Sustainable Intervention

Suzanne Ghais

Program Manager at CDR Associates, Boulder, Colorado

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: I think the contracting process is important. It's an iterative process, a kind of on-going negotiation of what it is that you're hoping for, what you can reasonably expect from this intervention, and what it is that I can deliver, and what I need from you in order to be able to deliver that. So that is a kind of ongoing component.


Everything from more concrete business stuff of budgets and fees, to what kind of access I'll need from people, to what are the outcomes that they can expect. Is this a retreat about improved relationships? Can they expect more open communication? Can they expect that the dispute will have gone away by the end of it? Will they expect a written agreement? Some of this is set up very formally. Some of it is set up informally with just a conversation. Some of it is set up soon after the first phone call


Q: There's a limited scope of things you can accomplish.

A: Yeah, you bet.

Q: So when you go in there and they say we want to fix this, to solve this conflict, what do you do, you're only going to be there a day, a week?

A: I mean there's one situation that I view as an important learning experience about contracting and setting expectations. I was working with a group, a professional service firm, very highly expert skilled professional firm, and very task oriented group in terms of their culture. They were not into touchy feely. Working on relationships was something that they kind of shied away from, but at the same time they had some real conflicts. This was framed as a facilitation effort. There were a number of problems that they wanted to solve, but there were also conflicts. We did spend a lot of time. This was a series of like half-day meetings that went on every couple weeks for several months, so this was a fairly in-depth intervention. So there was time to work on those relationships things.

So when I proposed a draft, what we call a macro-agenda,

like this meeting will be devoted to this and this meeting will be devoted to that, there were a couple meetings that I set aside for what I call team building. And this is a word that allows people in very masculine or task oriented cultures to talk about relationships and healing relationships. When the small group that was kind of my process advisory group saw this, they said, "what's teambuilding? This is a problem we need to fix. Yeah, that's a meeting, here's another task we need to accomplish, we want to have a ten-year vision statement, that's a task, but what's teambuilding. You know, what is that?" And so I said, "Ok, fine, we can cut it." But at the same time I had sort of facilitated an early discussion about what they hoped to have resolved from this intervention and among those things was reduced conflict, better cohesion.

So it was my mistake because of my youth and ignorance. What I wish I had said is, "I can go either way on this. We can skip the team building parts and that's fine. We can just focus on these tasks, in which case your results will be a vision statement, a solution to this problem, a solution to that problem, or we can try to get to these goals that you've outlined for reducing conflict and improving cohesion. If that's the case, you need to give me the flexibility to devote time and a couple of meetings to that subject". I think we accomplished a lot of good stuff with that group, but I think that they were less than 100% satisfied with the outcome. I think if we had negotiated that in advance and gotten clear on what I needed from them in order to deliver what they were hoping to get from my services, than they would've been more satisfied one way or another.