Thinking partners and the art of micro-interventions
As we all continue to come to terms with ‘hybrid’ ways of working, it inevitably means that we should adapt the way we enable transformation and change in organisational life. Getting colleagues – who have become even more dispersed and time poor – to collaborate across role and departmental boundaries has become even more challenging. In our experience, it has profound implications too for the role of consultants.
A typical scenario
Imagine a project team that has been tasked with engaging a widespread group of stakeholders to develop an alternative strategy that has implications for the existing service proposition. They have a process and have appointed experienced people to the team. The business case for change is clear but they know it’s going to be tricky given status differentials and conflicting agendas are all in the mix. Contact time is at a premium and budgets are limited. More importantly, the ownership for any outcomes and the methodology used needs to be seen to stay in-house. This cannot be outsourced, yet there is a sense of going into unknown and the team needs an external perspective – someone they see as a peer rather than an expert. They want someone they can think with rather than someone who has expertise that they don’t have themselves.
This is one of several scenarios where we have been invited by a client to bring a different kind of consultancy presence during a live project. We have even noticed the words ‘thought partner’ sometimes being used. It’s not new terminology perhaps, but what feels different is the request for advice, support and challenge on a just in time basis and in the midst of work that is already in progress.
How a ‘thinking partner’ relationship works
Typically, the most visible aspects of OD consultancy work would be the scoping, design and facilitation of workshops and events. And there would be moments of ad hoc coaching and supervision along the way. In this case, it is the ‘ad hoc bits’ that the client is valuing most.
These often take the form of short bursts or micro interventions – a few hours scheduled on a just in time basis spread over an agreed period. The approach is most relevant when you need to keep ownership for a change process – the way of going about it as much as the outcome. It is an effective way of building capability so that you keep the learning inside the organisation rather than contracted out to a third party. Further down the line, it still allows you to contract your thinking partner as a facilitation resource when needed. For example, when dealing with tricky stakeholder engagements where an external, independent presence is preferred and where people need the encouragement to speak freely.
A different ethos
This approach will feel different from a more formal approach. It can turn out to be more lively, more creative, and even fun for everyone involved. But it means the rules of engagement are not quite the same. For example, ‘thinking together’ means exactly that. When it works well those involved show up with a spirit of openness and bring a more relaxed quality to the relationship. Therefore, we often start by paying attention to how we can let go of typical client and consulting roles and expectations so that there is more of a preparedness to air unfinished ideas and to develop them into propositions together.
We find that commissioning what you need as you go along doesn’t quite fit with a typical ‘assignment based’ contract. And therefore, some clients prefer to negotiate a draw-down arrangement up front. It works on the assumption that both parties will revisit the budget as the project unfolds as you start to understand better the support needed and what adds most value in the relationship.
We really enjoy this way of working and we know our clients can gain more value from a very different kind of investment in outside help. So, if you think this way of working might suit your needs better, do get in touch with us via: firstname.lastname@example.org