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A process consultant is an individual who facilitates positive group effort outcomes by mediation. The consultant's role in group dynamics may be likened to that of a traffic cop at a busy city intersection. The officer would assesses vehicle volumes, identify existing and potential bottlenecks, and direct the traffic to achieve a smooth, continuous flow without ever participating as a driver. Process consultants assess group processes and identify logistic issues, interpersonal conflicts, hierarchical bottlenecks, and badly or ambiguously defined goals and advise the group accordingly. The successful process consultant should be well versed in the relevant industry, have a grounding in psychology, and should ideally have a calm and analytical disposition.
Most unassisted group efforts run into problems at one or other point where, no matter how qualified or skilled the team may be, they just can't “see the forest for the trees.” The causes of these deadlocks are varied but typically include personal disputes, poorly defined goals and conflicts of interest. When these situations crop up, group members more often than not suffer from process “tunnel vision” from being too close to the situation to identify the root problem. This is the point where the process consultant becomes an invaluable asset to the team dynamic.
The process consultant observes group interactions and efforts from a distance and identifies stumbling blocks based on a firm knowledge of the process at hand and of the workings of interpersonal and group interaction. The consultant's role is to identify problems, advise the group of their existence, and suggest potential solutions. A consultant may directly intervene as a mediator in cases of personal conflict but otherwise will only suggest courses of action or identify stumbling blocks, thereby empowering the group to solve problems themselves. This element of distance must be maintained at all times because direct participation in the actual problem solving process removes the process consultant from the critical position of impartiality.
There is little in the way of accepted global definitions regarding the educational requirements of process consultant candidates. Ideally those interested in this critical field should have at least a solid background in psychology and strong analytical skills. Useful additional courses for this post include small group learning and experiential education. A calm and composed personality is also essential because the consultant needs to remain as impartial, unruffled, and eloquent as possible at all times, especially when suggestions or observations draw fire from the group.
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