Process Consultation - Building the Helping Relationship
by Edgar H. Schein describes how consultants can create a
helpful relationship with a client. Edgar Schein is the Sloan
Fellows Professor of Management Emeritus and senior
lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. His first book
on Process Consultation was written in 1969 and updated with
Process Consultation - volume II in 1987.
Process Consultation (PC) is the creation of a
relationship with the client that permits the client to
perceive, understand and act on the process events
that occur in the client’s internal and external
environment in order to improve the situation as
defined by the client.
Focus of Process Consultant
1. Build a Relationship:-
• Permit the consultant and client to deal with reality
• Remove the consultants areas of ignorance
• Acknowledge the consultant’s behavior as being always an intervention
• All of the above in the service of giving the client(s) insight into what is going on
2. Help the client figure out what they should do about the situation:-
• Clients must be helped to remain proactive
• Clients must own the problems
• Clients know the true complexity of their situation and they know what will work in
the culture where they live.
Process Consultation Principles
1. Always try to be helpful
2. Always stay in touch with the current reality
3. Access your ignorance
4. Everything you do is an intervention
5. It is the client who owns the problem and solution
6. Go with the flow
7. Timing is crucial
8. Be constructively opportunistic with confrontive interventions
9. Everything is data: errors are inevitable – learn from them
10.When in doubt, share the problem
The Process Consultation Model
•The client and consultant jointly diagnose the problem.
•The consultant’s role is to train the client in using diagnostic and problem solving
•The client has the major responsibility to develop his/her own solution and action
plan to the problem.
•Problem solving is more effective when the client identifies wheat processes need
to be improved (e.g., reporting relationship, reward system, organizational
•The client has more knowledge and insight about what will work in the
organization then does the consultant.
•The client has more of a commitment for implementing the action plan if involved
in the entire diagnostic problem solving phases.
The expert (or telling and selling) model of consultation assumes that
the client purchases from the consultant some information or expert
service that she is unable to provide for herself.
The buyer, usually an individual manager or representative of some
group in the organization, defines a need and concludes that the
organization has neither the resources nor the time to fulfill that need.
She will then look to a consultant to provide the information or the
1. Whether or not the manager has correctly diagnosed his own needs .
2. Whether or not he has correctly communicated those needs to the consultant.
3. Whether or not he has accurately assessed the capabilities of the consultant to
provide the information or the service.
4. Whether or not he has thought through the consequences of having the consultant
gather such information or the consequences of implementing. the changes that
the information implies or that may be recommended by the consultant.
5. Whether or not there is an external reality than can be objectively studied and
reduced to knowledge that will be of use to the client.
The doctor-patient (or physician) model also has appropriate
and inappropriate applications. In this model, the patient/client
simply describes symptoms. Then the physician/consultant
diagnoses the problem and decides on a solution. This model
may be appropriate (in some cases required) when the
patient/client has little or no knowledge to contribute to the
physician/ consultant's decision.
1. Whether or not the client has accurately identified which person, group, or
department is, in fact, sick or in need of some kind of therapy .
2. Whether or not the patient is motivated to reveal accurate information.
3. Whether or not the patient accepts and believes the diagnosis that the doctor
arrives at and accepts the prescription that the doctor recommends.
4. Whether or not the consequences of doing the diagnostic processes are
accurately understood and accepted.
5. Whether or not the client is able to make the changes that are recommended.