This brief article equips you with some of the questions you need to ask to select the most appropriate consulting firm to improve the effectiveness of your top team.
These questions are important as when you look at the provider market at one end of the spectrum you will find consulting firms that will create a ‘veneer of harmony’ and / or motivational boost…whilst at the other end of the spectrum…there are a few that will achieve your objective and create lasting change.
Many consulting firms shy away from the complex ‘soft’ areas due to lack of relevant psychological know-how. Conversely, many psychologists have scant business knowledge. I therefore recommend you ask the following questions as part of your selection process:
I. What do you see as the main drivers of dysfunctional behaviour in senior leadership teams? (Best answer = anxiety & fear triggering personal defences that manifest themselves in dysfunctional behaviours)
II. What psychological themes/approaches do you employ when working with a senior leadership team? (Best answer = ‘clinical’ psychodynamic . Worse answer = NLP or anything else from pop-psychology)
III. In your view can dysfunctional behaviours be ‘removed’ from senior leaders, after all a leopard can’t change its spots? And if yes, how? (Best answer = Yes, if they want to &/or have a good reason to change; And how = In essence, having an understanding of the hidden drivers of behaviour allows executives to look in the mirror and become aware of blind spots, feedback from peers and expert external guidance will help facilitate change)
IV. How do you surface and work with the hidden (subconscious) drivers of behaviour? (A relevant question as many consultants only know how to work above-the-surface i.e. at a conscious level and thus don't discover the true causes of issues and so don’t resolve them. Best question answer will include: relevant ‘marination’, life-story work, potentially looking at possible-selves, hidden competing commitments and social defense mechanisms. There are other approaches such as free drawing but I only recommend these when appropriate after initial work with the team.)
V. How do you create a ‘safe space’ when working with senior leadership teams so team members feel comfortable speaking their mind? (Psychological safety is key. For further information on this topic, see this article tap here. )
VI. What psychological qualifications do you have? (There are a plethora of courses consultants can attend, but one of the most highly regarded qualifications is INSEAD’s Masters in clinical organisational psychology (Consulting and Coaching for Change), with a psychodynamic focus. There are other psychology programmes but most take an ‘above-the-surface’ social psychology approach to individual, group and team behaviour).
VII. Using psychological language (psycho-babble) can create resistance in some people, how do you get round this? (Best answer = simply by avoiding the use of psychological terminology and using everyday language & mini-stories)
VIII. What research do you undertake to contribute to your field of expertise and what thought leadership do you produce? (Relevant as such research and articles help ensure optimal client solutions are developed).
IX. Do you specialise in a sector? Type of company (family owner, PLC, PE backed etc)? Geography? (Relevant as having a rich breadth of experience across sectors, types of companies and geographies means the consulting firm has gained rich experience and can bring a greater range of insights to the programme).
X. How many consultants will be assigned to the programme? (In theory just one consultant could complete the assignment, but two or more consultants are better as for example, while one is guiding the team on a topic the other can be listening with their ‘third ear’, plus two or more consultants bring greater diversity of thinking and styles)
XI. Who supervises your work? (Some consulting firms develop a form of internal ‘group think’ as their work approach is rarely challenged by an external expert. Having someone provide this external perspective helps ensure the best possible outcomes are achieved for the client.)
XII. Do the consultants you propose have business experience? (Important to have had past senior level corporate experience to understand the pressures, talk the team’s language and when appropriate to effectively adopt a ‘double task’ approach, i.e. work on a business issue whilst at the same time observing & working with the group dynamics).
If a proposal from a firm to work with your top team doesn’t include an initial ‘diagnosis’ phase, then I recommend rejecting it. I say this as it will mean that their proposed approach will be the equivalent to suggesting the team walk to the summit of a mountain in the dark with no map, compass or GPS. The ‘diagnosis’ phase allows the issues to be identified, most effective approach to be crafted and is also an important phase of the marination process. Without the ‘diagnosis’ any proposed solution is unlikely to solve underlying issues.
When you meet shortlisted firms I think it will be worth asking yourself 'will they bring their ‘ego’ into the room?' (If they do their ‘ego’ could derail the work programme)
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