The Magic, Mystery and Science of Extraordinary Consulting Team Collaborations

By Carole Lyles Shaw

More and more, we are called upon to join or form consulting teams as we work in client systems. Sometimes, we are able to choose our partners; other times, we show up and someone else has assigned us to work with other consultants. Even when the other consultants are OD-types, people with whom we supposedly share a common values system around differences and relationship building, very real difficulties can occur as the team engages with the client.

As collisions between differing value systems occur, we find ourselves trying to collaborate with other consultants who are very different from us. So, in addition to working with differences in the client system, we must also address the need to form working partnerships across boundaries of all types. One way to begin creating effective partnerships is to explore the possibilities offered when we build those relationships by finding and sharing our passion.

  • Passion is a Path to meaning, truth and commitment to action
  • Partnership building can sometimes suggest that we should be focused on conflictmanagement or containment strategies. We worry about exposing our internal conflicts to the client. "We must look like a team to the client no need to make them more insecure about this change process", we mutter to ourselves or say cautiously to our consulting colleague..

Numerous conflict management and teambuilding tools and methodologies work with differing degrees of success and staying power. I suggest that there is a territory beyond-a place that we can travel into when we can make the courageous choice to build partnerships by finding and sharing our passion.


The term passion itself collides with our socialization, so we dismiss or are frightened of emotionality and deep personal commitment . Passionate people are sometimes described as out of control, loose cannons, narrow-minded, etc. Passion, considered to be a strong perhaps uncontrollable emotion, can be viewed as interfering with more seemingly rational and logo-centric norms of behavior and conflict management.

What passions do I bring to my work with clients?
On the other hand, we admire passionate people because they get things done, stay loyal to a cause or an ideal, give support to friends and others. Passionate people love deeply and are willing to suffer and make sacrifices. Passionate people dream big ideas and commit their life energy to making those dreams come true-and along the way, they inspire others to reach high. Artists are usually on the list of passionate people-and no-one questions the enormous gifts that artists of all types have given us. Our world would be a dreary place without the creativity and joy of passionate people.

So, how do we tap into the creative energy that passion can bring? Questions that we can explore in dialogue with our consulting colleagues might include:

  • What is passion? What does the term evoke in me?
  • What am I passionate about in my work with others?
  • What am I passionate about in other areas of my life?
  • Is it lip service or remembered passion? How do I express my passions (in action) today?
  • Am I truthful when asked [by my clients, by my partners] about my passion?

When we become passionate, we discover founts of creativity. We also become more willing to risk, explore the new and above all, preserve the integrity and well-being of the thing or person we are passionate about. What opportunities exist in our systems when the people driving change become passionate about their work?


The term boundary has varying meanings. A boundary acts to define who I am as distinct from who you are. I know I exist --I know my place in the world through my boundaries. Boundaries keep me safe and intact.

Boundaries can also separate us and give rise to feelings of hostility when we sense dangerous encroachment. Boundaries can be overt and covert artifacts of the system-some can be discussed, while others (such as race) must be avoided or denied.

Collisions between differing value systems occur constantly in the workplace, as we all can attest. Boundaries are increasingly experienced as necessary to protect us from threatening external forces. We all find ourselves working across boundaries of all types that impede the process of communication, trust-building and collaboration.


Healthy consulting partnerships are generative, effective and fun! In order to gauge the health in our relationship, my partner and I need to be able to jointly explore several questions:

  • What work am I passionate about and really want to do?
  • What aspects of the work are most critical to me?
  • What is it that I don't want to do?
  • What am I unwilling or unable to let go of?

This dialogue, when it is conducted with openness and willingness to be vulnerable, can support the growth of high-equity partnering relationships. Within a healthy partnership, all truths can be shared. Truth points to the most effective path for change in ourselves, and effectiveness as change agents working with our clients.

Ask yourself at all times in your partnerships with other OD consultants:

  • What risks am I willing to take to help my colleague discover or recover rather than cover-up her passion?
  • What risks am I willing to take to discover or recover rather than cover up my own passion?

If our passions differ, what bridges can we build across them? And what happens when I and/or my colleagues cannot discover something to be passionate about together?This is tough work-in some ways, it may be more challenging to build Passionate Partnerships than any of the work in the client system. The payoff? For you, it is a richer professional life. For the client, the payoff is a consulting team that will bring highly creative energies to bear on the change process.

Passion is at the heart of creativity, courage and meaning. By fearlessly proclaiming our passions, we can move into unexplored territory and create our Passionate Partnerships!


I invite you to take a few moments and journal your own thoughts about the Passionate Partnerships already in your professional life AND how you can create more of those kinds of opportunities.

Acknowledgements: My sincere thanks to Charles and Edith W. Seashore. The three of us designed and co-facilitated an early version of this workshop at NTL in Bethel Maine in September 1997. Acknowledgements also to Michael Broom for his ideas on high equity relationships. Finally, acknowledgements to my many colleagues who engaged in creating Passionate Partnerships with me over the years. You have all made my life richer and more beautifully joyous.

About the author:
Carole and some of her passionate partners are creating workshops based on the ideas in this article.
She can be reached at 5430 Lynx Lane #337, Columbia MD 21044; phone: 410/992-7050; fax 410/715-5411;
email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .