Collaborative Consulting and the Helping Model

Adapted from The Skilled Helper, 8th Edition, by Gerard Egan

Clients usually call organization development consultants for help in two areas:

  1. Problem situations.  Things aren’t going as they’d like them to. Maybe morale is low or turnover is high. Maybe there’s a lot of conflict or mistrust or they’re having trouble implementing change.  Often, clients have tried various solutions already and have gotten overwhelmed or frustrated.
  2. Missed opportunities, unused potential, or generative “future-talk.”  It’s time for the client and organization to “take stock,” to move into new areas or to identify opportunities they haven’t been taking advantage of.  In these cases, it’s not a question of what is going wrong, but about how the organization and client can be at their best.

In our work helping client organizations we aim for two principal goals:

  1. Help clients manage their problems more effectively and help them develop unused or underused resources and opportunities more fully.
  2. Help clients become better at helping themselves once the consultant is gone. Sometimes this means clients don’t just get tools to work through problems, but grow in the social/emotional intelligence to transcend problems and bring an entirely different perspective to them.

To achieve these goals requires building a solid helping relationship between consultants and clients that:

  • Is empathetic while still challenging clients and helping them move forward
  • Understands the shadow side of helping—that helping is messy; motives are sometimes hard to discern; and the process can’t be as linear as this one-pager
  • Values dialogue and a thoughtful search for meaning
  • Is solution-focused; builds commitment along the way; and helps clients discover and use their own power
  • Assumes the client’s best intentions and engenders trust

The Helping Model unfolds in three main stages:

Stage One – The Current Picture: 

  • Helping clients clarify the key issues calling for change
  • Help clients tell their stories.  Through dialogue, helping the client get an undistorted picture of the situation–both problems and unused opportunities.
  • Help clients develop new perspectives that help them reframe their stories.  Consultants can add great value if we can help clients identify blind spots related to their problems and opportunities.
  • Help clients achieve leverage by working on issues that make a difference.  Often, there are many entry points.  One of the most useful things a consultant can do is help a client choose which threads to start pulling on.

Stage Two – The Preferred Picture:

  • Helping clients identify, choose, and shape goals
  • Help clients use their imaginations for a better future.  Move beyond the problem-solving mindset.
  • Help clients choose realistic and challenging goals.  Create an agenda for change together.
  • Build and emphasize commitment.  The greatest plans in the world go nowhere without strong commitment.

Stage Three – The Way Forward: 

  • Helping clients develop plans and strategies for accomplishing goals
  • Help clients review possible strategies to achieve goals.  Another chance to be thoughtful and thorough—being timely, but not leaping into action.  Taking the steps necessary to do the best for the whole system.
  • Help clients choose strategies that best fit their resources.  A small non-profit won’t be able to do a three-day offsite retreat at a four-star hotel, but they might be able get everyone together for a day.
  • Help clients pull their strategies together into a viable plan.  Plans are simply maps to help clients get where they want to go. A plan can be quite simple.  Indeed, overly sophisticated plans are sometimes self-defeating.