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Gestalt Institute of Cleveland

Master's Degree in Diversity Management.

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Becoming an Effective Organizational Intervener

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In this issue we start a conversation on Shadow Consulting.

Highlighted professional and executive development programs are for programs at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland's Becoming an Effective Organizational Intervener (BEI), Conflict Confrontation, & Negotiation, (CCN) and the Coaching Program. BEI is focused on increasing the effectiveness of consultants and executives. The basic issue is that to induce change we must interrupt the system or it will continue as it has been designed. Furthermore, BEI increases the effectiveness by enhancing the skills to influence others (employees, clients, etc.) whether you have formal power or not.

CCN is a program focused on how gestalt theory informs us in addressing conflict, confrontation, and negotiation. All three topics have become critical or core competencies of effective executives, coaches, and consultants. This brand new program will be quite exciting.

Enjoy the newsletter, and please forward it if you know someone who might be interested. If this newsletter does not serve your needs, just click unsubscribe below.

Bountiful blessings

Herb Stevenson


Shadow Consultant:
A Gestalt Approach to the Consultant's Consultant

By Herb Stevenson

Consultant's Consultants have been called Shadow consultants for nearly four decades. Marjan Shroder coined the term, shadow consultant, in 1972 while describing the informal process that consultant's have used between each other for as long as consultants have existed1. Generally, he noted that the shadow consultant "at the request of a colleague (or team of colleagues) and by means of a series of discussions, helps assess--and, if necessary, change--that colleague's diagnosis, tactics, or role in a specific assignment". (Shroder, 1974, 580) The merit of the shadow consultant "lies in his noninvolvement, which makes it easier for him to keep track of the main issues, and to take the consultant's way of functioning into account; nevertheless, because different consultants stress different aspects of a project, the shadow consultant's contribution may also broaden the consultant's general professional skills and insights." (Shroder, 1974, 581)

In more recent times, shadow consulting has become more formalized. Shadow consultants are built into the contract in specific situations such as when the increased complexity and size of interventions require an different set of eyes. Examples would be whole scale and transformational change initiatives.

More recently, shadow consulting has been intermingled with coaching such that the shadow consultant both consults and coaches the project leader and/or lead consultant, thereby providing an independent set of eyes for the project leader/lead consultant, the team, and the project. This additional set of eyes tends to increase the success of the intervention. For example, the consultant realizes that the client system is "pushing buttons" that typically do not interfere with the work performance. A colleague is hired to shadow by processing the work with the consultant creating more distance and less "reacting" to the client system.

Capabilities Needed

Shadow consultants need to remember that they are not part of the client system and are truly serving the consultant that hired them. Hence, shadow consultants tend to be effective when they are able to

  1. support the consultant(s) to learn and work effectively individually, together as a team, and with the client
  2. provide experience and have an understanding of the dynamics of working with internal project leaders, lead Consultants and large systems
  3. bring a breadth and depth of consulting experience through direct knowledge and/or experience of a variety of types of interventions that can broaden the consulting container and view of the particular project
  4. lend awareness and wisdom from prior reflections on actual experience from doing the type of work involved in the project.
  5. support the project leader, lead consultant, and team to look at themselves within the engagement and how they are impacting the system, bearing in mind the contracted work.
  6. remain sufficiently independent to stay "outside" the engagement and not confuse the team or system about who is the project leader or lead consultant. An effective shadow consultant's greatest asset is to be invisible to the client system as much as possible and clearly subordinate and be in direct support to the project leader and lead consultant.

What the Shadow Consultant Does

The Shadow consultant is focused on supporting the learning and perceptions of the project leader, if different than the lead consultant, the lead consultant, the team, if applicable, and the effectiveness of the engagement. This is accomplished by supporting and challenging the project leaders and lead consultant. It can be done via phone and in-person consultations, typically, outside the purview of the client system.

The role of the shadow consultant often becomes blurred, because they, also, may attend team meetings as a process consultant or to bring content knowledge. The shadow consultant may attend the actual intervention to observe system dynamics, parallel processes, and assess the impact of specific interventions. Generally, the shadow consultant brings a different/less involved perspective to the work, often referred to as another set of eyes to bring clarity to the interventions and support for the lead consultant, the consulting team, and the client system. The relationship with the shadow consultant is defined up front and typically includes a balance between leader initiated and shadow initiated conversations.

Defining the Roles

To clearly delineate the role and function of the shadow consultant, it behooves the project leader and/or lead consultant to clearly determine what are the hopes and goals of having a shadow consultant as part of the project. In this process, the focus is to examine how to leverage an extra set of eyes as well as set of professional skills to influence and support the consulting team to maximize the interventions' effectiveness. The key of this process is to realize, generally, that the shadow consultant does not penetrate the client system, and only interfaces with the project leader, lead consultant, and team to support the overall intervention.

In basic terms, the consultant's role is to ask for support, be willing to confront specific problems by leaning into the discomfort, provide information about the under-supported or unclear issues, and always has the final decision what should be done with the client system. In other words, as shadow consultants we "must never lose sight of the fact that the consultant is the one who shoulders full responsibility for the case and... must translate the newly acquired insights into action... [and] integrate those views into his own pattern of thinking in such a way that they... shape his mode of action." (Shroder, 1974, 585)

The shadow consultant provides support, keeps the agreed upon goals of the work in focus, collect data from the consultant surrounding the agreed upon work, enables the consultant to stretch enough to learn, stays within the boundaries of the contracted work. "As a shadow consultant, [we] cannot and do not want to take over the consultant's responsibility for the project at hand." ) Shroder, 1072, 586)

In more complex terms, the shadow consultant can become a professional coach, a process consultant, and/or an expert (content) consultant for the project leader, lead consultant, or team. It is imperative that the role for the project be defined according to the needs of the team. For example, if the lead consultant through prior experience of large, complex system change realizes that he or she tends to get caught up in the details of the project, the shadow consultant could be hired to support keeping a wider perspective of the project through ongoing conversation. If the lead consultant is aware that he or she has not led a large scale change, then hiring a process and/or content consultant to provide insights might prove useful.

The shadow consultant, therefore, can bring specific skills to the table to support the intervention(s) that cross the various levels of system. For example, for every large scale change or major interventions, there are multiple levels of system. As consultants, we tend to focus on the largest level of system while being mindful of whatever level of system is standing before us at the moment. However, from a gestalt perspective, we assume that the relationship between levels of system can impact the success of the intervention. Hence, we assume that:

  • Each level contains the conflict or problem or situation in its entirety.
  • Each level of system can influence all other levels of system.
  • For the conflict, problem or situation to be completed, all levels of system must explicitly address the issue.

As a shadow consultant, these levels of system can become confusing and blur the focus of the shadow consultant unless we clearly manage ourselves within the defined roles of the shadow consulting contract. For example, Figure 1 lists the typical shadow consultant clients, roles with the client, and the corresponding levels of system within any consulting intervention. As can be seen in Figure 1, the role of the shadow consultant can float between being a professional coach to the project leader and/or lead consultant to being a process or content consultant to the team or the larger organization's intervention.

Figure 1: Shadow Roles in Levels of Systems


SC Role

Level of System

Project Leader and Lead Consultant

Coaching and/or Consulting

Intra-personal--consciously or unconsciously, what and/or how I think in relation to different life situations, often referred to as the experiences, knowledge, and stories that I carry from all of my life's experiences.

Project Leader, Lead Consultant,
& Team

Coaching and/or Consulting

Inter-personal--consciously or unconsciously, the interaction between one person and another. It focuses on what you and I respond to and/or how we respond to each other as we co-create our relationship and the roles we play in the intervention. It addresses the exchange between us.

Project Leader, Lead Consultant,
& Team

Process and/or Content

Small group-- consciously or unconsciously, what we choose as a group to respond to and how we choose to respond to each other via  conflicts, problems, or situations of the group as we co-create our relationship and the roles we play in the intervention.

Project Leader, Lead Consultant,
Team, & Organization

Consulting: Process and/or Content

Organization--consciously or unconsciously, what we as an organization choose to respond to and how we choose to respond to each other or to conflicts, problems, or situations within the organization as we co-create our relationship and the roles we play in the intervention.

Knowing the role combined with naming the levels of system the shadow consultant will intervene enhances the effectiveness of the shadow consulting process.

Consultant Concerns

A critical component of shadow consulting is the client perception. The client system, juxtaposed to the consultant, will want to know why a shadow consultant is needed. More in the past, consultant fears rose quickly about the possibility of losing the contract because the client would infer the lack of competency to fulfill the job. More recently, client systems are aware that large scale and complex, transformational change requires a multidimensional approach. Each level of system has its own set of dynamics, much like a kaleidoscope. Even though the colors and geometric designs remain basically the same, each turn of the kaleidoscope reveals a different view. The same applies to the different levels of system and the use of the shadow consultant. Each level of system presents a different view of the overall system as does the shadow consultant differ from the consultant.

Client Benefits

Client systems typically find that the addition of a shadow consultant for the project leader, lead consultant, change team, and/or the overall project increases the effectiveness of the initiative and therefore the intervention. The focus of the project tends to stay crisp and clear, thereby supporting sharper interventions that lead more directly to the desired outcomes. The shadow consultant provides an organic element to the process allowing a refinement of the intervention in process.

Cady, Dannemiller amd Eggers (2003), after interviewing the experts of whole system transformation , noted that successful whole system (WS) change methods include five common elements. The first common element is that the WS method addresses the "system" and its "boundaries" as an organic, living entity that seeks balance. The boundaries are the definitional restraints that seek to maintain "things as they are" while often sitting outside the system awareness. The shadow consultant provides a different view and often is able to see the dynamics of the system and its boundaries from a different view than the internal project leaders, consultant, or consulting team, thereby increasing the chances of supporting a shift in the systems dynamic equilibrium that seeks to return to the existing homeostasis.

The second common WS change element is "purpose". "Purpose focuses on the reasons for the transformation. At its core, purpose answers the question, How will the system be different?" (Cady, Dannemiller, & Eggers, 2003. When the intensity and complexity of the WS change process is in full swing, the level of complexity tends to blur the details allowing the purpose to blend into the details. The shadow consultant holds the meta-view of why are we making the change, what will the system look like on the other side of the change cauldron, and are we staying on course for the changes we seek.

The third common element of WS change is to remember the process is a "journey". "Each of the founders of whole system transformation methods appears to see the change journey as some form of well-researched road map, articulated in terms of the purpose of each step and the requirements between steps (Cady, Dannemiller, & Eggers, 2003). Translated into shadow consulting terms, there is a meta-process of all whole system change. This meta-process follows an innate phenomenon that is often lost in the complexity and is frequently brought forth when the work becomes more difficult, such as when resistances begin to surface or the change process slows down like thick molasses, frustrating the project leader, lead consultant, and/or change team. Realizing that the change process is like a large cauldron where various ingredients are brought forth into a container, heated, stirred, and cooked until the ingredients alchemically change allowing some thing brand new to emerge, the shadow consultant is able to support the change team members to broaden or deepen their view to refocus onto the meta-process thereby maintaining a double vision of the larger system processes as well as the lower levels of system during the change process.

The fourth common WS change element is "theory". "Good theory is the result of good research" (Cady, Dannemiller, & Eggers, 2003) and good shadow consulting is the result of lots of experience. Schooled in the various WS change theories through study and actual practices leads to an innate understanding of what is happening in the WS change process as well as how different WS change methods can be commingled to create something new or something different that specifically applies to the system at hand. Typically, the shadow consultant will bring something to the change team that might not otherwise exist.

The fifth common element of WS change methods is "values". "[E]ach of the WS change founders...[was]... profoundly and totally driven by values about people, learning, caring, confrontation, and empowerment" (Cady, Dannemiller, & Eggers, 2003). The shadow consultant acts to remind the project leader, lead consultant, and/or team why they have committed so much of their time and resources to supporting a whole system change. WS change requires that "we have to live our values with every breath we take, every word we utter, every design we use. Any incongruity will bring the system to different results...Our challenge isn't to attempt to alter the environment, but rather to unleash the shared organizational identity that existed from the very beginning (Cady, Dannemiller, & Eggers, 2003).


In this article, I have attempted to bring forth the concepts of shadow consulting as originally developed by Marjan Shroder 36 years ago and update their application to the various levels of system that can occur. Moreover, I have attempted to bring forth the awareness that shadow consulting is a perfect fit for whole system change.


HERB STEVENSON is President/CEO of the Cleveland Consulting Group, Inc. He has been a management consultant and executive coach for over 20 years. Herb has published 26 books and is listed in eight Who's Who categories. He is on the postgraduate faculty of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, where he is Co-chair of the Executive & Organization Development Becoming an Effective organizational Intervener program. Herb is a member of the postgraduate faculty of the College of Executive Coaches, which certifies executive coaches in affiliation with the ICF and a member of the graduate faculty of Cleveland State University's Department of Psychology, Diversity Management master's degree program. You can reach Herb at CleveConsultGrp@aol.com .


Alban, Billie, (1974) Comments on the Preceding Article, in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Vol. 10. No. 4. 595-597.

Cady, Steven, Dannemiller, Kathleen, & Eggers, Mary (2003) "System Transformation: The Power of Being Whole" Linkage & Lean eNewsletter.

Shroder, Marjan (1974) The Shadow Consultant, in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Vol. 10. No. 4. 579-594

Upcoming Workshops
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Becoming an Effective
Organizational Intervener

For over thirty years, the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland has acknowledged and taught that successful leadership requires an indepth awareness of oneself coupled with the capacity to understand organization and system dynamics sufficiently to create effective personal and organizational interventions. Therefore, the basic premise of Personal & Organizational Effectiveness: Becoming An Effective Organizational Intervener is that through better interventions, individuals become more effective leaders.

Learn more on the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland's website, or download a PDF brochure here.

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& How to Earn Coaching Certification

The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland specializes in coaching training and offers a wide selection of workshops throughout the year, including certification. Find out more on the Gestalt Institute's website at www.gestaltcleveland.com/coaching .

Conflict, Confrontation, & Negotiation Introductory Workshop

The Introductory workshop is a prerequisite for attending the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland Executive & Organization Development Program, Conflict, Confrontation, & Negotiation (CCN). This three-day workshop provides an opportunity to experience the "gestalt" approach through learning basic concepts and applying them through structured conflict, confrontation, and negotiation exercises. Unique to our approach is that each workshop is a balance of direct teaching and immediate application.Find out more on the Gestalt Institute's website at www.gestaltcleveland.com/coaching .