Developmental Process Consultation in the Age of Agility: Reflections on the Critical Facilitation of Agile Functioning in Organizations

One sunny day, the term ‘agility’ woke up and realized it had become a virus. It no longer knew whether it meant a human capability, an organizational characteristic, or both, and what to make of them …  It also wondered how to combat the pandemic its human carriers had unleashed. What kind of helpers would be available to fight the pandemic? Were perhaps the helpers themselves already infected? And these uncertainties have only grown in the meantime.


In this blog, I am asking which of four models of ‘helping’ (consultation), first outlined by E. Schein, are optimal for supporting a move to organizational agility. In the text attached below, I reflect on the suitability of each of these models, at the same time asking helpers (consultants) to ask themselves “what kind of helper do I want to be?”

Schein’s pivotal contribution to consulting consists in going beyond both an ‘expert’ and a ‘doctor/patient’ model of consulting and upgrading it to a consultation to clients’ mental process, whether the clients are organizations, colleagues, or family members. In CDF, the Constructive Developmental Framework, I have taken a further step, suggesting to upgrade a merely behavioral understanding of mental process to an adult-developmental one, that is, by conceiving of that process in both a social-emotional and cognitive-dialectical (rather than purely behavioral and logical) sense (as does Schein himself).

Without having knowledge of Schein’s typology of modes of consultation, most organizations today approach consultants for help with providing agility by assuming a ‘doctor/patient model’, according to which the doctor is the consultant, and the organizational client is the patient. In this approach, both parties share responsibility for the outcome — rather than the responsibility being that of the client alone as in Schein’s process consultation model. What is missed in a doctor/patient approach to agility is that the organizational client’s mental process is viewed by the consultant from the outside, rather than as a living process capable of high quality dialogue. Even when the consulting approach is upgraded to Schein’s own model, of behavioral process consultation, the organizational client’s mental process remains being engaged with behaviorally, from a spectator point of view, not in terms of its structural, social-emotional and cognitive, underpinnings (as in CDF).

Although most organizations are beginning to understand that a pure spectator view of agility as it is instilled by an ‘expert’ or ‘doctor/patient’ model is fatal to the undertaking of a culture transformation for which they sign up, so far only a handful has moved to seeing the core of agility in the human mind itself, not some external contraption or logical schema. Even if organization members are asked to engage in a re-synthesis of various extant agility schemes, it is still rare that consultants are educated and mature enough to approach agility projects from a ‘mental processing’ point of view, not to speak of being CDF-trained consultants with a sophisticated understanding of ‘mental process’ as an adult-developmental endeavor.

In the article below, I am suggesting that to do justice to the complexity of issues encountered when aiming for agility, organizations need to move from a spectator to a constructivist view of agility, especially if it has become a pandemic. They also need to revamp their notion of consultation, by going beyond a doctor/patient to a process consultation model, even, if necessary, a behavioral one (in the sense of Schein or other) at first. This is difficult to achieve given the continuing predominance, in consulting itself, of the doctor/patient model which easily leads to a kind of ‘the blind leading the blind’ in organizational consulting (where both the doctor and the patient remain focused on the external aspects of organizational agility). The consulted and the consulting parties are thus both off-track which could be helped only if more developmentally, especially cognitively, astute consultants would enter the scene, which seems to be far-off.

Under these circumstances, the best consultants can do is to upgrade their own model of consultation which is exactly what their clients need them to do, namely striving for team work to become rooted in deep, high-quality, dialogue through which to construct their own professional and personal agility. Simply ‘choosing’ an agile framework from a spectator point of view simply will not work.

In short, neither Schein’s expert model nor his doctor/patient model, nor even his behavioral process consultation model, are adequate for achieving organizational agility. Only recognizing in one’s own approach the four models as in themselves describing an adult-developmental path through, and out of, the agility pandemic will do.

I want to thank Jan De Visch for his critical input to this blog.

Developmental PC in the Age of Agility