The Four Basic Approaches to Consultation – Working With People and Organizations

Emergent Organizational Development and Emergent Change® (EODC®) , Emergent Organizational Development® (EOD®) and Emergent Change® are under registered trademark, 2017. All writings are considered under copyright as per The Institute For Emergent Organizational Development and Emergent Change®, Patrick Trottier and Associates. Written permission is required.(The Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. As of January 2019, the Convention has 177 contracting member countries).

© By Patrick Trottier

The concepts and ideas in the following write-up have been developed from a number of prominent and respected people in the field of OD, especially: Vol. I / II ‘Process Consultation’, Edger H. Schein – 1987, 1988, ‘New Paradigm Consulting’; Emergence In Organizations, Richard Seel – 2003, Michael Beer, Nitin Nohria, ‘Breaking The Code Of Change’, Harvard Business School Press, 2000. (as well as some of my own thoughts…)

The intent here is only to offer a brief descriptive and some distinctions of a few of the ‘attributes’ and the ‘outcomes’ of the 4 basic consultative approaches to working with organizations and people.

The Four Basic Consultative Approaches:

1. Expert Approach
2. Medical (Doctor-Patient) Approach
3. Process Approach
4. Emergent Approach (Emergent Organizational Development And Change

Based on the ‘references’ above, Organizational Development (OD) is generally recognized as an approach to ‘organizational change and development’ using the  methodologies and constructs related to the ‘Process and Emergent Consultation Approaches’.

What is Organizational Development (OD)

Organizational Development is a business strategy to achieve an organization’s Purpose and business goals through the enhancement of organizational, team and individual performance.

Note: The reason I use the term ‘business strategy’ has multiple reasons. First and foremost all organizations are ‘in the business of something’ be it community development, finance, government, non-profits, charities, manufacturing, social development, etc., etc. One of the hardest questions to answer for any type of organization is: ‘What business are you in? We are in the business of… saving kids, supporting the poor, creating a community of support for the handicap, creating wealth for our investors, to make money, etc., etc.

In addition, I have found that when you ‘talk of the business of the business’ such works with that which the client can relate to.

As a ‘whole system’ approach, OD is a business strategy of adapting people and organizational capabilities to the drivers and challenges of the ever changing demands of its external and internal environments.

Using ‘OD talk’, OD is the appreciation, development and integration of organizational dynamics, processes and elements (such as people, business processes, strategies, organizational design, systems (IT/IS), relevant environments, business models and culture (to name a few)), into a systemic, integral whole in order to achieve its ‘raison d’être’ – its Purpose, and its desired business goals.

Organizational Development is the process of:

1. Building organizational capacity to become more emergent, adaptive and effective with its rapidly changing environments…

2. Mastering strategic and operational capabilities to overcome the increasingly complex challenges in accomplishing its desired goals…

3. Enhancing an organization’s ability to create and sustain its organizational and business vitality and viability…

4. Creating an ‘Emergent Living Vision’ (Trottier, 1995) so people experience, and are engaged in the ongoing development and evolution of the organization…


The notion of a ‘living vision’ has two basic ideas:

a. The vision continually emerges in the ‘now’ time…

b. A person(s) is either living and further manifesting the ‘vision’ in the ‘now’ time through partnerships / relationships, technologies, business systems, organizational forms, culture, work climates, customer experiences, etc., so that people (internal and external) are actually experiencing such.

Or, simply, they are not experiencing such, and thus not living it ‘now’, and will probably not experience the ‘vision’ in some ambiguous future that may not ever exist.

The past does not exist. The future does not exist. Thus, no one knows the trends and patterns influencing the vision of the future, and what that will look like.

The manifestation and emergence of ‘the vision’ can only be in the ‘now’.

5. Creating an ‘Emergent Living Culture’ that fluidly adapts to changing norms, beliefs, and values in its internal and external environments, as well as manifesting consistency and congruency between evolving stated ‘values’ and day-to-day experiences.

A Living Culture™ exists and will always exist only in the present.

“A Living Culture™ lives and continually emerges as the business, people’s and environments’ needs, desires, and expectations emerge.

New types of behaviours, values, norms, artifacts, assumptions, perspectives, conversations, explorations, etc., are created through new thinking, new experiences, new perspectives, open systems and novel technologies of which they themselves are continually formed as they are interacted with.”

In the following write-up, we first offer a simple description of the first two consultative approaches (the expert and the medical approach), and go into more detail of the next two approaches (the process, and the emergent approach).

Within each approach, we consider the following:

  • What degree of ‘ownership’,  ‘readiness’ or ‘effective engagement’ is appropriate to support effective change and development?
  • What degree is needed in a shift in a person’s mental and emotional framework?
  • To what degree are these above attributes needed within different types of organizational and people change initiatives?


These considerations are significantly important in deciding which approach is a ‘fit’ for different levels and scope of organizational change situations. Which approach, depending on the dynamics of the situation, significantly raise the success rate of different types of change initiatives.

Situational Approach To Consultation – ‘Fit’

In reality, one would use some or all, or a combination thereof, within an overall approach to working with people and organizations.

The core competency, obviously, is to know what approach ‘fits’ what situation based on the need and want of the organization, and where the organization is in their own development stage / phase / maturity.

Some examples where an ‘expert’ or ‘medical approaches’ could be appropriate would be something like fixing a truck, doing a financial audit, or developing a market forecast.

Some examples of a ‘process’ approach, or an ’emergent’ approach, would be areas like developing organizational competencies, cultural change, developing emergent organizational strategies, emergent learning systems, or open communication and feedback systems.

Levels and Scope Of Organizational Change and Development

I view three levels of organizational change and development:

  1. Incremental Change and Development – To improve effectiveness, efficiency and continuous improvement aligned to current critical success factors and strategic focus. (Stay the course, increase performance to achieve business results.)
  2. Transitional Change and Development – Organizational alignment. To enhance adaptability and focus of the organization to enhance the alignment of the organization to the Mission, future Vision, strategic direction, and set business goals. Changing from ‘A’ to ‘B’. (embeds 1.)
  3. Emergent Transformational Change and Development – Continuous emerging organizational ‘forms’. To continually and naturally develop ‘organizational forms’, norms, people, values, purpose, goals, strategies, systems, etc. The organization becomes capable to become comfortable with complex and rapidly changing internal and external environments in real time, in order to manifest its Purpose, Living Culture, Living Vision, human capabilities, emerging goals and strategies. (embeds 1., 2.)

Let’s proceed to the models themselves starting with the ‘expert model’.

The Expert Approach

The ‘expert approach’ is probably the most prevalent in organizations. A person in the organization decides they could use some help in dealing with a need /problem and looks for an internal / external expert to bring in to fulfill that need. The ‘internal / external’ comes in, does the work and gives a report of ‘recommendations’, and/or ‘fixes’ the problem.

This approach works fine when fixing a problem which calls for an expert to fix a machine, wire a building, perform a financial audit, etc. This model is effective when the parameters of an issue are known, standardized, replicable and are a closed system. In certain situations the term ‘standard operating procedures’ come to mind.

In the expert model the organization is ‘fitted into’ the consultant’s change model.

This approach is also used many times in such areas as ‘training’, organizational assessments, and other topical workshops in order to deal with organizational issues such as leadership and management development (send them to training), team building, as well as things like enhancing effectiveness and efficiency in business systems and processes. These examples are situations where the parameters are not so standardized, have various alternatives for resolution, are not or should not be replicable, and are more open systems depending on the needs of the organization.

A question: Is the expert approach the most effective model with the developmental areas mentioned in the last paragraph where the parameters are not so standard, have various alternatives for resolution, are not, or should not be replicable, and are more open systems?

Likelihood of success using the Expert Approachl:

The likelihood of success depends on:
1. Whether or not the ‘expert’ or the manager correctly understands the needs or issue (e.g.; root issue vs. symptoms, dependent on a proper diagnosis, etc.).
2. Whether or not the manager has correctly communicated that need to the consultant.
3. Whether or not the person has accurately assessed the capabilities of the internal /external consultant for ‘fit’ and capability.
4. Whether or not the ‘approach’ taken by the consultant, the implementation strategy, and the impact of implementing the action plans ‘fits’ the organization’s real needs of the situation to make it worth while (cost to ROI) as well as a ‘fit’ to the culture, the people and the internal structures and processes.
5. Whether or not the people in the organization are willing to support and implement the recommendations.
6. Whether or not the formal and informal political dynamics create ‘roadblocks’, or support.
7. Assumes that the originator asks the internal / external consultant in to really fix the issue, or just to go through the motions for various reasons.
8. Whether or not the internal / external consultant has the support and the ‘influence’ to come in as the ‘expert’ without running into all sorts of roadblocks, apathy or merely obligingness. Is (s)he seen as having value?

With all these variables at play, it is no wonder the degree of dissatisfaction with consultants, the low rate of implementation and the number of ‘formal booklets of recommendations’ sit on the shelf gathering dust.

Around 50% of ‘recommendations’ get implemented’ in whole, or in part.

I would suggest that maybe the problem is not ‘the expert model’ itself, but using the ‘expert approach’ when another type of approach would be more ‘fitting’ and probably would deliver better desired results depending on the dynamic needs of the situation, the degree of ‘ownership’ and ‘readiness’ that is needed in the initiative, and maybe even if a shift in how we see things is needed.

So the question here is; ‘When is an expert needed? When is another type of approach needed when there is a moderate to a high degree of ‘ownership’, ‘readiness’ and ‘effective engagement’ needed. Which approach is more optimal to ‘fit’ the situation?

Question: To what degree of ‘ownership’, ‘readiness’ and ‘effective engagement’ is created in the ‘Expert Model”?
Answer: Minimal to none.

So, it seems that using an ‘expert model’ is effective when the parameters of an issue are known, standardized, replicable and are a closed, predictable system. There is not much need for others to ‘own it’, develop ‘readiness’ for it to happen, and/or become engaged to a high degree.

The Medical (The Doctor–Patient) Approach

 The medical approach goes like this. One or more managers decide to bring in a consultant (internal or external) to ‘check them over’, to see if they are, or are not, functioning effectively and are expected to prescribe what to do about the issues with remedial solutions. The consultant performs the assessment, the diagnosis and offers the prescription.

His/her model usually appeals to management since the responsibility mostly lies with the consultant for its success – not management. At the same time, the consultant can easily become the ‘scapegoat’ if something does not work, or goes wrong. The consultant also implements the ‘methods and tools’ she/he knows which may be limited, or may not fit the situation.

A few assumptions:

1. The medical model assumes that the consultant can get accurate diagnostic information on his/her own.
2. Assumes that the standard, prescribed, off-the-shelf assessment tool of the consultant’s ‘fits’ the situation and the culture of the organization.
3. Assumes that people will not distort, exaggerate or withhold pertinent information from the consultant.
4. Assumes that the ‘patient’ will automatically accept the diagnosis and the prescriptions.
5. Assumes that the originator asked the internal / external consultant in to really fix the issue vs. just wants someone to go through the motions for various reasons. (“Look what we did.”)
6. Assumes that the internal / external consultant has the ‘influence’ to develop at least some degree of ‘buy-in’ in the organization.
7. Assumes that the consultant actually understands the business as well as the organization rather than his/her own biased ‘interpretations’ of such.
8. Assumes that the consultant will create the necessary degree of trust and relationship needed in a short amount of time when deal with a whole organization.

Language of the Medical Approach

I have actually heard OD people talk and write in psychological babble using such ‘medical’ words as ‘neurotic organizations’, ‘the psychopathology of organizations’, ‘personality disorders of management and staff’, ‘schizophrenic management practices’, ‘sick organizations’, ‘the diseases of dysfunction and apathy’, and in two cases using the term ‘metal illness’.

Using such words certainly biases, skews, or frames perceptions and dependencies as ‘the doctor’ healing the patient of a mental or physical illness. The ‘doctor’ has a lot of power in this model.

Thus, “You are sick – I’m here to ‘diagnose and prescribe the solutions’.” This is a very powerful message and has significant consequences to the people working there. Most people I’ve met do not like being labeled in the first place.

Generally, the results of this type of consultation may not be fully understood by the passive ‘patient’. In addition, as the manager waits patiently, a communication ‘gap’ will certainly arise, since the manager is still at their beginning conversation while the consultant has experienced the interaction of the feedback, and his/her perspective may have moved to another place. Thus, the manager is still holding onto his/her original assumptions, perspectives and understanding. Thus, the offered ‘prescription’ may seem either irrelevant, difficult to understand, or just unpalatable.

Around 50% of ‘recommendations’ get implemented’ in whole, or in part.

The is certainly little ‘ownership’, ‘readiness’, ‘effective engagement’ or any degree of ‘taking responsibility’ in the organization itself to proceed to implement change, or for the results of the initiative.

In the medical model the organization is ‘fitted into’ the consultant’s model.

A lot is put on the shoulders of the consultant in the ‘medical model’. Here, the consultant is the responsible ‘change agent’.

The Process Approach: (Edgar H. Schein,1987, 1988)

Process Consultation (PC)
Defined: “Process consultation is a series of steps facilitated by the consultant that help the client to perceive, understand, and act upon the issues that occur in the client’s environment(s) in order to improve the situation as defined by the client.” (Edgar H. Schein, 1987)

Process Consultation (PC) is a series of interconnected steps and processes which develops ‘readiness and ownership’ in the client base to make the effort ‘theirs’. PC supports the client to develop ‘ownership’ in order to take the necessary degree of responsibility and accountability in the change and development process as well as the outcomes to increase the probability of on-going success within an approach of continuous change. (P. Trottier, 1989)

A Few Assumptions:

• The essential function of the process consultant(internal/external) is to pass on the skills of how to diagnose and solve organizational problems so that the client is more able to deal with issues in the future.
•  PC focuses on ‘joint-diagnosis’ and to support the client to understand what the information is saying.
• From the joint diagnosis a fully customized approach is again jointly designed with the organization starting from where the organization is at currently and moving toward a future vision, mission and strategic focus. .
• The client must learn to ‘see’ and understand the issues for themselves and develop a common understanding within the organization.
• The client, with support of the PC consultant, designs a change and development process that ‘fits’ that organization based on its strategic focus, issues, culture, dynamics, critical success factors, business case /driving factors, external environments, etc.
• Organizations can be more effective if they ‘own’ and learn to diagnose and lead their own ‘interventions’ to solve issues and develop new competencies through ‘partnership’ and mutual engagement with the PC consultant.
• Effective engagement all through the change process is paramount.
• Unless the client organization learns to ‘see’ the issues for themselves, develops insight into the issues, the organization will not be ‘ready’, willing, or be able to implement their solutions or, more importantly, develop the capacity to deal with issues in the future. The process consultant can provide alternatives but the final decision is the client’s based on their full engagement throughout the process. (ownership)
• The client remains proactive in the sense of retaining both the diagnostic, the change initiatives and the continuous development of the organization.
• The PC consultant does not take the responsibility of the process, options, solutions, or the implementation thereof, or create a co-dependency on himself/herself.
• The PC consultant does take the responsibility of building the relationship with the client organization, helping the client to see the organization as a whole system, to help design an approach that works for them and to help the client to continually learn how to effectively develop themselves and the organization on an ongoing basis  – development is on-going, not an event or a program.
• The consultant realizes that he/she is not the ’change agent’, the people engaged in the process, the people who work in the organization, are the ‘change agents’.

 A distinction: ‘Why?’ vs ‘How?’ 

 Both an ‘expert approach’ and ‘medical model’ focuses on an analytical orientation regarding ‘why’ things are done. A process approach focuses on ‘how’ things are done.
The key to understanding what makes an organization more or less effective is how it does things (Schein, 1987, 1988). Organizations can be designed and structured in many different ways, each can be successful or not successful. If one is to understand the reasons for the same structure being successful, or not so successful at different times, or, with one organization and not another, one must understand the ‘how’ of various processes: (Process Consultation, Edger H. Schein, Vol. I / II – 1987, 1988)

 How: (some simple examples)
– goals are set.
– strategies being used are determined and implemented.
– resources are used.
– IT/IS designs are created, how does such fit the business model and strategic focus, and how they are implemented.
– forms of communication are used amongst members and through what mediums.
– group dynamics are occurring.
– meeting are run.
– conflict is created and processed.
– people relationships are built or negated.
– leaders lead.
– management processes /systems work.
– business processes work or do not work, etc.

The process consultant must be knowledgeable and conversant in all these areas and more, in order to help the client understand the dynamics and the relationships between such areas and to offer alternative interventions that ‘fit’ the dynamics of the situation (Edgar H. Schein, 1987, 1998).

Some say one can analyze and interpret the ‘why’ for years. Some call such ‘paralysis by analysis’.

The ‘why’ does give a certain amount of understanding in research and academics, but to move into a change paradigm it takes the ‘how’.

The ‘how’ of what we do gives us the cognitive and emotional experience that emerges from that interaction. It is through novel experiences that we form new perspectives, beliefs, assumptions and behaviors. 

We suggest to change ones experiences through changing the ‘how’ of what people do and how systems and processes, through their design, interact with us.  These changes create ‘new experiences’ and if they, in their consistency and congruency, become ‘influential patterns’ such will eventually shape and form new behaviors, perceptions, habits, and thus, different results will occur.

As an example, we see this in our interactions with the rapid evolution of technology all the time. As technology changes our experiences changes, and we change how we do what we do… and from that we emerge novel technologies and new experiences… and so on… a continuous process… .

At other times, the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ may both be needed and effective depending on what the situation calls for -never rule out any tool especially those of asking questions.

Maybe the ‘Why’ and the ‘How? can work together to help the client understand something and to move to a new area of development and evolution. Maybe they are not exclusive – nor do we need to trap ourselves into the ‘either / or’ paradigm.

Eclecticism is Very Important In Process Consultation

Eclecticism is designing an approach on the basis of what seems best for the client organization based on where the client is currently at instead of following some single doctrine, or method, or tool based on a expert / medical consultant. Organizations develop from where they are at, not where they should be – just like people. An effective PC consultant needs to have the experience, competencies and the tools to support such.

Thus, process consulting depends on how ‘eclectic’ a consultant’s approach is and how many methods and tools they have in their tool box. This takes time and experience to gather enough competencies, methods and tools to create customized approaches, methods and relevant concepts applicable to the unique needs, strategic focus, culture, stage of development, size, issues, maturity, dynamics, etc. of that particular organization.

Every organization is immensely different, unique and at different stages of ‘readiness’ for change and development. This awareness is critical to designing a customized approach for each organization. Many times, creating a willingness to take on responsibility and developing ‘readiness’ is critical in the first steps of any developmental process.

Question: To what degree of  ‘ownership’ and ‘readiness’ is created in the ‘Process Model”, when done effectively?
Answer: Strong to very strong.

The objective of process consultation is to support the organization to occur a shift in mental framework in how people see themselves and how they see the organization.

The Emergent Approach:

 A critical distinction between the ‘process approach’ and an ‘emergent approach’ is that the former is generally based on ‘solving a problem’, as well as focused to the past-to-future state. Whereas, an ‘emergent model’ is focused on an open, evolving process of unfolding discovery and shaping that discovery on an ongoing basis in present real-time.

A colleague, Edward Hampton, Managing Member, Performance Perspectives LLC states it well;

“Position OD work on the emergent.  Past OD work has looked to the Past and/or to the Future.  Those were boxes.   The emergent is where flow operates.   It is where the client lives – and dies.   OD consultants need to work there.”


Emergence is based on the shaping of continuous forms by internal and external influencers. That which emerges may be further shaped into desired, and future continually evolving patterns.” (P. Trottier, 1995)

An Emergent Model: (begin at any place in the diagram)

Organizational Evolution Based On Emergence:

Emergent change has two elements that are of worthy note at this time;

1. chaos theory and
2. complex adaptive systems.

Chaos Theory:Out of chaos emerges form” (Trottier,2017)

Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamic systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the butterfly effect. Small differences in initial conditions yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general. This happens even though these systems are deterministic, meaning that their future behavior is fully determined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved. In other words, the deterministic nature of dynamic systems, with these ‘small initial differences’ of these systems, does not make them predictable. This behavior is known as deterministic chaos, or simply chaos.  (Kellert, Stephen H. (1993). In the Wake of Chaos: Unpredictable Order in Dynamical Systems. University of Chicago Press, Ivancevic, Vladimir G.; Tijana T. Ivancevic (2008). Complex nonlinearity: chaos, phase transitions, topology change, and path integrals. Springer, 2008.)

This is a bit confusing to me, being merely human and not a mathematical genius. The term “deterministic chaos” seems to be a contradiction in itself. How can something be deterministic and chaotic at the same time? Well, it seems to me that the initial determinants determines some ‘form of guiding boundaries’ or ‘pattern influencers’ and the small differences in initial conditions (influencers) generate non-predictable changes within that guiding form BUT ALSO to the ‘determined form of the guiding boundaries’. A self-evolving dynamic, systemic system.

‘Pattern influencers’ may have the influence to constantly shift or even transform current patterns that take new forms and functions to continually create evolving, constant, emerging change.

I’m still working on this self-understanding, but the closest I can come is in cloud formation.
tumblr_no01mf5PGK1ra4dyqo1_r2_500Cloud formation is determined by some pre-determined laws of physics and their conditions like hemispheric pressure, wind, sun particles, ground evaporation, etc. Initially those conditions will generate some ‘potential’ that a cloud can develop within these potential parameters or boundaries which are called ‘initial determinates’. At the same time, the continually changing small differences in such initial conditions may further form ‘pattern influencers’ and continually shape the newly forming cloud until the on-going pattern influencers distinguish the cloud by disbanding the initial determinates or continue to generate the initial influencers and determinates into a massive hurricane. This is my best self-descriptor to understand ‘chaos theory’; initial determinants and small differences in initial conditions has the potential to generate ‘pattern influencers’ which they themselves will evolve into new patterns which will then yield widely diverging outcomes including novel forms or distinction. As a cloud forms or not, within the parameters of the initial conditions (determinates), influencing patterns can either systemically evolve into divergent outcomes, or deteriorate and eventually distinguishes itself.

Another fundamental of chaos theory is ‘strange attractors’ simply meaning that in chaotic systems unidentified patterns will form over time as related to the above mentioned initial determinates and ‘pattern influencers’.

In complex systems, where all seemingly should fall apart, attractors turn into influencing patterns within certain  boundary limits of the initial determinates to create visible shapes. As Briggs and Peat state in Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World Revised; “The whole shape of things depends upon the minutest part. The part is the whole in this respect, for through the action of any part, the whole in the form of chaos or transformative change may manifest.”

Figure to left: The Lorenz system is a system of ordinary differential equations (the Lorenz equations) first studied by Edward Lorenz, 1960s. It is notable for having chaotic solutions for certain parameter values and initial conditions. In particular, the Lorenz attractor is a set of chaotic solutions of the Lorenz system which, when plotted, resemble a butterfly or figure eight.

Read more:

So how does ‘chaoes theory’ relate to a dynamic, every evolving organization? What ‘determinants’ and small differences in initial conditions yield widely diverging outcomes rendering long-term prediction impossible in general? At the same time, how does on-going changing ‘influencers’ shape and evolve an organization to emerge new dynamic patterns? And, how does one become aware and further shape such forming, evolving patterns toward a desired pattern? Can this happen?

Just take a look at the first diagram below on ‘External Adaptation’ and ‘Internal Integration’.

Are initial conditions in an organization static or continually evolving and create more ‘influencers’ as things evolves? Well, it seems to me that the initial determinants determines some ‘form of guiding boundaries’ and the small differences in initial conditions (influencers) generate non-predictable changes to that ‘determined form’ and also to the ‘determined form of the guiding boundaries’. All the factors below are constantly evolving and new patterns are emerging based on their own newly forming patterns and the interaction to each other as a gestalt.

Again, the question is: “And, how does one become aware and further shape such forming, evolving patterns toward a desired pattern?”

This is the challenge… one way may be to facilitate continuous feedback systems and strategic adaptation.

Complex Adaptive Systems

Complexity:Out of complexity, emerges simplicity from form.” (Trottier, 2017)

I like to think of ‘complex adaptive systems’ as ever adapting ‘networks’ influenced by internal and external factors systemically and constantly evolving in dynamic, fluid, chaotic and interlaced/entwined environments.

A few examples of Complex Adaptive Systems (including the process diagram shown above):

A complex adaptive system has three characteristics:

1. The first is that the system consists of a number of heterogeneous agents, and each of those agents have attributes and patterns about how to behave. The most important dimension here is that those decisions will themselves evolve over time.
2. The second characteristic is that such agents interact with one another. That interaction leads to the creation of novel behaviors, patterns and forms – something that scientists call emergence:
3. In a very real way, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts (a gestalt) as such interaction (2) becomes more complex in its patterns and thus continually creating new more complex forms which continue to emerge themselves…. and so on. As new forms are developed some become ‘determinates’, and such complexity becomes apparent through such determining forms.

For emergent consultants and clients the key issues are that you can’t really understand the whole system by simply looking at its individual parts… as well as one need to understand how the emergence of new organizational form. (Karl E. Weick, 1995)


Kevin Mihata and Ralph Stacey have come up with some striking similarities in their definitions of complex adaptive systems:

“…the process by which patterns or global-level structures arise from interactive local-level processes. This “structure” or “pattern” cannot be understood or predicted from the behavior or properties of the component units alone.” (Mihata 1997:31)

“Emergence is the production of global patterns of behavior by agents in a complex system interacting according to their own local rules of behavior, without intending the global patterns of behavior that come about. In emergence, global patterns cannot be predicted from the local rules of behavior that produce them. To put it another way, global patterns cannot be reduced to individual behavior. (Stacey 1996:287)

Then, by the very nature of ‘emergence’ such cannot be controlled, predicted or managed. There are no ‘levers’ which can be pulled to give us a particular kind of emergent result. But still two questions remain, which are key for those interested in organizational life and change:

Can emergence be facilitated and can it be influenced?
Can one facilitate ‘emergence’ by creating the conditions for emergence to happen?

Richard Seel, (1973) lists ‘Seven Conditions For Emergence’:

  1. Increasing Connectivity
  2. Diversity
  3. Rate and Newness of Information and Energy Flow
  4. Lack of Inhibitors
  5. Good Guiding Boundaries
  6. Intentionality
  7. Exploring

Emergent inquiry is still in its infancy. Applying the ‘emergent perspective’ to wider organizational change is even further off. The ‘scientific management paradigm’, with its desire for certainty and belief in the possibility of ‘making things happen’ is still dominant. The process of working out the practical implications of the ‘emergent organization’ paradigm is still under way.

Tom Peters wrote ‘Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution’ in 1987. Peters offers some strategy to help corporations deal with the uncertainty of competitive markets through customer responsiveness, fast-paced innovation, empowering personnel, and most importantly, learning to work within an environment of change.

According to Peters, “To meet the demands of the fast-changing competitive scene, we must simply learn to love change as much as we have hated it in the past.”

Organizational theorist Karl Weick (b. 1936) offers a similar theory to Peters’s, believing that business strategies should be “just in time…supported by more investment in general knowledge, a large skill repertoire, the ability to do a quick study, trust in intuitions, and sophistication in cutting losses.” Though he did not articulate his theories in terms of the explicit ideas offered by quantum physics and chaos theory, his statements support the general idea that the creation and health of an organization (or a system) depends on the interaction of various people and parts within that system.

However, as Wheatley states in her book, Leadership and the New Science:

“Organizations lack this kind of faith, faith that they can accomplish their purposes in various ways and that they do best when they focus on direction and vision, letting transient forms emerge and disappear.
We seem fixated on structures… and organizations, or we who create them, survive only because we build crafty and smart—smart enough to defend ourselves from the natural forces of destruction.’

The big question here is: “What are the implications for an OD practitioner to create constructs, methods, processes and tools to support this most exciting and effective approach to organizations?

I believe this is the challenge as we talk about ‘innovative, adapting organizations’. I also believe that to accomplish such, organizations need to move away from hierarchical structures and more into ‘network, fluid structures with de-centralized nodes, supporting technical systems and a breakdown of traditional power structures (and much more – too many to write about here).

It is my belief and experience that a new ‘paradigm’ of transformation is needed.

As such, I contend that “When one’s comfort zone (individual, group, organization) with ‘the unknown’ is greater than (>) one’s comfort zone of ‘the known’, transformation occurs naturally… curiosity, exploration, open systems, trust, etc., open up and evolution occurs… naturally…”

Emergence, chaos and complexity are natural to our sense and motivation to explore.

This is partially based on the assumption that we, as humans, are born with a natural curiosity and comfort with the ‘unknown’ – it is innate in us… but our socialization, parental practices, our education and our work experiences , to name a few, block that ‘naturalness’ from us as we learn to assimilate and accommodate our norms and boundaries through our lives. In other words we hear a lot of ‘no’s. and ‘watch outs’, and ‘you can’t do that’… and finally we drive that natural curiosity out of our natural ways of being.

Moving into a natural process of exploration and a comfort with the unknown, especially in current organizational environments, is a complex human conversion – one that has to do with a shift and integration of ‘cognitive and emotional frameworks’ fostered with an environment that supports and reinforces psychological safety, curiosity, natural exploration, experimentation and appreciation.

The following diagram is a summary of the four basic consultative models and a few of their attributes.

Summary Model

This has been a somewhat brief write-up regarding the four basic consulting paradigms. It is not to say one is better than another – the value is based on what the situation calls for and the desired results.

What is important to note here is that each model /approach has a different degree of influence to create ‘ownership’,‘readiness’, ‘degree of effective engagement’, and ‘a shift in mental and emotional framework’ to the degree called for in the change and development effort.

For more reading:
An Introduction To Emergent Organizational Development And Change (EODC)™

I hope you have gotten something out of this post. Any questions, thoughts, suggestions are very much welcomed.

© Patrick Trottier and Associates, 2015 (All rights reserved)
The Institute Of Emergent Organizational Development And Emergent Change®

About Patrick A. Trottier

I am a 30 plus year applied Organizational Development practitioner having honed my craft in the U.S., Canada and internationally. Presently living in beautiful Vancouver, B.C., I am currently developing the next evolution of O.D. termed; 'Emergent Organizational Development and Emergent Change® (EODC)®, and focusing on Emergent OD®, Emergent Change® and the development of Emergent Organizations® within my professional practice.
This entry was posted in Change, Consultation Models, Culture, Emergent Change, Emergent OD and Change, Emergent Organizational Development, Emergent Organizations, Leadership, Organizational Design, Organizational Development, Patterns, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to The Four Basic Approaches to Consultation – Working With People and Organizations

  1. Ephraim Awinbugri Armstrong (student of Dr. Justine) says:

    Very lucid and vivid presentation on OD consulting approaches
    Very thoughtful, coherent and cogent points.

    Regards dear Trottier

  2. Eng. Mwonge David says:

    Thanks Patrick for compiling this read, I actually the butterfly effect is key in the chaos theory however its not only limited to that so I would suggest you look at it also in the light of government agencies and applicability to unpredictable scenarios. Otherwise thanks.

    • Hi Mwonge

      Good point. ‘The butterfly effect’, as it is termed these days, is a supreme example of ’emergence’ with its ‘influencing patterns’ (others call this ‘strange attractors’), and emerging novel forms driven by varied determinates (my words).

      Actually, I mention such in many of my writings, and have studied such for over 30 years related to ‘chaos ‘ and other disciplines.

      Such (‘the butterfly effect’) is mentioned under the chapter ‘Complex Adaptive Systems’ above, and is called by its original name – The Lorenze System: “The Lorenz system is a system of ordinary differential equations (the Lorenz equations) first studied by Edward Lorenz, 1960s.”

      Such is also mentioned in this write-up above under the chapter: Chaos Theory: “Out of chaos emerges form” (Trottier,2017).

      The above write-up also has two diagrams of ‘the butterfly effect’.

      “The idea that one butterfly could eventually have a far-reaching ripple effect on subsequent historic events made its earliest known appearance in “A Sound of Thunder”, a 1952 short story by Ray Bradbury about time travel.”

      “A plot of Lorenz’s strange attractor for values ρ=28, σ = 10, β = 8/3. The butterfly effect or sensitive dependence on initial conditions is the property of a dynamical system that, starting from any of various arbitrarily close alternative initial conditions on the attractor, the iterated points will become arbitrarily spread out from each other.”

      From a good general write-up on the butterfly effect’:

      I think that the Lorenze System was called ‘the butterfly effect’ as it was linked to the short story by Ray Bradbury “A Sound of Thunder”, 1952. I also think that people could understand it simpler because Lorenze’s emerging form, at some state, looked somewhat like a butterfly – and the phrase caught on.

      As mentioned, I’ve been a student of such since the 1970s and have used such both in my writings as well as within my approach and thoughts regarding the intricate dynamics of ‘Emergent Change®’.

      So, thank you Mwonge for bringing this important dynamic into the forefront …we will talk about this more in my up-coming, on-line workshops about Emergent Change®, Emergent OD®, and Emergent Organizations®.

      I hope I answered your inquiry and suggestion.

      All the best, Patrick
      The Institute Of Emergent Organizational Development and Emergent Change®

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great info. I am a student, this has given me a quick guide on models of consulting. Thanks Patrick for sharing this amazing knowledge.

  4. ANTHONY says:

    But we don’t see their challenges

  5. Gary Monti says:

    Patrick, good summation article! Thanks for the effort that went into creating it. I can feel new approaches to working with my clients emerging!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thank you everyone who have replied, all thoughts of encouragement helps me know that this is worthwhile… all challenges are even better for they help me to be better…

    All comments make me become more aware and inspired to carry one… all comments I take notice of, and each matters,,, July 28th, 2017

  7. Arthur Hemchandra says:

    This article serves as a good summary of the approaches involved. As a trained and practising OD consultant, I found the article interesting. A section on techniques and tools would be helpful. The modeling approach we used those days were largely from Neville Clarke and GE’s Jack Hammer.

  8. Izz says:

    I found the article very interesting and thoughtful. My take is that, the article should have incorporated the “Critical Model” as well so the audience gain a critical perspective as well

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi IZZ – These are my thoughts to your comments…and they are good comments: :o)

      The ‘Critical Model’ is a very good model / process / approach to problem-solving. It is a ‘technical model’, a methodology based on a particular process and the unique elements / steps within that particular process (my understanding)… Like other ‘models/tools’, it is ‘how’ that tool is used and the approach used to implement that tool into the organization. Critical is to what degree developing the necessary degree of creating readiness, ownership. effective engagement and a shift in emotional and cognitive frameworks within the organization is appropriate for the desired outcomes of using that tool – and what of the four basic models /approaches is appropriate to design into the process to ‘fit’ the situation. This is the same for other models / processes such as Business Process Improvement (BPI), The Problem Solving Process, TQM, leadership development, team building, systems design, or any of the thousand ‘tools / processes models’ used to hopefully improve change, organizations -team – individual performance and decision making… etc…

      In other words, each particular ‘tool / model’ can take an ‘expert approach’, an ‘medical model approach’, a ‘process model approach’ or an ’emergent process approach’ depending upon ‘fit’ for the situation.

      I hope this explains my thoughts… thanks for your comment … challenge everything, explore everything, think beyond your thoughts…

      • Anonymous says:

        BTW – “Anonymous” is myself, Patrick Trottier. I have not learned yet to put my name in its place…some day, I’ll figure it out…

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thanx now am well understanding the consulting approaches well

  10. the model are explained by bombastic words that makes difficult to be unde

    • Anonymous says:

      IBRAHIM – GOOD POINT!!!! Trying to write at a simpler level. Learning as I go. I certainly am not a great, professional writer… I also think I have a degree of dyslexia, but I’m trying to get better… :o)

      By the way, the word ‘bombastic’ is a pretty good bombastic word itself …

      Bombastic: definition; ‘Ostentatiously lofty in style’ …

      All the best…

  11. Fabulous summary IMHO, Patrick! Clear, compelling and respectful. I’ve already shared it with a few clients!
    (Did I miss the predicted success percentage for Process and Emergent?)
    Love your thinking. . .

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi John, thanks for pointing that out about ‘the predicted success’ – will look at that…

      Thanks for the encouragement …sometimes I feel I am alone in this, especially in regards to EODC as I’m writing it off the top of my head … trying to do better… just hope something makes sense, and some can get something out of such to think about…

      All the best… Patrick

  12. Dear Patrick

    Bang on target! We at Mannaz ( in Sweden have facilitated emergence in organisations for some years now. And it makes me really happy to read this article. Would be really nice to have a conversation on the topic one day.


  13. fnickols says:

    Nicely done, Patrck. Very helpful, very informative and very useful.

  14. Thank you Patrick for sharing your expertise in OD. I learned a lot from this article. Looking forward to have more of the Emergent Model. With kindest regards…. Leonida

  15. Thank you Patrick… most insightful and helpful! It indeed is the begining of knowledge which leads to wisdom in effective Organizational Change.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments – encouraging…

  17. Jean Ann says:

    Nicely done – great summary and comparison between the approaches. Thank you!

  18. Dan Karjala says:

    You captured this quite well and does make sense. It helps me as I engage with clients and project work (up front). I am going to read this over and over and see what else I am getting or not getting and what else needs focus, etc. Thank you, Patrick!

  19. Bud Taylor says:

    Patrick. This is good stuff. Well worth the read which is often “heavy.”

  20. Eric Johnson says:

    This is an elegant description of consulting, you clarified the mix of methods I use to assist clients in their improvement efforts. I especially enjoyed the concluding graphic that shows the relationships between all four approaches.

    • Thank you Eric. I appreciate your comments… Yes, understanding the different models and which approach is appropriate to a client situation to enhance their success is very important – especially in ‘the necessary degree of readiness and ownership’ needed relevant to the depth and dynamics of change, development and performance involved .
      All the best … Patrick

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