become relaxed about bringing up contentious matters
and encourage challenge. We articulate what we honestly
think about a proposal or idea and learn from each other.
3. Together we become a team. We co-own the project,
embedded together in it, joined at the hip. What the client wants is what the consultant wants. We get into each
other’s pockets. We include each other in what we do
and share the work. We feel a sense of responsibility,
and want the best for, one another. Both are committed to the relationship. We take risks and suffer setbacks
together. Consultant and client share a relationship in
which we ask each other’s opinions, value the other’s
experience, throw ideas around and try them out in an
on-going dialogue, tossing them to and fro many times
and refining them in the process. We use the differences
between us to our advantage. Our skills and experience
become complementary and are synergized.
4. Client and consultant conspire together and find an
effective way forward in the same direction. We have a
common purpose, aim, plot and script, within which we
can both improvise as we work in the client organization and with its stakeholders.
You may be thinking that this is all about relationship
building rather than tough real work of assignments, but
the two cannot be separated. The consulting relationship
is the vehicle for the work and each party brings their
own skills and perspectives to it. As the assignment
progresses, it develops and its context changes. The inevitable tension created between client and consultant’s
perspectives can be used generatively—if we recognize
this, we can use it to our advantage.
Indeed, if our respect and sense of responsibility for
each other are sufficient then we don’t need to manage
each other and instead can combine to place most of our
attention on the work and the wider client organization.
This is something like a sports team or a section on the
battlefield does—they focus most on the outcome they
are trying to achieve rather than each other. That doesn’t
mean they are unaware of each other—they certainly
are. But they don’t waste emotional energy managing
each other, because they each already know what the
other can do and that each will be there for the other.
AIDE MEMOIRE FOR YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIPS
Here’s the Aide Memoire for assessing the health of
a consulting relationship:
First, are we (consultant and client) standing on common ground?
• In terms of what the work means—our values and beliefs
as they pertain to the assignment
• Possessing the same information about the context of
• Having presented each other with all the evidence we
judge is relevant to the issue
Second, are we fully engaged with each other?
• Aware of each other’s emotional state, our ups and
• Being honest with each other
• Valuing and trusting each other enough
• Empathizing with each other
• Able to use our different experience and abilities to chal-
lenge each other, clearly yet fairly and sensitively
• Balancing our power evenly
Third, are we united as a team?
• Co-owning the project we are doing together
• Building ideas together in dialogue
• Taking responsibility for our impact on, and caring about,
• Using our talents to complement each other’s
• Changing each other and growing
Lastly, do we act in concert in the wider client organization?
• Having the same objectives
• With a common plot (strategy)
• Pursuing the same solutions
I set out in this to find out more about when consulting goes well and I hope I have given you some pointers you can make practical use of. I am not suggesting
that all consulting relationships can be positive, but if
one you’re having feels like it’s going downhill then
I hope my analysis gives you some ideas about your
Richard Davis started his career as a British military officer. He
has become a consultant specializing in organizational change,
in which he holds a professional doctorate from Hult. He has
practiced as an organization consultant in defense, engineering, financial services, healthcare, education and international
development. He can be reached at email@example.com.