Sustainable Consultation?

When we conduct research, I wonder that if we are to put the interviewee in the driver seat instead of selling solutions as an expert consultant (Schein, 1999, p. 648) how do we build a sustainable model after all of the data is collected?

Although I am keen on Schein’s (1999) notion that organizational development is a “process that incorporates learning and change” (p. 643) I see a very specific role for an external facilitator at times throughout this process. In my experience, the best process consultants are those who know the system well, are respected by their peers, and have the authority to lead.  sustainableIn our roles as researchers I wonder how much each of us have already struggled with this concept. In one of my courses it was promoted that we use an appreciate inquiry and even a World Cafe format as tools to bridge these roles as facilitator and researcher. Even though Schein (1999) believed that the consultant often switches back and forth between the roles of process and expert consultation (p. 664), one cannot ignore the early phases of group process that Dimock and Kass (2007) characterized as an individually oriented distribution of power in groups (p. 23). Stringer (2007) further posited that we as action researchers have a specific role as power brokers when gathering information (p. 213) and more specifically to create the chance for individuals to participate “in the pursuit of happiness” and away from “competitive, power-driven, conflict-ridden organizational processes” (p. 214).

As we become leaders in promoting multiple stages of action research in our organizations I am personally trying to be aware of the potential of any of our findings  creating defensive reactions in what Argyris (2003) calls a primary inhibitor loop (p. 60). These defensive loops are inherent in any system and in my experience arise when people are reluctant to advocate for what is important to them. Perhaps the very nature of research and the ethics of privacy and confidentiality allow people to feel safe in sharing their opinions and therefore create the environment to retrieve honest opinions. Perhaps Schein’s (1999) comments that process consultation allows us to remove our assumptions and create generative learning (p. 656) plants the seed for sustainability? The Capstone model (Rowe, Agger-Gupta, Harris, Graf, 2011) provides us with a good model to aspire to yet I am paying very very close attention to how I can leave the organization with meaningful advice that takes root now and begin to be implemented even before the recommendations take hold.

Isn’t that the silver bullet for sustainability? planting the seeds of change as a good facilitator, process consultant, and action researcher? Perhaps Sivers’ (n.d.) lessons on leadership and innovation gives us the tool that we need? What  do you think?


Argyris, C. (2003). Flawed advice and the management trap: How managers can know when they’re getting good advice and when they’re not. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Dimock, H.G., & Kass, R. (2007). How to observe your group. (4th ed.). Concord, Canada: Captus Press.

Rowe, W., Agger-Gupta, N., Harris, B. & Graf, M. (2011). Organizational action research. Royal Roads University, School of Leadership Studies. Retrieved October 15, 2012 from

Schein, E. (1999). What is process consultation? In Burke, W., Lake, D. G., & Paine, J. (Eds.). (2009). Organization Change: A Comprehensive Reader. (pp. 642-665). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sivers, D. (n.d). Leadership lessons from Dancing Guy. [Video File] Retrieved November 10, 2012 from

About johnthornburn

Masters in Leadership graduate from Royal Roads University. An Engagement specialist engaged in various avenues of organizational and community development. Currently interested in social innovation, planning and engagement. View all posts by johnthornburn

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