How To Be A Good Process Helper

The most comprehensive change agent role is that of the process helper, the one who assists the client system at every stage of problem solving and works toward building an internal capacity for problem solving within the client system itself. All change agents are process helpers to a degree, but most will concentrate their efforts at one stage or another. An important strategic choice for the change agent is whether to intervene directly or indirectly. In the most indirect form, the agent acts as a friendly observer, fully aware of the process, but intervening primarily through posing questions so that the members of the client system feel that they are the primary decision makers at every stage. More active process helping might include suggestions about key issues, sources, and solution ideas. Process helpers might organize meetings where various issues are raised. They might also propose agendas, or might suggest who should be contacted and brought into the process.

Each of the seven stages represents an area of process where a particular change agent might specialize or at least focus efforts. We cannot be all things to all people, and in a very real sense, fully guiding or managing all of the change stages is an all-things-to-all-people sort of job. Nevertheless, each stage is important and someone who can help a system through even one stage is moving the whole process forward. It is important to have some idea of who you are and what role you are best suited to performing within the larger change project. Then you can think about (a) how to stretch your skills so that you can work effectively in additional stage areas and (b) who you can recruit to your change team to fill in on those stages where you are weak.  

A process helper is something like a psychotherapist, but instead of helping an individual person, you are helping a cluster of people who are related to one another as a system. This may be a rather difficult idea to get across for a number of reasons. For one thing, unlike a person, the system has no clearly defined boundaries. For another, it cannot be sat down and listened to from a single voice at a single time. There are many voices, many concerns, many levels of capacity and interest in changing all within the same "system."

We can identify a single individual as representing the system and work more or less exclusively with that person and still be an effective change agent, but that is not quite the same as working with the system as a whole. We can and usually do start with a single individual. That one person can gives us a kind of overview, a history, a sketch of the various members, a listing and prioritization of concerns, resources, capacities, and so on. But this will all be from that person's perspective. We soon need to move out from this perspective to validate, revise, and expand on  that singular vision. Part of this we can do from observation, part from talking to other members, part from group encounters, and sometimes perhaps with "town meeting" sessions with a representative assembly of all system members and stakeholders. Thus, the skills involved in process change agentry go considerably beyond those of the psychotherapist even though the analogy still works: the process helper is there to help the clients help themselves. It is their concerns that need to be addressed and it is they who must ultimately work on them, not the change agent.

You are there to stimulate their thinking, to get them to reflect on what they are doing, and how well they are working together as a system, to consider what goals they are achieving, and how well. You may also, from time to time, as it seems appropriate, interject ideas of your own regarding concerns that they should be attending to, ways they might analyze their situation, resources they might reach out for and even solution ideas that they might try, but the process role remains primarily to help them help themselves, not to do it for them.