The Power of Consulting

In the picture to the left, you are seeing the matzo ball soup team from 2016. Pictured with me are my sister-in-law Susan and her daughter Victoria.
We were making soup with love for a gathering after Holy Thursday services at my church. We have been hosting this gathering for many years now. We call it "Holy Fest" and it's our way of celebrating the ending of the season of Lent and the starting of the Triduum, the three days that culminate in Easter.
Because many of those who attend Holy Fest are members of our church choir, we sing through the score to "Jesus Christ Superstar" during the party. It's a true highlight of the year, as several of us who love to sing can "let loose" and enact the drama of the passion of Jesus.
You might say that Holy Fest is sort of our Seder tradition.
Now back to the soup.
In the past several years, a problem developed with the soup: the balls did not hold together, disintegrating into loose mush.
What was causing it? The soup mix? The soup making process? The soup maker?
After several years of this frustrating experience, I was about to throw in the towel...when my sister-in-law Susan offered to consult. As she is Jewish, and comes from a long line of expert soup makers, I readily accepted her offer.
Several hours before the party, she and her daughter came over to my house and we got to work on making the balls. The end result? Perfect matzo ball soup!
What made the difference? The soup mix was the same. The soup maker was the same. The soup making process was the same.
The difference came from the power of consulting.
What is a consultant? A consultant is someone who can help you improve what you are doing so that you are better able to obtain the results you are after. Most often, the consultant possesses some area of expertise, as well as experience, that is relevant to your dilemma.
Three aspects of Susan's approach are key to understanding the nature of consulting:
The consultant does not know - Though she has a great deal of knowledge and experience with making matzo ball soup, Susan did not show up as The Expert with all the answers. Quite the contrary, she showed up with a bunch of questions. The consulting engagement was an inquiry, an exploration. The aim was to find the way to success.
The consultant is humble - Though she has expertise, her consulting is not didactic or overbearing. Though she knows much, there is no trace of arrogance. Instead, she is present. She is patient. She is there to help. (Note: On this point, my great teacher here is Edgar Schein, author of Process Consultation, Humble Inquiry and so much more about the nature of effective consulting.)
The consultant is fun - There is a playfulness in the style of the consultant. By 'playful' what I mean is experimental. "Let's try this" is the operative phrase. It's an optimism, a way of being that affirms and appreciates what the client has tried already. Additionally there is a sense of humor, a bigger perspective, that she brings to the dilemma that the client is facing. By bringing this kind of positive energy to the engagement, she reduces the stress of the client (who was ready to 'pack it in') and lifts his spirits.
Susan was my matzo ball soup consultant. And what she did made all the difference.
Addendum: After reading this post, Susan wrote me a note: " Thanks for the shout-out, Terry. I think that sometimes the solution is right in front of you all along. Just revisit your process, step by step. The small improvements you can identify may bring about solid improvement to the overall result."
Terrence Seamon is a learning and organization development consultant whose specialties include career transition, leadership development, and managing change. Follow Terry on twitter @tseamon, and join his alliance on facebook, Facilitation Solutions.

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