BY DR KELLEN KIAMBATI
Process consultation (PC) is a general framework for carrying out helping relationships. Schein defines process consultation as “the creation of a relationship that permits the client to perceive, understand, and act on the process events that occur in his or her internal and external environment in order to improve the situation as defined by the client.” The process consultant does not offer expert help in the form of solutions to problems, as in the doctor–patient model. Rather, he works to help managers, employees, and groups assess and improve human processes, such as communication, interpersonal relations, decision-making, and task performance.
Schein argues that effective consultants and managers should be good helpers; aiding others in getting things done and in achieving the goals they have set. Thus, process consultation is as much a philosophy as a set of techniques aimed at performing this helping relationship. The philosophy ensures that those who are receiving the help own their problems, gain the skills and expertise to diagnose them, and solve the problems themselves. Process consultation is an approach to helping people and groups help themselves. As a philosophy of helping in relationships, Schein proposes ten principles to guide the process consultant’s actions:-
Always try to be helpful. Process consultants must be mindful of their intentions, and each interaction must be oriented towards being helpful.
Always stay in touch with the current reality. Each interaction should produce diagnostic information about the current situation. It includes data about the client’s opinions, beliefs, and emotions; the system’s current functioning; and the practitioner’s reactions, thoughts, and feelings.
Access your ignorance. An important source of information about current reality is the practitioner understanding of what is known, what is assumed, and what is not known. Process consultants must use themselves as instruments of change.
Everything you do is an intervention. Any interaction in a consultative relationship generates information as well as consequences. Simply conducting preliminary interviews with group members, for example, can raise members’ awareness of a situation and help them see it in a new light.
The client owns the problem and the solution. This is a key principle in all organizational development practice. Practitioners help clients solve their own problems and learn to manage future change.
Go with the flow. When process consultants access their own ignorance, they often realize that there is much about the client system and its culture that they do not know. Thus, practitioners must work to understand the client’s motivations and perceptions.
Timing is crucial. Observations, comments, questions, and other interventions intended to be helpful may work in some circumstances and fail in others. Process consultants must be vigilant to occasions when the client is open (or not open) to suggestions.
Be constructively opportunistic with interventions. Although process consultants must be willing to go with the flow, they also must be willing to take appropriate risks. From time to time and in their best judgment, practitioners must learn to take advantage of “teachable moments.” A well-crafted process observation or piece of feedback can provide a group or individual with great insight into their behavior.
Everything is information; errors will always occur and are the prime source for learning. Process consultants never can know fully the client’s reality and invariably will make mistakes. The consequences of these mistakes, the unexpected and surprising reactions, are important data that must be used in the ongoing development of the relationship.
When in doubt, share the problem. The default intervention in a helping relationship is to model openness by sharing the dilemma of what to do next.
Process consultation deals primarily with the interpersonal and group processes that describe how organization members interact with each other. Such social processes directly and indirectly affect how work is accomplished. When group process promotes effective interactions, groups are likely to perform tasks successfully. Group process includes:
One of the process consultant’s areas of interest is the nature and style of communication, or the process of transmitting and receiving thoughts, facts, and feelings. Communication can be overt—who talks to whom, about what, for how long, and how often. It can include body language, including facial expressions, fidgeting, posture, and hand gestures.
Communication can also be covert, as when a manager says, “I’m not embarrassed” as his or her face turns scarlet. Covert communication is “hidden” and the process consultant often seeks to find the best way to make the message more explicit.
The functional roles of group members
The process consultant must be keenly aware of the different roles individual members take on in a group. Both upon entering and while remaining in a group, individuals must address and understand their self-identity, influence, and power that will satisfy personal needs while working to accomplish group goals. In addition, group members must take on roles that enhance (a) task-related activities, such as giving and seeking information and elaborating, coordinating, and evaluating activities; and (b) group-maintenance actions, directed toward holding the group together as a cohesive team, including encouraging, harmonizing, compromising, setting standards, and observing. Most ineffective groups perform little group maintenance, and this is a primary reason for bringing in a process consultant.
Group problem solving and decision-making
To be effective, a group must be able to identify problems, examine alternatives, and make decisions. For example, one way of making decisions is to ignore a suggestion, as when one person makes a suggestion and someone else offers another before the first has been discussed. A second method is to give decision-making power to the person in authority.
Sometimes, decisions are made by minority rule, with the leader arriving at a decision and turning for agreement to several people who will comply. Frequently, silence is regarded as consent. Decisions can also be made by majority rule, consensus, or unanimous consent.
The process consultant can help the group understand how it makes decisions and the consequences of each decision process, as well as help diagnose which type of decision process may be the most effective in a given situation. Decision by unanimous consent or consensus, for example, may be ideal in some circumstances but too time-consuming or costly in other situations.
Especially if a group of people work together over a period of time, it develops group norms or standards of behavior about what is good or bad, allowed or forbidden, right or wrong. The process consultant can be very helpful in assisting the group to understand and articulate its own norms and to determine whether those norms are helpful or dysfunctional. By understanding its norms and recognizing which ones are helpful, the group can grow and deal realistically with its environment, make optimum use of its own resources, and learn from its own experiences.
The use of leadership and authority
A process consultant needs to understand processes involved in leadership and how different leadership styles can help or hinder a group’s functioning. In addition, the consultant can help the leader adjust his or her style to fit the situation.