Training Versus Consulting – a Story

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    Recently a student asked me what the primary differences in skills were required between a consultant and a trainer. I thought about it and told her this story…..

    When I was working in the OD firm, Block Petrella Weisbord, I was on the consulting side of the business with Tony Petrella and Marvin Weisbord. Peter Block ran the training side, which was entitled Designed Learning. He had created skill- building workshops based on his writing and trainers conducted them all over the world. It was quite a successful business.

    I was once scheduled to facilitate some team building at Pepsi. My client and I had met and had set up a 2 day offsite. Unfortunately something came up and I called my client to see if we could re-schedule the session. When I asked him if we could push it back, he said, “John, if we push it back, we’ll never do it. Could you see if you can find another facilitator in your firm? I trust you to find a good consultant.”

    So, I scrambled to find someone. All of our consultants were booked for those 2 days. The only person who was available was a trainer for Designed Learning. He was a skilled trainer and a good person and he quickly agreed to conduct the team building at Pepsi. I gave him all of the information about the team, their goals, the planned agenda, and issues to be aware of across the team.

    I talked first with my client following the team building. He was excited and pleased about the session and felt that they had made progress. He was complimentary about the facilitation and thanked me for finding a strong replacement. And then I called my training friend to hear how it had gone. To this day, I’ve always remembered his words, “ John, don’t ever ask me to do that again. I was scared to death. Your world is so different than mine. I constantly had to decide when to intervene, when to offer my input, when to change the agenda. In my world, everything is orderly. I know exactly what’s going to be going on at 10:38am. I have a planned script and everyone is looking at me for structure and instructions. In your world, nothing is really planned. I had to make decisions on the fly, to think out loud, and I was always anxious about losing control or making a fool of myself.”

    In that moment, it dawned on me some of the differences between training and consulting. He was a wonderful, skilled trainer but he was out of his element conducting team building. I would have been the same way if our roles were switched and I went in to teach his workshop. I would have struggled. Very few of us are equally balanced and have both sets of skills. I enjoy the anxiety of not knowing. He enjoys the predictability of knowing. My guess is that it was a good experience for him to get out of his comfort zone. He probably learned a lot. But I’m sure that he relished getting back up in front of a class once again…… control, leader’s guide open in front of him, and in charge.

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    John Dupre is an organization development consultant who designs innovative ways to involve people in building more productive and satisfying workplaces. Read more about him at