Birds or Fish? Internal and External Consultants
By Kathleen Iverson
Sky and Water, by M.C. Escher, is a tessellated image of birds changing to fish when they sink below the water line. Depending on whether you see the background or foreground as dominant, you see either fish or birds at the water line.
To me, this image represents the relationship between internal and external learning consultants. Like the birds and fish in Escher’s image, internal and external consultants are really one and the same but have different environments.
External consultants are the birds in the image, independent agents that swoop into organizations to provide a wide array of services in workplace learning and development. They are contracted as needed to provide such services as assessment, training, performance intervention, and evaluation. After their work is finished, external consultants migrate to other organizations in need of their specialized knowledge.
Although most consultants are external, we are beginning to see a larger number of internal consultants (fish) who perform similar duties but are permanent organizational members. They act as business partners guiding their organization toward optimal performance and work in areas of human performance improvement, training, and organization development.
What do think are the main advantages and disadvantages of internal versus external consulting? Which area interests you — would you rather be a bird or a fish? Why?