One reason for an organization to employ a consultant is because there is a problem for which it is deemed that specific expertise is needed. Let me state beforehand that this is a very strange situation. Who would know more about the organization than the people working there themselves? It is almost certain that all the required knowledge is in the organization but that there is some specific – that is to say at least one – aspect that prohibits the people from addressing the problem. This is a very common situation and the method that is described below aims to help resolve this.
It is for certain that inviting an expert to discuss the problem may help. Many times, explaining the problem to a person who has not been exposed to it before already allows the people to see the solution themselves. For that situation, one just needs a patient listener who tells you when something is not clear. The role game that we discuss here actually allows people to solve problems amongst oneselves. In all cases, the art is to find a flaw in the reasoning that so far has kept the organization from finding the solution. The game below is designed in such a way to avoid the situation where the consultant is caught in the same trap by following the same flaw in the reasoning.
When a group is formed, roles are to be assigned. In this game there are three different roles. One is the problem owner, the next is the discussion leader who monitors the process and who notes down important facts and the other group members are consultancy students. The latter term originates from the fact that this game has been done many times during courses that we taught in universities and companies.
In this game we discriminate five different stages: preparation, problem statement, problem evaluation, solution generation and conclusion.
During the preparation, the roles are distributed and the problem owner is instructed how to present the problem. This problem statement must involve the desired state or process and the methods and/or experiments done to achieve this – and failed so far. A chronological order is not necessary and may even be undesirable. The best situation is where the problem owner has the problem written down on a single sheet of paper. The problem owner is to read each line slowly so that the consultancy students may ponder each. He should be prepared to stop at every instant of time such as required by the consultancy students.
During this part of the game, the consultancy students should not ask questions other than to clarify the text itself. They should carefully and quietly listen to follow the factual information. After each line, they should try to think of what the next line from the problem owner should be within their understanding of what has been said so far. At each point where their idea differs from what the problem owner states, they should make a note of this discrepancy. The problem owner may be stopped at any time to allow for time to write something down. Again, there should not be a discussion yet.
When the problem owner has brought forward his statement, the problem evaluation stage is entered where consultancy students may ask questions to clarify particular aspects to make their idea and notes clear. Still, no discussion is to take place but the consultancy students may benefit from each other’s questions and the subsequent answers from the problem owner.
When all questions are handled, the solution generation stage is entered. This is the time where the consultancy students may discuss amongst themselves about the discrepancies that have been found. The discussion leader is to take care that all discrepancies are dealt with, even if these seem to be similar. The problem owner is not to participate in this discussion but may – when asked – provide additional factual information.
After some time, a conclusion is drawn from the solution generation discussions. It is very common that the time for discussions proves to be too short but that in itself is not a problem. There may be more than one line of reasoning that may lead to a solution. These should be noted down by the discussion leader for the problem owner.
The role game described above does not necessarily lead to a solution of the problem but may point at discrepancies between information provided by the problem owner and what appears to be logical from common knowledge. These should then be taken home by the problem owner to work out.