The Practice of Relational Consulting

Relating to Relational Practice

Relational Practice, on which the T-Space methodology is based, is a relatively recently conceived consulting approach, with firm roots in three areas of theory & practice - the Process Consultation perspective of Edgar Schein (1969), the Sensitivity Training (T-Group) methods pioneered by Kurt Lewin et al (Marrow, 1969), and the Social Constructivism theories introduced by Kenneth Gergen (1982).

Schein continually updated his writings on Process Consultation in an attempt to more clearly articulate what was really happening within his powerful interventions, but aside from ‘working in the present reality’, ‘understanding the ebb and flow of that reality from moment to moment’ and ‘jointly deciphering what is going on’ (Schein 1987, 1999), the basic dynamics of the helping process remained difficult to define and articulate.

Lambrechts et al (2009) assisted by applying a Relational Practice perspective to Schein’s thinking, and in so doing, they helped to actualise the mechanics at work in Process Consultation. They identify the 3 key elements of Relational Practice as:-

Relational Constructionism – where reflection and feedback help reconstruct self and others’ perceptions through mutual renegotiation of meanings to form a new and shared social reality

Emotive Communication – where practice of “withness” talk (that moves) versus “aboutness” talk (that leaves us unmoved) is vital to generate change energy and quality reciprocal interactions

Contextual Bounding – where the work is properly and regularly contracted, accounting for changing organisational contexts, and where live examples are used to bring context into the practice

We would assert that the quality of the relational processes operating within Relational Practice are directly proportional to the extent of any possible change which can take place. Even cultural transformations are possible within highly professional Relational Practice interventions, but how can quality be assured?

Lambrechts et al go on to define 8 identifiers of high quality Relational Practice, where change and transformation can emerge:-

  • Reciprocity between actors to co-create meaning
  • Talking with emotional language that evokes actionable knowledge
  • Open, defined and exemplified communications
  • Mutual questioning and challenging is possible, leading to double-loop learning
  • Positive talk about possibilities with an energy-giving force
  • All participants own the task
  • Multiple voices are raised, can be heard and are included
  • Talking in, and from, the here-and-now interaction

 

We monitor the quality of our Relational Practice by keeping these elements in mind during our interventions and we can also activate formal evaluation processes on these identifiers to produce a reliable quality guage.

In activating Relational Practice, we, as facilitators, take a position as a ‘co-actor’ within our client organisation. We generate responsive and reciprocal relationships, where the focus of attention is on jointly produced activity, and acting out, doing things, with real live situations, so we can all be involved in each others’ process of inquiry to co-construct meaning. We help create a positive, solutions focused and appreciative space, where we all engage, experience and reflect in a contextually relevant manner , so that we can all benefit from the practice.

In today’s organisations, departments need to collaborate, stakeholders want to be connected, and management must network. Relationships are at a premium and the firms that succeed will have them. The Relational Practice perspective offers a range of new consulting interventions to the turbulent, highly interactive and increasingly complex organisational environments.

 

References

Gergen, K.J. (1982). Toward transformation of social knowledge. Ondon, Sage.

Marrow, A. (1969).  The practical theorist: The life and work of Kurt Lewin. New York: Basic Books.

Lambrechts et al (2009) Process Consultation Revisited, vol 45, No 1, pp. 39-58. Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, Sage Publications.

Schein, E.H (1969). Process consultation: Its role in organisation development. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.

Schein, E.H.  (1987). Process consultation, Vol. 1: Its role in organisation development, New Ork: Addison-Wesley.

Schein, E.H. (1999b). Process consultation revisited: Building the helping relationship. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley