|In the dominant management discourse, managers and consultants are credited with the ability to move their organisation in a planned, controlled way towards an idealised future. The assumptions underpinning this discourse include the following: organisations are thought of as systems that can be designed and steered in an intended direction; culture is seen as a control system to align employees’ conduct in support of the organisation’s strategy; consultants are viewed as experts in designing and implementing effective and efficient interventions, being on top of the process. These assumptions are grounded in the natural sciences of certainty, in which rational, formative and linear causality are presumed. I argue in this thesis, through a reflexive enquiry of my own practice, that these assumptions do not sufficiently resonate with my experience as an internal consultant on leadership and culture change. I am offering a critique of the dominant way of understanding organisations, culture and control, with the implication of coming to reappraise the involvement of a consultant in processes of culture change.
In understanding organisations to be self-organising patterns of human interaction, culture is a social phenomenon, as it continually emerges as social control in the day-to-day local interactions of people making sense of experience. Using webs of significance, present in one’s personal history and in society, people interpret and give order to their life as they negotiate and evaluate their engagements together. In their engagement, participants will negotiate how to functionalise general values in particular situations that involve differences and can cause anxiety or even conflict. In this process of negotiation and evaluation, they are forming and being formed by each other. In this interaction no one is in control, determining in a predictable way what will happen. The participants have an influence that impacts on potential next steps in their interaction.
An internal consultant’s involvement is in facilitating these processes of local interaction, enabling participants to have the conversations they tend not to have themselves, perhaps due to the anxiety of the interaction being unpredictable and predictable at the same time while no one is in control of the process or the outcome.
A consultant is, as fellow participant, involved in the interaction while forming and being formed by it. He is at the same time detached: by inviting participants to work with and reflect on their experience of engaging, he enables reflexive awareness of what they are involved in together. The internal consultant, through temporary leadership, facilitates the conversation by focusing on the present, and working with differences, allowing the potential for novelty and change to occur. This temporary leadership is not a designated role or the authority of being the expert, but emerges in social interaction, through recognition and acceptance of participants acknowledging the consultant as leader in having a stronger influence than others.
I propose that this alternative perspective does not offer a set of techniques, a causal framework to improve organisations in an intended and controlled way, as supposed in the dominant discourse. Rather, the perspective of complex responsive processes of relating enables a better understanding of human interaction processes; of culture emerging as social control and consulting as a social process, within the paradoxes of predictability and unpredictability, of being and not being in control, and of stability and change at the same time. It requires an internal consultant to assume a form of temporary leadership by enabling participants, through reflexive understanding of their experience, to be responsible in a critically aware manner of the ways in which they influence the next steps of engaging.