Train consultancy skills

Harajuku Cowboys

Sharing knowledge and training internal consultancy skills

Below is a half-day workshop design I prepared for a management training a couple of years ago. I believe it still works. I found it useful when there was a need for both training people in acting as internal consultants as well as providing problem owners, those sharing a business challenge, with some useful input.

Workshop purpose

  1. Enable people to get help dealing with a specific business challenge they are currently facing
  2. Increase participants’ insight across units
  3. Build corporate pride

Participants’ profile

Participants can be experts, managers or regular employees. For instance, if you design a training for managers, politics will become an aspect more important to manage. If running the workshop for regular employees, make sure to have dead specific tasks written down on handouts.

Time needed

Three hours for a group of 20-40 persons. It’s flexible, of course. However, squeezing it below two hours will make participants frustrated due to time constraint. In addition, there’ll be a danger of ruining the group dynamics.

Workshop design

1. Articulate a problem statement [two weeks prior to the workshop]

Invite a selection of the participants (for instance half of the group) to articulate a specific business problem they are currently facing in their daily work. The statement should be brief, ideally a one sentence ‘elevator pitch’ understandable to everyone (avoid internal jargon).

Some ideas for topics:

  • how to manage communication related to an upcoming downsizing process
  • identify new revenue streams within division’s strategy
  • cut costs in a way that makes sense to employees
  • how to become more efficient in day to day business within xx unit

What is important is that those you invite to articulate a ‘problem statement’ should be motivated for sharing their challenge. Thus, consider who you ask. Depending what your additional objectives for the training are (build team spirit, make some junior managers visible, enable women managers to take the stage, etc), you can make a selection that makes sense in the group as a whole.

2. Organise participants into problem owners vs consultants [in the workshop]

Sort participants into smaller teams of, say, three problem owners and three consultants. Allow each problem owner to present their challenge to the group in 5 min.

When all three problem owners have presented, ask the three consultants to reflect upon the three pitches. Which one do they want to go for. They can only choose one problem.

The two ‘left over’ problem owners joins the group.

The group (of roughly six persons) spends the next 60-90 minutes discussing the problem decided upon.

3. Problem cracking, caramba!

Each group works on the problem chosen in 60-90 minutes, depending on the complexity of it.
Make sure to dedicate one person per group who is charge of documenting the work (flip charts or similar tools). Unless something is decided during the group work, this person will at least have to present a synopsis of what took place in the group when all partcipants come together in plenary by the end of the workshop.

4. Plenary sharing

When groups return to plenary after having worked on their group task, it is time for sharing some reflections, both on the challenges decided upon, as well as the consultants’ input.

Please note that the result, advice or specific outcome of the session is not necessarily the most valuable aspect of the group work. Do make sure to challenge the groups on other things, such as work process. For instance how did they cooperate, listen, decide, discuss and prioritise?

An ethical note in the end: Make sure to remind participants in the end that information shared may be sensitive. Thus, show respect and be cautious about sharing if so is necessary.


Advice for the facilitator: Make a role description for ‘internal consultants’

It’s vital that consultants understand their role when they enter into position of internal consultant. Please provide internal consultants with an A4 sheet describing their role, beneficial attitudes, as well as what to avoid. For instance:

  • The internal consultants are supposed to help the problem owner to open up the problem, not solve it. In the end it is the problem owner who will need to do the hard work.
  • Challenge the problem owner to frame (and reframe) the problem in simple terms
  • Take the problem owner’s point of view: what would you do in his or her position?
  • Avoid rushing for conclusions. There’s no speed competition to complete first.
  • Be aware that feedback can be interpreted differently from person to person. Frame your input in a specific and constructive manner. Be respectful.
Train consultancy skills

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