What are we really doing here?

Gita is a change consultant fascinated by what it means to be human and how this plays out in organisational life. She is currently based in Romania.

Note from the Field

A week in June
It’s a baking hot day at the end of June and I’m preparing for four days of work facilitating a leadership retreat with two fellow RISE consultants, Megan and Simon. We’re working with a long-term client, a family-owned manufacturing business. I watch people making their way into the room, some hurriedly sending messages on phones, others grabbing another coffee or catching up with colleagues. During these arrivals I find myself wondering, what am I actually here to do?

In my days of working on large transformation programmes, I worked alongside consultants who made grand claims about what they were doing. They promised specific outcomes and seemed sure about what their work would achieve. I might have been guilty of this myself... 🙄These kinds of promises can be inspiring and reassuring but in my experience, they rarely materialised. Over time I’ve come to think that it’s tricky to make claims like this about work that is relational and therefore inherently (and beautifully) messy and uncertain.

Fast forward to the end of the week and the three of us are shattered but feel we have done some great work. We’ve each noticed some shifts taking place…shifts in the nature and quality of conversation and reflection, shifts in the depth of connection and shifts in our own experimentation as consultants. Reflecting now on what we were actually doing with this group, a few things stand out:

1. Facilitating connection

One of the most powerful things people take from these gatherings is the chance to step away from the everyday demands of their role to focus on connecting to themselves and others. We tried to build in different spaces for people to connect in different ways…be it for a relaxed walk by the sea, playing musical chairs (yes really..) a moment of silence or sharing something they were stuck or struggling with and being heard and supported in that. Spending time on this can appear frivolous or a luxury in a culture focused on getting stuff done, but for me, this is the bedrock of doing good work together and working in increasing complexity and uncertainty. If we know and trust those around us, we can feel less alone in our struggles and potentially even see things beyond our own individual perspectives. We are also more likely to take off our masks, speak openly, talk about what matters and dive into the difficult stuff.

2. Practising and experimenting together

We’re not brought in as consultants to keep things the same. So we’re always looking at how we can support our clients in experimenting with different ways of thinking and being together. With this particular group we decided to all explicitly practice a few skills which we had noticed were rarely practiced and which we see as critical if we are aiming to learn fast from our experience. These were inquiry (not just jumping straight to action or to stating our opinion) and active listening. None of these are new areas for people so we were careful not to teach or preach but at the same time they require practice and this can feel clunky and frustrating. We chose to weave this practice into real conversations rather than creating pretend role play scenarios. One example was that we were able to catch moments where someone was asking a question in a way that shut down inquiry and looked at how we might rephrase to discover more. Overall I think this kind of practice raises our awareness of what we actually do, rather than what we like to believe we do!

3. Getting critically reflective (and creative)

As a consultant community we invest a lot of time critically reflecting on our own design, our practice, our own development and how we are working as a collective. Whilst we were facilitating together Megan, Simon and I regularly interrogated what we were doing, experiencing and observing about ourselves, each other and the wider group. So in this sense thinking critically simply means questioning our ideas, beliefs and assumptions. I sensed a hesitancy with this group in asking questions and picking things apart a little. I wonder what could be behind this? A fear of sounding negative or too challenging? A fear of slowing down progress in an otherwise fast-paced environment?. It certainly takes courage to question things especially when power is at play or when the pressure is on. Yet done well this questioning and inquiring into our everyday assumptions and beliefs can be lively, creative and hugely motivating.

4. Humility (and vulnerability)

It’s easy to slip into a sense of knowing better as a consultant. Clients easily project ‘expertise’ and ‘knowing’ onto us and that can feel good! Honestly though I really don’t know better and stumble over and get stuck on the same stuff as clients. Being open about this invites our clients into the conversation rather than them waiting for us to reveal an answer. We can certainly provide inspiration (in the form of our experience, ideas, theories and models) but I don’t think we can claim to have the answers! And there is also the tension of working out how much of ourselves to share. Whilst we don’t want to take up too much space, the last thing we want to do is pretend that we have it all ‘sorted’.

The difference that makes the difference?
So those were some of the things that made a difference in this particular instance of client work. I’ve found it really useful to ponder on this for longer than 5 minutes and think this is a question I’ll constantly be revisiting: what am I here to do? What difference might I make? It’s one we’re also grappling with as a growing group of consultants at RISE. What is our approach to consulting? And what value does this bring? We need to be able to articulate this so that potential new consultants and clients can work out if we are a good fit for one another. And at the same time, we know that insisting on a single approach for such a diverse group is impossible and would undo a bit of the magic we seem to have. This is just one of the many tensions that we are working within.

I’d love to hear what all of this brings up for you so if you have a few minutes feel free to drop me a line at