Cooperation Between Organisational Consultants and Training Managers:
Can the Wolf Live with the Lamb?
By Richard Milecki.
This issue is part of most training events. It is accompanied by exposed and hidden feelings, expectations, hopes and disappointments, but is mostly not spoken of, apart from some hasty words exchanged at the end of a workshop or change process. The important relations between the external organisational consultant or facilitator and the internal consultant have been minimally researched and in the field there is only superficial treatment – in spite of the important role it has in the success of consulting interventions.
Why is it so important for me to touch on this subject?
Because even if the most critical point of contact is with the relevant senior manager, the partnership with the internal consultant is often that which allows the whole process to happen.
Because often the expectations – as well as the disappointments – are high on both sides.
Because even when I am sure that the session in which a team will spend precious time on interdepartmental relationships is the most important item on the Training Manager’s work plan, the internal consultant is often not completely present.
I was very pleased when Ze’ev Arieli, an external consultant and Iris Sadeh, the training manager of the Israel Postal Authority published a call for information in preparation for the Israel Association of Organisational Development’s (IAOD) annual conference in February 2016 regarding what each role expects from the other. At the conference they presented results from their research and shared experience. They were the key players in the ups and downs of a professional relationship and went through a crisis that nearly ended in the familiar severance of their connection. Usually a crisis between a supplier and client of this type ends in a unilateral disconnection where the client stops inviting the consultant for the next project. Iris and Ze’ev decided to deal with it head on. They admitted that this special connection does not receive due attention and in spite of the huge amount of communication that flowed between the two they rarely clarified mutual expectations or gave each other feedback. The crisis between them pushed them into asking each other “What is happening here?” Through their frank dialogue they managed to identify the communication failures between them and identify some further insights.
Sadeh and Arieli described the added value each side brings and the importance of mutual recognition of value. For example, the external consultant must appreciate the deep knowledge that the internal consultant brings to the table and the complicated role of the internal consultant who works with all players in the organisation. The internal consultant should take advantage of the opportunity offered by the presence of the external consultant who gives the help, attention and transparency needed.
Most of the attention is given to the training targets – the participants and the manager – leaving the connection between the professionals leading the process unattended to or taken for granted.
External consultants and facilitators have a critical interest in developing the relationship with internal consultants. If unsuccessful, the connection with the organisation may end and both sides lose out. The relations are based on mutuality – the consultants need organisations as clients and the organisation leaders need the external consultants. If the relationship turns sour the routine outcome is that the Training Manager says “Next!” and moves on without the consultant being aware of what happened and both protagonists continue on the likely path of repeating similar mistakes.
Feelings and Expectations
According to Tzur and Shachaf (2007) in their paper exploring the relations between such consultants in the Israeli military, the feelings that arise in the meeting between internal and external consultants include aggression, territorialism, egotistical struggles, competitiveness, possessiveness, suspicion, feelings of being extraneous, mutuality and communal work.
In addition to emotions, Sadeh and Arieli identified key expectations noted by twelve internal and twelve external consultants sampled before the conference. The expectations were different. The main expectations of the internal consultants were, according to their ranked importance: partnership, feedback, professionalism, the need to connect the consultant to the business and the organisation, and transparency.
What internal consultants desire from their external counterparts are: understanding of the organisational processes and politics, professionalism, partnership, action within pre-defined the boundaries, professional ethics, flexibility and transparency.
Significant is the desire of the internal consultant for understanding. “Understand me, understand the organisation”, they declare. “We are not the same as other organisations you work with and if you want to have influence, then invest the time to understand how things work here”.
External consultants look for partnership and feedback. The cynics might say that the best feedback is when the client requests a further project, although this kind of feedback is insufficient for building long-term relationships, learning, improvement or for gaining satisfaction. HR professionals also want to receive honest feedback from a professional partner.
Putting The Relationship to the Test
I have worked with many internal consultants over the years. They contract with external professionals when they understand that they cannot deal with the task on the table using internal resources, but do not necessarily know what position to take with the introduction of an external consultant. Following are a number of cases where the relationships between myself and an internal consultant have been tested:
A team with its team leader and HR manager arrive at Tuval for a team development workshop. Too often the internal consultant is busy with phone calls, sending e-mails, managing an event taking place in the office – everything apart from being with the team on one of the more important days in its life, played out right in front of us. I hint to the HR manager to turn off the phone like the rest of the participants. In this case, it would have been preferable to set a clear agreement in advance with regard to the role of the HR manager during the intervention.
A team meeting is progressing positively, with meaningful discussion and in partnership with the internal consultant. Suddenly at lunch, the HR manager reports that she must return to the office for an urgent interview because the engineering department is short-staffed and a candidate for the job must be found immediately. “You are getting by fine with them”, she says. In spite of my attempts to convince her to stay, she leaves. In the afternoon a team crisis develops but the internal consultant has already left and internal HR’s ability to assist the manager and the team back at work is hampered.
One positive story. I spent a day on site preparing an offsite event for a number of critical teams in a factory. It was clear to all that the senior manager was crucial to the functioning of the team interface but it was decided that he would not participate. “It is important that the teams get along without his presence”, I was told. I disagreed and spoke to the HR manager and the team managers. I argued with the internal consultant, brought examples from my experience, described possible negative scenarios and in the end became convinced that this was a logical decision. I trusted the internal consultant who I had previously worked with closely. The event was successful and the participants succeeded in dealing with the issues without complaining about the non-attending senior manager. Additionally, the relationship between myself and the internal consultant came out strengthened as a result of the argument, the decision and the successful execution.
In the conference presentation by Sadeh and Arieli they gave some guidelines from the point of view of the training manager:
- I prefer to work with a limited number of consultants over time. Much energy must be invested when bringing in a new consultant.
- Even if the internal consultant is not present during the work with the external consultant, remember that everything that happens in the training comes back to the training manager.
Finally, Arieli and Sadeh suggest four tips or issues that should be addressed:
- The importance of coordinating expectations from the outset and regularly throughout the process. Everyone should ask: “What do you expect from me?”
- To appreciate that each set of expertise has its advantages and unique point of view.
- Ego is acceptable.
- Decide – are we going to share the feelings that develop throughout the life of the process?
I would add a few more tips:
- Decide in advance when and how feedback is given.
- Give place for disagreement and argument and deal with it until reaching a joint decision.
- Nothing should be taken for granted on either side. It is important to clarify expectations especially in training activities where this key relationship is exposed to all and part of the learning structure,
An internal consultant together with an external consultant make a formidable team when they are in sync.
Ze’ev Arieli and Iris Sadeh (2016), “Can the Wolf Live with the Lamb” presentation at the Israel Association of Organisational Development’s Annual Conference.
Shachaf, K & Tzur, Y. (2007) The Octopus and the Doberman, Organisational Analysis, 12th issue, Zofnat Institute.
Kenton, B & Moody, D. The Role of the Internal Consultant, 2003 in http://www.roffeypark.com/wp-content/uploads2/The-Role-of-the-Internal-Consultant-booklet.pdf