Consequences of Failing to Re-contract

Expectation gap and U-turns

Oasis’ Seven Stage Model has become a bible to me. I use it as a framework to design all the workshops I facilitate. Yet, recently, I fell into the trap of going too fast and not re-assessing if all the stages were complete before moving on.

I was leading a short consultancy piece in Mozambique where a group of stakeholders was supposed to get together to hear about the project’s findings. When I arrived in Mozambique it became clear that rather than holding a workshop to tell people about the project, we should hold a workshop to hear the stakeholders’ stories.

For that objective, we also understood that a World Café setup was most effective, as it would give people more speaking time in small groups and avoid long statements from strong personalities dominating the floor. We agreed on this change of scope and approach with two of the three client representatives in the project, as the third one was on vacation.

It turned out that our failure to re-contract with this third client representative led to a massive expectation gap during the workshop delivery. As per Murphy’s Law, on the workshop date, one of the clients who was behind the change of scope could not be present, as he was called to fire-fight another project in another country. The first day of the two-day workshop was so different from what she expected that we had to completely change the format of the second day of the workshop.

The activities chosen during re-design turned out not to be effective – as I explain in greater depth here – but at the end of the second day, there were frustrations everywhere. The contractors, myself included, had not accomplished what we wanted to accomplish and the client was lost in terms of what we were doing.

When things go wrong, it’s like a domino.

Not having re-contracted led to changes in the design, which in turn led to us not having the desired outcome and not having project details agreed upon. Not having the details agreed meant we had to do much of the work remotely, which then meant that the report (with recommendations) was all over the place, written by different people with different ideas on their minds.

We went around in circles. There was pressure again to reach an outcome and people did not want to acknowledge the failures in the process and re-open the conversation. In that particular case, external circumstances changed and the direction of the work took a U-turn.

At the end of the project, everyone was frustrated. I was particularly upset that my team and clients undermined the Oasis’ Seven Stage Model and were not open to an honest conversation on how to jointly amend the project once it was broken.

We cannot change the world overnight, so I will keep preaching with the Seven Stage Model as my bible – and try to follow what it teaches!

*Note: This Blog was originally published at Oasis

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