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Collaborative Consulting

In teaching coaching classes, we point out the differences between the various “people development processes” --counseling, consulting, teaching, mentoring, coaching, and spiritual direction.  The differences are generally defined along two axes--self as expert versus other as expert and asking versus telling.

For example, in most cases, the consultant is usually the content expert who shares his or her expertise, so consulting is in the “other as expert”/”telling” corner.  Coaches on the other hand lead the process with the client as the expert and the coach asking questions; therefore, coaching is in the “self as expert”/”asking” corner.

In reality, the lines are often blurred.  Over the course of time, a mentoring relationship can take on more of the characteristics of coaching as the client or protégé accepts more responsibility for his or her actions.  In newer forms of education, teachers may become more guides or facilitators that dispensers of knowledge.  Spiritual directors use a wide variety of approaches to their work with clients based on their individual skills and philosophy.

Consulting can also be approached in a different way.  There is also the possibility for a blended approach in consulting.  The term I use for this is “collaborative consulting.”  In this approach, the consultant uses the methodology of coaching in working with churches and other organizations. There are definite benefits or the client organization in using this approach.

First, the collaborative consultant works with the congregation to discern the work of the Spirit in their midst by asking questions such as “Where have you seen God at work in your life as part of the congregation?” and “Where do you see God at work in your church right now?”

Second, a collaborative approach shows respect for the faith tradition of the church. Our doctrinal and theological backgrounds are often determinative in the actions we take, but they can also be an impetus for change.  Collaborative questions seek to discover beliefs that are essential and immutable and those that empower change and Kingdom engagement.

Third, asking questions rather than giving answers recognizes that the parishioners and staff ministers are the experts on their situation.  They know more about their context than anyone else. Although they may be satisfied where they are and resistant to change, challenging questions can help them to see their situation from a different perspective and visualize alternatives.

Fourth, similar to the observation above, good questions help the participants unlock and express their knowledge of the context in which they live, work, and minister.  Again, they should know more about situation that the consultant does. If they don’t, good questions can push them out into the community as more perceptive learners.

Finally, effective questions can lead a congregation to discover resources that they have overlooked--spiritual gifts, physical and financial resources, networks--that can be engaged in effective ministry.

Just as in coaching, asking powerful questions is key to a collaborative consulting experience.  The consultant leads a process so that the congregation and its leaders define the best way forward, discover the resources available, and monitor accountability for progress.  They come out of the process with a clearer understanding of their inherent strengths and ability to make choices.

(A version of the post originally appeared here on December 4, 2018)


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