Be Your Own Consultant


I try to help people in organizations become self-facilitating. As a consultant, I want them to become their own consultants.

There are probably several times a year (a day?) when you and your group could benefit from a visit by a magician, wizard, shaman, guru, swami, an expert in the art and science of how people can work better together, a fix-it person, a healer, mediator, problem-solver, confidante, wise elder, or guardian angel watching over you. Yes? No? Maybe?

Wouldn't it be nice to have such a person on call--assuming one exists who is just right for what ails you, and you know how to reach them, and they are available. And to have a budget for it! You might even need more than one. What would it cost to have them come when you need them?

Every group I know of could make good use of advisors, consultants, coaches, counselors, facilitators, and personal trainers. Some groups don't know they need help, others are acutely aware that they do. Many groups don't know what they need to learn or do in order to do their best work, to be fully-functioning or high-performing.

A consultant or training intervention should leave you more self-sufficient and self-reliant, more confident in your interdependence with others, than you were. Consultants and trainers should pass on some of their expertise or they're holding out on you.

People in institutions, departments, divisions, should understand how to create the conditions for the optimal functioning of themselves and the people they work with. This means understanding how to maximize group creativity and capability. It goes beyond organizational stovepipes, partitions, compartments. It recognizes emotional literacy, social conscience, spiritual realms, environmental ethics, mind/body connections. Personal growth is professional growth. Work/family issues are inter-related. People are complex combinations. When you talk about quality or excellence it takes in all those areas.

In recent years there's been a lot of interest in self-organizing systems, groups that are self-regulating and self-governing. In fact, this is how democracy works, with checks and balances, citizen action, and the idea of people power.

The latest movement may have started more than 40 years ago with the work of Ilya Prigogine on dissipative structures and nonequilibrium, then became more popular with James Gleick's book Chaos in 1987, Margaret Wheatley's Leadership and the New Science in 1992, and thousands of other books, articles, and web sites. Yes, thousands.

You can check this for yourself. Put "complexity" or "chaos" into Google or Amazon.com and see how many returns you get. Try this for Quantum, Adaptive, Visionary, Sustainable, Networked, Virtual, and Learning Organizations; Human, Intangible, and Knowledge Assets; Social, Human, and Intellectual Capital; Knowledge Work and Workers...all of which are related cutting edge perspectives on what work is and how it gets done.

We're applying the insights and models of emotional literacy, multiple intelligence, cultural diversity, co-intelligence, social accountability.

This goes way beyond "personnel" and "industrial psychology."

As the partner in an architectural firm told me, she's interested in "having change happen faster, more easily, more often," and wants to know how to help that take place. So in addition to her particular professional specialty, she realizes she needs to be a social architect as well.

Everyone in an institution needs to take responsibility for the health and wellbeing of its social environment and supporting systems. This is what it means to live in a democracy--"government of the people, by the people, for the people." The overall social system can't be democratic unless all the parts and components are democratic.

I think it's odd that we have some specialists who are very good at handling HazMat situations (hazardous materials)--chemicals, poisons, explosives--but we're not so good at handling what I call HazSits (hazardous social situations).

HazSits are potentially combustible, inflammatory, incendiary, explosive, dangerous, or unstable situations between people. They include cultural, interpersonal, intergroup situations and conditions which emerge from distrust, exclusion, disrespect, ignorance, animosity, antagonism, disputes, tension, anger, fear, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance, discrimination, discomfort, etc. And the question is, are you equipped to handle them?

There are some things you just have to know, like what to do in case of fire. Every group should know how to perform CPR and the Heimlich maneuver on each other. We go through a checklist of disaster preparedness when we're dealing with natural disasters, acts of nature. And now we have expanded our concerns to include terrorism.

With any risk, hazard, or danger, the challenge is how to avoid, anticipate or prevent it, not just how to recover and clean up after it happens. Some groups have a session on sexual or racial harassment after there's been an incident or crisis. The alternative to crisis is not getting yourself to that point.

Is everyone in your group equally capable of handling HazSits? Do you have some designated specialists? Are you equipped to be your own consultant?

Some places tell people what the punishment is for various misbehaviors rather than making efforts that such misbehaviors won't occur. Some places emphasize the negative and the punitive. There are too many hostile, abusive and toxic organizations and work environments. As I write this, a company called Enron is being described as a culture of corruption and deception, and its vision and values statement (respect, integrity, communication, excellence) is still on its website.

To summarize: Look at yourself, listen to yourself. Develop your own expertise. Build in-house capability. Consult yourself. Don't be caught unprepared. Facilitate your future. Have internal resources. Think ahead. Have contingency plans. Call on yourself. Maximize, optimize, multiply your capabilities. Get help to help yourself.

February 6, 2002