In the RACI codes, C actually stands for “Consult” and it means to reach out to seek advice or an opinion BEFORE you make a decision or formulate a plan. (See “Defining the RACI Codes”.) The person who is offering the advice has no authority over what you do next, but they do need to give you their best thinking. You can then disregard their advice if you choose.
I do a fair amount of facilitation with senior teams, and I often find that this role – the Consult – is poorly understood. When it breaks down, there is misunderstanding and conflict.
Have you ever heard one person complain that someone left them out of a plan or process, and feel offended? Yet the person they are complaining about can be genuinely surprised there is a problem. They might say, “How can he complain that he didn’t know what was going on?” They protest, “I told him everything that we were going to do! I told his group over and over again – in meetings, e-mails, even one on one!”
The trouble here lies in misunderstanding the role of consultation, and here are some guidelines that can help.
1. DO share the problem.
Bring the problem you are working on to your colleague, BEFORE you develop a solution. A true consult happens because you value someone else’s expertise. You reach out to them for help with something you are struggling with. “Here’s the problem,” you might say, “What do you think I should do?” They become a thinking partner and when you bring them a problem first, they can tell that you value their input. Why not? Chances are you will develop a better solution because of their counsel.
2. DON’T seek a rubber stamp.
When you bring your SOLUTION for reaction or input from a colleague, you risk moving into “rubber stamp” territory. Most people (and groups) can smell this from a mile off. It makes them cynical. They might say, “She doesn’t really care what I know and think. I am really just being informed of her plans.” If your colleagues have real expertise to contribute to the solution, and you don’t ask for input before you bring them a package already tied up with a bow, it can feel disrespectful. This breaks down the relationship between colleagues.
Why does this kind of “C” breakdown this happen so frequently?
If you ask, people will first tell you that they are too busy to think together about a problem with their colleagues. It takes time, and they are under pressure to deliver. But dig a little deeper and I think you will find two other reasons.
1. For bright, competent professionals, it’s hard to reach out for help, even when a problem is complex. We are trained (this is very culturally American of course) to believe that we should be able to deliver good solutions on our own. Maybe people will think less of me if I just bring the problem for discussion. And …
2. People worry that if they bring their problems and their preliminary thinking to a bright, competent colleague, that person may try to “take over” and dominate the situation.
Clarifying the roles with RACI language may help with all these barriers. When you bring a problem for consultation with a colleague, try saying something like this: “Look, I have just started to think about the solution to this problem, and I think you could really contribute some valuable ideas. Can I give you a C? I would really like you to shape my thinking before I get too far along.”
This takes an investment of time up front, and some willingness to be vulnerable. But do this and your solutions will be more creative and easier to implement. And your colleagues will thank you.
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