There is often confusion on what a process consultant does, and Schein explains that very clearly by contrasting it with the expertise consultancy. Process consultation is the creation of a relationship with the client that permits the client to perceive, understand and act on the process events that occur in the client's internal and external environment in order to improve the situation as defined by the client. The principles he outlines for a process consultant are:
- Always try to be helpful
- Always stay in touch with the current reality
- Access your ignorance
- Everything you do is an intervention
- It is the client who owns the problem and the solution
- Go with the flow
Particularly number 2 is important for capacity building in development; lots of workshop allow people to reflect and talk outside their organisations about their organisation, but Schein argues that a consultant cannot be helpful for a client system if there is no diagnostic information to the client and consultant about the here-and-now. The here-and-now means talking about actual situations and giving feedback, which translates in actually sitting in and observing eg. meetings in an organisation (in contract to just talking about meetings).
He moves on to explain that in human communications we have a strong, learned sense of what is an appropriate and fair exchange ('learned rules' for communication). Face work is what both parties engage in if the relationship should be sustained in spite of an disappointing interaction (eg. laughing when someone makes a joke). The reason for face work is to reassure one another that we are acceptable; without face work, the world would become too unpredictable and dangerous for people. It is important for a consultant to be aware of his/her own filters/biases - in order to be able to build a trustworthy, constructive helping relation where the client can discover their real problems. Often this problem is unfolding itself only after a longer relationship. If the consultant is not aware of his/her filters, there is a risk to misinterpret the situation. (I actually think doing a lot of work across cultures helps to sharpen this awareness of your own filters- you become more flexible in postponing judgements in a situation).Schein labels some major groups of interventions in the service of learning: deliberate feedback and process interventions covering task processes and interpersonal processes. Schein argues that there is the most potential for help in the processes (task, decision-making, boundary, interpersonal), as this is where most organisations derail as process effects on the quality of content discussions are underestimated. This is where I think the whole set of interventions (and considerations of where to start) would apply for advising communities of practice and you could probably 'translate' them towards that specific situation. I think an external advisor can help a community of practice on a process level, rather than on the content level. Often, a process consultant will start from the task process (reason for being called in) but intervening at the other levels when there is clear evidence that they are harming the group's effectiveness.
It might be a nice (but thorny) exercise to make an inventory of consultant interventions with communities of practice. I get the impression there are more books and articles analyzing and describing the beast (CoP) rather than critical interventions to make them work better (which is what I find myself struggling with now).
Last but not least the book is full of great examples, which are both recognisable and make the theory very practical.