode and listen during the first meeting. Sometimes things seemed to stray off topic, you could possibly say. But then I do think the few slight digressions helped us to get to know the client more, and perhaps helped them get to know us, too. We also moved into the exploratory inquiry mode as well. For me, the different aspects of the first meeting were essential in the process of building trust. It was evident that although we introduced ourselves and explained our interests over the phone, it was important to have a face-to-face meeting to establish a relationship and to learn more about each of our interests. We did some problem exploration and found a few possible issues or problems, but at the end of the first meeting, I would say neither party was so clear about if things were going to go forward. I felt uncertain whether the problem(s) discussed would be suitable for our project. The class discussion last week helped me see the situation as a doable project and let us to our second meeting.

The second meeting we had on Friday really was another step. We only met with the program director because the president was unavailable. The program director is the only full-time staff person for the organization. I felt the meeting had good energy and we moved forward to solidify the problem issue we would focus on and also pretty much agreed on 2-3 ways which we could collect data. It was interesting to see that when we talked about having a focus group as a part of our data collecting, the program director talked about being in the meeting. We then shared our interest to meet with the volunteers privately and there seemed to be a bit of concern that came over the face of the program director.  It seemed that she might have felt vulnerable because of what might be said about her (and perhaps that she would not be in control). However, when we explained that it was important so that the volunteers feel they could express themselves candidly, because there may be some things that they didn’t feel comfortable to tell directly to the program director. She paused for a minute, reflected, and then moved ahead, saying that yes, she could understand that and she was interested to hear about things that could improve her work. I think she was confident because of what seemed to be the good relations she seems to have with many of the volunteers. I didn’t get the sense that there were so many problems based on personal relationships (but let’s see!).

Towards the end of this second meeting, we asked our client how she felt working with us. She responded that she felt quite comfortable working with us. She said something like, ‘you guys are easy to work with’. It seemed that this exchange really deepened the trust that had been developing. It’s interesting that although I had felt that we work working well together and Tim seemed to feel that too, but when we received the explicitly feedback, it really seem to deepen the trust. Hmmmmm… Interesting to consider how important such simple confirmation could affect a working relationship (and perhaps any relationship!). I can see that like Block and Schein both say, a significant part of process consulting is about emotions, and not just the technical task issues. It’s clear that we must deal with the task, but also be aware of the affective aspects of the relationship because these impact the issues of getting the task done!

Involve me and I understand…

Consulting Skills – Post 3


Tell me and I forget. Show me and I understand.
Involve me and I remember.

– Lao Tse

There’s another saying, I think, that goes something like, ‘if you want to learn something, try to teach it to someone else.’ Well, it feels like I’ve had a glimpse through that window in preparing for and presenting the chapters on the contracting meeting from Block. I had read the chapters and Tim and I talked about different possible strategies for presenting the info to the class. Finally, we decided that since each project team would be having a real live contracting meeting very soon, it could be helpful to do a practice meeting during our presentation with hypothetical scenarios given for client and consultant.

When we met over the weekend to further prepare things we did a practice run between us with one scenario. Wow! I was taking the role of the consultant and it really struck me that I hardly had an idea of the steps Block had laid out so very clearly, even though I had read the chapter and reviewed it several times. I did remember some steps and really tried to work in a collaborative way in the practice session. However, I was scrambling and searching for words and phrases to put into speech. And, I wasn’t really conscious of the discrete steps or their order. During the practice session, I went to my notes and even opened the book for reference and guidance. We had developed an outline of the steps, but what I needed at the time was some actual phrases I could use to articulate the various steps. I suppose that as I have more experience with a contracting meeting, I would become familiar with the steps and more easily be able to find the words and phrases that are comfortable to me.

This practice session we had really helped me gain insight into the process and also gave me incentive to go back and review the chapter further. And then there was the experience of facilitating the class’s learning of the topic. We could not really anticipate everything that happened and there were some things that didn’t quite fit in the sequence as we planned. It was a bit like riding a bicycle for the first time or maybe making bread or following a new recipe. You read all about it (or in the case of a bicycle, probably watch others and listen to what mom, dad, or older brother or sister say about their experience) and prepare (get all your ingredients ready) and then you push off the bike or start the recipe and be ready to adapt as you go along.

I remember making bread for the first time. I had watch friends make it – mix the ingredients, knead it, let it rise, knock it down, form it, put it into a bread pan, let it rise again, and then put it in a hot oven. Once I stood right next to a friend who was a baker and watched her quite intently. I had also read about it. And then I tried to make it on my own. I didn’t have the benefit of having an experienced baker right beside me when I actually baked my first loaf. I had decided to just try it. It was another kind of experience. All of my reading, or watching others was theory, in a sense; but I needed my own experience in order to really say that I knew something about how to bake bread.

So it was for presenting the chapter on the contracting meeting. We studied, prepared, and then we were in action and had to be ready to adjust and adapt. It was helpful to have Dr. Carter present, because neither of us really had first-hand experience of using Block’s approach to a process consulting contracting meeting. I’m sure it would be different after our first meeting (I think the whole class could then teach the session) and still further different if we presented/facilitated this material after several years of process consulting experience…

So the expression, “involve me and I understand” has some more background now for me.  I think this is how I learn best – being involved, engaged, and then, too, reflecting on the experience… (Is that what these blogs are for…???)

Consider the unwitting…

Consulting Skills – Post 2

One of the things that strikes me from this week’s reading on consulting is how important is is to really get clear on who the client is and what the issue/problem is. Sometimes it seems clear, but sometimes I can see it’s not so and if you don’t take time to get clear on who the client is, then it can lead to confusion down the road.

In our assignment for “Who is the client?” I really began to see how important it is to keep in consideration unwitting clients as well as ultimate clients. Particularly, it seems unwitting clients may be easy to overlook. One of the challenges I can see as an internal consultant is that a client may come and ask for help in working with an unwitting client. If there is no intention to involve the ‘unwitting client’, then it could turn into a political situation. In this regard, it would be a subtle challenge for the consultant to keep a neutral and not take sides. One of the most challenging things is to help the client see their contribution to the issue/problem. There often seems to be a tendency to look outside for cause and put blame elsewhere.

I can see that it’s really important to establish a equilibrium in the relationship and build the trust. I have found that only after the sense  of equilibrium and trust have evolved, is it possible to confront a situation directly. It seems important that when confronting this is done in a respectful way.

Well, I keep coming up to where things sound good in theory, but putting them into practice always seem to be another matter… However, I do think it helps to pursue clarity about what sound theory is and then it’s possible to reflect on the difference between theory and practice…

There’s an expression from a person of wisdom that comes to mind, “Right understanding precedes right action.” As such, then right understanding would have to be in accord with the personal values and vision or personal philosophy that one chooses to adopt as a guiding light.

How am I contributing to the problem?

Consulting Skills: Reflection 1

Process consulting seems to be quite interesting, very useful and also yet, seemingly, quite a challenging skill to develop. I am excited about exploring the steps involved in this process… I think I’ve gravitated towards this approach, but not always been clear about how to go about it. I have found that being the ‘expert’ is not so effective, really. Partly because I find that I really don’t know the other person’s situation quite fully – all the background, parameters and even more so, how the person sees the situation – any biases, values, etc that impact the scenario. And the other side is that it seems really difficult for many people to receive advice. Maybe at some point, but only if they have had a chance to really explore the situation for themselves and have tried their own solutions.

Even if I seem to see an obvious solution from my perspective, when I have told others, they often cannot see the same thing. Then if I spend time and effort trying to convince them of my own idea or solution, I have found that I am no longer really helping the other person but rather engaged in trying to put across my agenda…

There are some interesting points Peter Block made in the preface – one is authenticity – ‘being honest with ourselves and being direct and honest with others’. In this, he says it’s important that we know ourselves. Aah, that eternal quest… Indeed, I can see that if I’m not aware of my own biases, points of view, or even habits of mind, then I will probably miss some of how I am contributing to a helping relationship. Interesting! It seems that in order to be an effective consultant, I would first of all need to know how I might be contributing to the dynamic of the relationship with a client. I think this is stepping into the double loop side of learning.

I’m exciting about this journey! I suppose I should beware, because it always seems that getting a deeper insight into my own contributions also brings with it some unpleasant realizations about how my theory-in-use differs from my espoused theory… that means my shortcomings! And will I learn something? As I understand it when I am able to notice the gap or discrepancy between where I am and where I’d like to be, then automatically a process starts to close the gap. Of course, if I can become more conscious of the process and open to see where I’m off, then perhaps some transformation can occurs. I’ve heard from a wise person that learning takes some pain. I guess part of the pain is the discomfort of recognizing the gap. I know there are times I don’t really want to acknowledge the difference of what I espouse and what I put into action. It’s much easier to stay in a make-believe world that I have in my head (whether I’m conscious of it or not), isn’t it? But to face the reality of what my actions really are takes a bit more courage.

This seems to be where authenticity comes into play. Even if I am not what I espouse, can I recognize that? Can I acknowledge that? If I can, then perhaps some inner force seeking harmony will strive to seek balance. That may also mean that what I espouse may alter or change – my values, beliefs, biases, perspectives… And, hopefully my behavior too,  if a change can bring me into a more balanced, ‘permeable, integrated,.. ‘ perspective. bookmarks