Cooperation Between Organisational Consultants and Training Managers: Can the Wolf Live with the Lamb?

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.

Added Value

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”.

Hand-in-Hand

 

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.

Tips

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.

Sources:

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

Teambuilding – Does It Really Work?

Teambuilding – Does It Really Work?

 Teambuilding – Does It Really Work?

By Richard Milecki

For someone who makes a living out of teambuilding interventions this is a tricky question. After twenty years of working with hundreds of mostly Israeli companies it is time to ask whether teambuilding works. The field draws big budgets and the message has been internalised – many managers feel the need to stop day to day work and take their teams for a time out day to deal with team communication and to “improve” teamwork. The market is hot on their heels. At my last count there were about sixty companies providing services of experiential team and leadership learning from the highly professional to those who are just looking for another market for the activity they developed.

 

Surprisingly, in Hebrew there is little written about the issue, as if Israelis agree that teambuilding is a good thing. In Israel there is wide acceptance of the importance of teambuilding although in other countries one can find many voices that reject interventions of this type with a number of consultants, staff and managers who are prepared to publicly criticize paintball, karting, trust falls, cooking and who can forget goat herding. “Why are we doing this?” they ask.

 

There is place to wonder if the difference of opinion is cultural.  The British and the Americans are less tolerant of imposed close relations in the work place whereas in Israeli culture it is acceptable to share details from ones private life. Friendship is something you definitely look for at work. Career is not everything. At school and certainly in the army friendship and mutual responsibility are emphasised.

 

The Critics

 

The following choice was offered in the former Sudden Teams site:

 

When you are tempted or told to do some “teambuilding”, you have a stark choice:

Fix the issue that prompted the thought

or

Waste your time and money.

The Daily Telegraph published a workplace survey in Britain. 66% of respondents reported that they had participated at least once in teambuilding activities and 54% feel that carrying out further activities of this type will not improve their ability to work with their colleagues.

 

In a highly critical article “Team Building Does Not Work and how is it possible to really help build your team”, Hildi Gottlieb (2005) suggests two basic assumptions that motivate most of the referrals she receives for teambuilding:

 

“Team Building proposes that it is possible to build trust and engender positive working relationships among people who obviously aren’t feeling any of those feelings to start with (otherwise, the team building wouldn’t be necessary!), all through concerted effort on the part of those who are “misbehaving.”

 

The premise is that if only this or that worker or team would change their behaviour then everything would be okay. If we can just change a team’s behaviour for a few hours then surely change will be possible back at work. But is teambuilding the right tool? After all if a team member is not acting within the accepted norm, the manager should deal with him or her directly.

 

She continues: “In virtually every situation where teambuilding is requested, the lack of a sense of team is merely a symptom of other larger issues.”

 

When direction, vision, leadership and clear values are lacking, treating team behaviours will only deal with the symptoms and not with the cause so that the effect is likely to be only very small. Often all that are needed are some thought and management initiative.

 

Here is an example: A department head and VPHR met with me in order to plan a teambuilding workshop. As the discussion progressed and further difficult and even embarrassing issues were put on the table it was clear to all that there were problems that needed to be dealt with online with the team and the organization. Would it be fair to shift responsibility to the shoulders of the team members? A few days later the two managers updated me that due to “personnel changes” the workshop was postponed. My explanation – a short chat with a professional was enough to look in the mirror and take a few personnel and other tough decisions regarding the structure and roles. And for this they considered dragging the whole team offsite in order to talk about their communication. Preferably not.

 

The critics say that there is no need to work on openness. communication and other positive behaviours when really the manager or managers need to take some hard decisions or to put in the work to set strategy, priorities, appropriate work conditions, staffing and work plans.

 

Research

Support for teambuilding effectiveness can be found in research literature. In the comprehensive article “Does Teambuilding Work?” Klein et al (2009) summarise sixty studies that claim that teambuilding influences positively on all of the chosen factors and especially on the emotional (affect) aspect of the participants. Improved performance was further down the scale. Shuffler et al (2011) differentiate between team building and team training. Team training refers to the tools that are needed in order to improve their teamworking abilities. Teambuilding is the action taken to improve the ability of a specific team.  In this study team training had a higher impact on results than teambuilding that is adapted to the specific needs of a team and therefore to outcomes.

 

I agree with some of the critics. Often clients who turn to us are looking for a quick fix without the willingness to probe the root causes. In fact turning to a teambuilding provider will demand a lot of preparation, thought and follow up if any change is desired. The aims must be well defined and obtainable and the direct manager must lead the project including responsibility for conclusions and execution.

 

So…does it work?

I have experienced extraordinary events and outcomes in workshops including discussions that have never before taken place about the function of the team, team members who finally get to know each other even though they have worked together for years, problem solving and setting values and goals and action items that give hope that the team can act differently. All of this does not guarantee real change. Only when I hear of changes that I have been carried out as a result of what happened in the workshop such as more effective team meetings, a manager that starts to carry out one on one meetings, real planning, monitoring, the lowering of interdepartmental walls or expressions of the newly set values – then I really know that it worked.

 

Here is my set of tips for anyone who is considering a teambuilding activity:

  1. If you know what management action needs to be carried out, then do it. Afterwards consider a teambuilding day.
  2. Follow Up. A workshop that does not include a longer process including preparation, documentation, follow-up, implementation and evaluation is indeed probably going to be ineffective. Participants will ask why did we put in all that effort time and money when it was ignored back at work? Without a long term commitment it is not worth setting out.
  3. Commitment of the direct manager including time and effort is essential. Without that there is nothing to be gained in a teambuilding workshop.
  4. Be prepared to go through a process of discovery and refocusing of the aims. Often the initial aims need to adapt to changing realities or as a result of the ongoing discussion with the consultant.
  5. Teambuilding is not a reward, birthday present or pay off for high sales. The aim is to raise issues, practice behaviours and plan for the future. Celebrate birthdays with a nice cake.
  6. Try building an entire team development programme and in the final meeting carry out an experiential team workshop. The experience is much more powerful as everyone understands that the change has been carried out successfully and the workshop’s job is to celebrate and cement this change.
  7. Extreme activities are only appropriate to certain people and age groups. Make sure the planned activity suits all participants.
  8. No Competition. Competition in this kind of workshop will usually promote the opposite of everything that you are trying to achieve. According to research, the losing team will reject any learning that you were trying to promote.
  9. Alcohol is not a good idea to add to the lunch menu. People under the influence tend to lower their guard – defenses that may be preferable to keep in place in the workplace.

This article is an adapted translation of the July 2013 Hebrew post.

 

Sources:

Gottlieb, H (2005) Why Team Building doesn’t work and how you can build your team. http://www.help4nonprofits.com/NP_PRSNL-TeamBuilding_Art.htm

Klein et al (2009) Does team Building Work? In Small Group Research, Vol 40 (2) pp 181-222.

Marissa L. Shuffler, Deborah DiazGranados and Eduardo Salas (2011)  There’s a Science for That : Team Development Interventions in Organizations, Current Directions in Psychological Science 2011 Vol 20 No 6, pp365 – 372.

Internet

The Telegraph: Team Building doesn’t improve work   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9063890/Team-building-doesnt-improve-work.html

Huffington Post: Your Start Up Life: Do Team Building Retreats Ever Work http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rana-florida/your-startup-life-team-bu_b_1630316.html

Sudden Teams Site: Why “Team Building” does not work  http://suddenteams.com/teams-blog/why-team-building-does-not-work

Wall Street Journal: Can Spending a Day Stuck to a Velcro Wall Help Build a Team?  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB116709218188859244.html