Saturday, May 01, 2010

109. Dwell, Dig and Discover

If there is anything that I have learned along the way in life, it's that I typically do not know as much as I initially think I do. Life is complex, and so are people. This means organizations and communities are bound to share in this complexity. In fact, most communities are quite complex with a host of intersecting relational and organizational dynamics. Varying interest are always floating around and do not always broadcast themselves in readily perceivable forms. Politics are an inescapable factor of all communities, even if it is down played or simply unacknowledged. Interests are tied to resources, and when there are conflicting interests, there will almost always be politics.

When you think about it, the role of a consultant can initially seem quite arrogant. Who are you to go into an environment you have never experienced before and give advice about what they should do? The consultant is often seen as the answer man. Indeed, to claim to be a consultant implies some sort of expertise or in depth knowledge of a particular field.

Yet a consultant can only be effective at giving advice if they truly understand what is going on. They have to have some inkling of where the community is, how they see reality, how they understand their dilemma, and especially how they understand themselves. Sure, you can walk in with some degree of intuitiveness and emotional intelligence and pinpoint some surface level issues in a community. But the value of a consultant is not just in their ability to identify things that are out of sync. A consultant must be able to discover the root issues, the foundational dynamics at work in a community that are not only impeding the organizations development, but also the institutional dynamics that end up concealing and even deceiving those within the organization from seeing the real issues at work right under their noses.

One of the benefits of a consultant is a fresh pair of eyes. They are, as Thom Wolfe says, the "essential outsider". They ideally do not have a stake in the power plays, politics and personality conflicts that seem to so effectively paralyze the human capital in an organization. However, as any outsider worth their while will tell you that there is always more to a situation than meets the eye. The first thing a consultant should do is literally get a panoramic view of the situation. This not only includes a horizontal look at all the personalities and organizational dynamics, but also the vertical sections of the situation. The vertical side of the equation includes the hidden ideological and theological assumptions that make up the clients worldview. You have to dig in order to find this. There is some what of an intuitive side to this, but it is also an analytical process of probing and drilling down into peoples ways of seeing. It involves the art of drawing out peoples hidden expectations, frustrations and assumptions

The first role of a consultant is that of learner. Every community is unique and has its own set of challenges that have been selectively chiseled out by their own people and context. The art of asking questions, drawing out the hidden assumptions and paradigms is an art that has to be learned. The discovery phase is not about discovering solutions. It is about discovering the obstacles, the challenges, the deficits, the incongruities in a community, along with their strengths, inherent capacities and untapped resources. Consultants are explorers who go deep into the heart of the organization and mine it not only for faulty foundations, but also for the precious jewels of human, social and systems capital. It is this dual nature of the dig and discovery that gives the consultant a prophetic tone in their relationship with their clients. They unearth what is really going on in the world of the community. Dwell, dig and discover are interrelated activities that reinforce one another. They go hand in hand and form the essential foundation of the consulting process. Another way of saying it could be Engage and Excavate.

Next, we will look at Digest, Distill and Define.

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