Challenging paradigms: the value of live client experiences


A paradigm is a standard perspective or set of ideas; it is a way of looking at something. Our paradigms form over the years as a result of our experience of the world, our views, and our life journey. They help us to interpret, define and engage in the world around us. Without our paradigms we would constantly be struggling to determine and define what we see, what we hear and what we should do about it. They help us to move through our lives seamlessly, but can also lead to ‘staleness’ if we are not able to expand our awareness.

Added on 17 January 2017 by Sharon Olivier


A group I recently worked with were able to practice some excellent inquiry skills on a live client issue, not only challenging the client’s paradigms, but also their own as consultants during de-briefing sessions. Through asking planned open questions and listening well, they discovered that the client’s organization was in the paradigm of high engagement. This equals challenge, focus and stretch; where the ‘what’ was decided and communicated top-down; where the empowerment, initiative and creativity was allowed within the ‘how’; and that this organization boasted top engagement scores, in addition to good financial performance.

Further down the consultation journey, this group cleverly shifted and expanded their own paradigm through meeting the client where ‘she was at’, and then constructively helping the client to stretch and consider other (new) ways of engaging her team in a more fundamental way, whilst maintaining the challenge of stretching initiatives and targets. The client realized that the quality of her strategy could be enhanced by allowing the time needed for thinking together, and perhaps gaining ideas she had never thought of herself, and in this process increasing the sense of ownership felt by her management team.

Here are four insights to help clear your vision:

  1. Whatever your current awareness or paradigm, understand that you have one: although you may have heard it countless times, don’t forget that your truth is not necessarily the truth. Your version of reality may not even be based in reality. Has your paradigm ever helped or hindered you? Have you ever seen someone else struggle because they just couldn’t see the ‘truth’ of a situation?
  2. Excellent inquiry is about being able to step into the client’s lifeworld (their paradigm), with curiosity, and making that the starting point in your work with them. Once the group referenced above took this step, they were able to progress very quickly
  3. Attempt to hold a ‘both-and’ mind-set rather than an ‘either-or’ mind-set. We often get stuck in our truth because we fear the downside of the opposite being overdone e.g. too much top-down leads to alienation and emotional disconnect, and too much collaboration can lead to time wastage and targets not being met.  The question is, how can we maximize the upside of ‘both-and’ whilst not overdoing either of them?
  4. We can easily become attached to our paradigm or perspective, compromising our ability to listen with an open mind to ideas from the team. If we don’t notice these attachments, they can erode our relationship with our clients and stakeholders and make us less effective

The learning process on our Change and Organizational Development Open Program challenges the paradigms of individuals on how they view an organization and how they view change, providing practical tools and processes in consulting and change facilitation. An integral part of the learning is through a practice based approach: participants undertake real consulting work, working with real business challenges.  Working with a thinking partner in this way is immensely valuable and challenges individuals to apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills where they are able to receive live, valuable feedback.