Today's guest blog post was written by our current spotlighted member, Dr. Linda Baker-Brandon, who serves as the Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator (TTAC) and Education Consultant Director for ICF. A Certified Process Consultant using process consulting practices, Dr. Linda walks alongside her team of 42 remote professionals, who in turn walk alongside the managers and facilitators of government-funded programs such as Head Start, enabling them to meet their goals and regulations through training and technical assistance. Dr. Linda is a model Listener, Helper, and Learner!
It might not sound like it from the description, but my job really is all about process consulting.
I serve as the Training and Technical Assistant Coordinator and Education Consultant Director for ICF. What exactly does that mean? I provide leadership, training, and coaching to a team of 42 remote professionals across 8 states to ensure the successful delivery of training and technical assistance to Grant Recipients funded by Region IV Administration for Children and Families and by the US Department of Agriculture.
In other words, I coach and train the team that coaches and trains other program teams, empowering Grant Recipients to remain self-sufficient and exceed federal, state, and other regulations. One of the primary programs we work with is Head Start, which promotes school readiness and provides young children and their families with top-quality services – no matter where they live. As you might imagine, the local Head Start teams often find themselves in tough positions, striving to comply with the stringent federal laws for providing services to low-income, culturally-diverse populations while also meeting their goals of truly serving and supporting their communities. My team’s role is to provide tailored training and technical assistance to empower those teams to cover all the gaps and get the real, vital, community-transforming work done.
My first exposure to process consulting occurred when the National Center did a broad-perspective training about 6 years ago. The basic tenets and practices resonated and were obviously applicable to both my role and the roles of those on my team who actively support our Grant Recipients, so a couple years ago, as part of our team’s own professional development, we all enrolled together in PCT 101 – and I’m so grateful we did.
My team walks alongside the Grant Recipients and programs they support, and I, in turn, walk alongside my team. Just as a collaborative, conversational approach empowers our Grant Recipients to buy in and take ownership of their programs, the same approach from me empowers my team to take their roles into their own hands with confidence. I have check-ins with each manager on my team at least monthly and an all-hands monthly team meeting. Depending on the situation it may be a much more continuous dialogue – if they’re new to the field, navigating a particular challenge, or simply in a moment when they need more support. As I’ve moved more and more intentionally into process consulting ways of being and interacting and leading, it has been amazing to see the difference it can make for each of the managers I work with. They visibly shift from being recipients of my training, knowledge, or advice, into being the owners of their own processes. I have gleaned a vast amount of knowledge from each of them.
The greatest challenge, of course, has been truly learning to listen – even when I feel I’ve heard it all before. How many times have you had to bite your lip and nod while listening to a friend, spouse, child, or team member talking through an issue they’re facing – that you’ve faced a thousand times, or seen a thousand other individuals face? It can take so much discipline not to blurt out, “Ah, I know this one! Here’s what you need to do.”
I have held the positions that my staff members now hold, and I have heard similar stories from many of my staff members across 8 states. Intentional listening becomes most difficult when you believe you already know the solution or the process that should occur. But there is so much power in that intentional pause. Of taking a breath, listening deeply, reflecting what you’re hearing, and working with them towards their own clarity and understanding of the problem that can lead to the best process and solution. Sometimes, it turns out, I haven’t heard the issue correctly at all, because my prior experiences clouded my perception. Sometimes, my team members do find their way to exactly the solution I was sure would work – but they find their way there on their own terms, as the owner of that process, with greater confidence and ability that they would have had if I’d just handed them a bandage. If nothing else, process consulting teaches us the fruitful beauty of patience.