Leadership & Ed Schein: Pt. 3 “Process Consultation”

Process Consultation Revisited

His private memorial will be May 13 in Massachusetts, USA.  To keep Ed’s legacy alive…

Part II. “Process Consultation Revisited” (Ed Schein, 1999) . This blog post is my critique of the leadership development book. Each of my critiques review the key message of the book, the high-level concepts, the book’s areas of strengths, and where it falls short. I conclude each critique with an overall assessment ranking (1-10 ascending) of its effectiveness in providing the reader applicable lessons in personal and/or leadership development.

Overview: “Everything you do is an intervention.” Ed refers to observing everything because everything gives you data and he believes that process consultation is in essence, a philosophy of helping. As it turns out, help is not easy to give.

High-level concepts: He defines process consultations as the creation of a relationship with someone else that permits them to understand and act on the process events occurring in their internal and external environment in order that they improve their own situation. In order to create this relationship, Ed described three main types of inquiry questions – pure inquiry, exploratory, and confrontive. Pure inquiry starts with silence so that the other may say what they want or need at that time. In exploratory, you begin to influence the other by asking further questions about feelings or root cause hypotheses, or potential actions. Confrontive Inquiry is when you insert your own ideas about the process or content, which may have not previously occured to the other.

Key Message: “Process consultation is how to make visible the invisible.”

Areas of Strengths: His definitions are elemental, and transformative, all while being simple to grasp. As I’ve said before, Ed is the founder of deep theory around process consultation, which is a major part of my professional job in enterprise change. Silence is severely underrated in society today, and his book shows us how staying quiet many times actually helps the situation.

Supplemental Materials: Ed and his son Peter have a site for Organizational Culture Institute at: OCLI.org (scheinocli.org)

Where it Falls Short: As I noted in his book “Helping,” Process consulting is not the right answer for every type of relationship.” There are other types of inquiry too, such as appreciative inquiry. Its too meta to also write that everything is an intervention. If one of his principles is go with the flow, he should also acknowledge that “just being” sometimes means just that. I found some sections too academic.

Overall Assessment & Why:  I rate it an 8 out of 10. It was powerful for me in graduate school to read this book as it strengthened my facilitation skills when applied during our international residency course. It is however, a bit dry for someone not inherently interested in the subject as there are more well-known classics for facilitation techniques, such as Peter Block or Roger Schwarz.