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Consulting Disasters Essay

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The Consultant-Client Relationship: A Systems-Theoretical Perspective

David Seidl Michael Mohe
Discussion paper 2007- 06

Munich School of Management University of Munich Fakultät für Betriebswirtschaft Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München Online at http://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/

The Consultant-Client Relationship: A Systems-Theoretical Perspective

Michael Mohe and David Seidl

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to explain consulting failure from a systems-theoretical perspective and to provide a new framework for analysing consultant–client relationships. By drawing on Luhmann’s systems theory, clients and consultants are conceptualised as two autopoietic communication systems that operate according to idiosyncratic logics. They are structurally coupled through a third system, the so-called “contact system”, which constitutes a separate discourse. Due to their different logics no transfer of meaning between the three discourses is possible. This contradicts the traditional notion of consulting as a means of providing solutions to the client’s problems: neither is the consultant able to understand the client’s problems nor is it possible to transfer any solutions into the client system. Instead, consulting interventions only cause perturbations in the client system. Consequently, the traditional functions of consulting are called into question. The paper discusses the implications of this analysis with relation to the traditional approach to consulting, and presents a tentative framework for a systemic concept of consulting.

Keywords: Consulting; Consultant-Client Relation, Consulting Failure; Systems Theory

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The Consultant-Client Relationship: A Systems-Theoretical Perspective
Michael Mohe and David Seidl Introduction

While the management consulting industry has been growing relatively steadily over the last decades (e.g. Ernst and Kieser 2002; Kieser 2002; Datamonitor 2005; FEACO 2006) it has come under strong criticism within...

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