Building Community Among Consultants

What would it make possible (and for whom?) if consultants and coaches to community benefit groups were able to gather together to discuss their craft and its impact on both their clients and their communities?

Those are the questions that opened Creating the Future’s first meeting of its Consultant Community R&D team.

The following are notes from that meeting, to help move the group forward (our next meeting in Monday, July 29th).  The group who gathered for this initial discussion were the facilitators of the #NPCons chat – Nancy Iannone, Kevin Monroe, Jane Garthson, Hildy Gottlieb and Dimitri Petropolis. Also present via the Twitterverse were Kent Schell and Lisa Humenik.

You can watch that meeting – or download and listen via MP3 – at this link.

Before sharing what transpired at this meeting, let’s talk about the purpose for the meeting in the first place.

Creating the Future’s mission is to have workplaces operate from the core of assumptions that have led to human progress across the ages – the Pollyanna Principles.  To that end, a full 1/4 of our programming to accomplish that mission is about convening.

Given that consultants are often at the forefront of teaching workplaces how to “be,” bringing those consultants together is an important aspect for accomplishing our mission.

Creating the Future currently runs two forums where consultants gather and share their wisdom – the monthly #NPCons Twitter chat, and the Nonprofit Consultants Facebook Group.  Both those forums were developed with little strategy behind them, as often happens with programs that arise because there is demand for them. The strategy is typically, “Well, people need it and it fits our mission, so let’s do it!”

Now that we are looking to expand the group of facilitators for those two programs, it is a good time to step back and ask the strategic questions we would normally ask at the beginning of a new program.  What do we hope this program will accomplish? For whom? What circumstances / conditions will be conducive to that purpose being accomplished? And what can we do to create those conditions?

During this first meeting, we began where Creating the Future begins every discussion – at the goal. What do we want these convening places to make possible, and for whom?

The Highest Potential Outcome
If the first question in Creating the Future’s framework is always, “What will this thing make possible, and for whom?” the first step in answering that question is to determine the “for whom.”  If community benefit consultants come together in a safe environment, to share and discuss and explore together, who stands to benefit?  The group listed:

• Consultants (broadly – the group considered all the various sub-groups as well – current consultants, people who are considering becoming consultants, internal consultants within organizations, external consultants (independents AND those working in consulting organizations/firms).
• Creating the Future’s mission
• Facilitators of chats and groups (i.e. the places where the consultants are convening)
• Clients of those consultants
• Through those clients, the communities they serve
• Friends of people in the #NPCons chats, who see tweets and comment / RT
• Funders who support capacity building

So then, what would the ability to gather together in a safe environment make possible for each of those groups?

What would such a community make possible for Consultants?
• New perspectives
• New skills
• Support
• Resources – expanding the tool box
• Inspiration
• Trends
• Deep thinking and reflection
• Community and connectedness
• Practicing concise storytelling

• See that others have the same problems – “this is normal”
• Builds sub-communities
• Drives a new level of commitment
• Creates more resources for those consultants
• courage to try things they otherwise might not try
• challenges the comfortable way they are doing things
• Builds community beyond social media – introduces people to others in their own on-the-ground community
• validating concepts outside the norm
• Models ways of being and doing that demonstrate what is possible
• Provides tools – the actual tool of doing a twitter chat or a FB group – that they can apply with clients
• Creates a safe space with people who “speak my language”
• Format of questions and transfer of skills in asking questions
• People learning to listen and ask different questions they might not have done before
• For new consultants, it’s an easy / painless way to put a toe in to being in community with other consultants

What would such a community make possible for the Clients of those Consultants?
• Clients have a better consulting experience.
• Consultants are sharper
• Pushes their envelope
• better outcomes, which leads to the community being better (their own mission success)
• People who participate are much more aware of how they be with their clients, overall
• Changes how clients interact with each other
• mindfulness
• Map assets / making the implicit visible – mapping out the virtual context
• Pushes how clients think about community vs organization
• Clients do stuff online because consultants have experience with that to share
• Clients benefit from consulting that is dynamic and not formulaic
• Format of questions and transfer of skills in asking questions, from consultant to clients
• People learning to listen and ask different questions they might not have done before, which they then model to their clients

What would such a community make possible for the Facilitators of the Consultant Communities?
• Learning to format questions
• People learning to listen and ask different questions they might not have done before
• Learning / modeling what builds community
• Developing rituals, the power of rituals, traditions
• Learning how to bring out the wisdom in others

What would such a community make possible for Creating the Future’s mission?
• More arms on the starfish (alludes to the Starfish and the Spider – distributed leadership)
• Ideas, process, principles filter out into the practice of the consultants, who then bring what they discover into the world, and bring what they learn from that back to the community
• Creating the Future models its own values – less worry about being publicly authentic, when that’s simply how we be in community
• Capturing the stream of the NPCons chat adds to the knowledge bae
• Sharing more, being less proprietary
• The communities (both online communities) provide an easy place to invite people in – easy to join the group
• Lag time (both online community formats) allows people time to think
• Provides people the opportunity to get to know more about Creating the Future, and to choose to participate in our work to the extent they want with no pressure to do so
• Communities make it possible to move beyond dependency on Hildy and Dimitri – succession as resiliency of mission AND power of the group coming together because of each other and the community as a whole, and NOT because of any one person
• People participating from their brilliance

Pre-conditions for Success
If the lists above are a starting point for what communities of consultants – on the ground or online – could make possible, what conditions would need to be in place for those communities to accomplish that?  What would set the stage for these communities being all they can be?

The group divided that question into two arenas – the people part and the infrastructure part.  First, the people part:

What would people in those communities need to believe for that vision of success to be possible?
• That their contribution matters and is valuable (online it could be by an RT or a “like”)
• That being in community is a good use of their time – that they will learn, connect, be energized and inspired.
• (From Kent Schell, tweeting) Knowledge does not exist except in relationship – new knowledge is formed in dialogue
• That they are in a safe space – that they can trust the “room”

What then builds that safe space – that trust?
• The “spaces” would need to create expectations of how people will be with each other – the cultural norms
• Facilitators and structures and cultural norms model what is possible re: trust – and that once that spark is lit, the group then takes over and owns those norms, reinforcing them
• Needs that spark!
• Provocative discussions / questions from someone we trust
• The space must feel “social” – informal
• The facilitators come from the group – they were part of the group before being facilitators
• Facilitators with skills in listening – to find the power within the group, to see where the group is at and to be flexible
• Connecting conversations to each other
• Spirit of hospitality – feeling invited
• Specific to Twitter chat (or other time-specific events) Power of support roles – planning, engaging people between chats (inviting, promoting)
• Sense of humor!

What infrastructure sets the stage for that vision of success to be possible?
• Rituals (like the Friday Brag Basket in the FB group, or the order of the questions in the #NPCons chat).
• (Per Kent) Do rituals provide comfort that allows people to get energized / get the adrenaline going?
• Structures that encourage people to be the HUMANS they are vs. a salesperson
• Sharing a link vs shring who you are as a person in relation to that link
• Shared expectations (ground rules)

To wrap up the meeting, the group reflected on what stood out for each of them.  (Kevin had to leave early).

1) Kent’s comments that knowledge does not exist except in relationship, that it is created in dialogue
2) How our communities have evolved organically through the people who chose to take part

While the tools are virtual, this is about building a community of consultants, and what is possible for that

The community is more in sync than it’s ever been

The adaptability of these concepts to both virtual and traditional communities is intriguing

Great discussion. Your questions ask authentically for personal insight and experience from participants. Powerful.

1) Looking forward to asking the next sets of conditions questions, “What could make this community all it can be?”
2) Trust the process, trust the room – how hard it was to trust the process in the early days of the Twitter chat when it was SO quiet and only a few people were chatting. And that it evolved because we trusted the process
3) This all has to do with being decent humans and trusting that in each other

Our next meeting will be Monday, July 29 at 9am Pacific time / 12noon Eastern time (North America). We hope you will join us then!

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