I spent a few hours consulting with a nonprofit group the other night. After a preliminary conversation with the leaders, I devised a series of questions, about twenty in all, to ask the assembled group. I resolved to stick to the plan of asking and listening, not to divert attention back to me. As I proceeded through the questions, I noticed how stimulating they were. The group burst into discussion, wending their way through short- and long-term issues, many of them heartfelt I was shocked by the effectiveness of this method (asking perhaps the highest number of questions I’ve ever asked without stopping). Most of all, the questions benefited the board chair and the producing director, who spoke the least and listened the most. I felt the group had all the answers to their problems internally; they didn’t really need me, the outsider, except as a sounding board.
The consultant truly plays a special role. He or she elicits the tough truths that the leaders need to hear, without seeming to lift a finger. It’s all in the questions.
The next day I was able to suggest a project that was far different than what we thought we might pursue. The leaders nodded along in great agreement because they had heard everything I heard during that evening meeting. I did not have to supply much evidence.