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Consultative Sessions/Peer Assists: An Exercise in Collective Leadership

Over the years, as part of LLC’s consulting services we have from time to time conducted what we call consultative sessions. Other people call them peer assists. June Holley describes the process she uses in the Network Weavers Handbook. Regardless of the language I am sure we all share some similar premises:

  • There is great learning value in digging into concrete examples to apply our best thinking on a question, problem or issue.
  • Our applied thinking is enriched by a diversity of perspectives, and not just the usual suspects. 
  • All participants benefit from the learning produced by an exchange among diverse peers, not just the subject of the consultative session. 
  • The group can generate thinking that goes beyond the ideas of any one participant in the process.
  • Despite the assumptions we make about busyness, people are very generous with their time when it comes to helping a project/program doing good work and the chance to hang out with cool people.


So what is a consultative session? A consultative session brings together a diverse group of people to tackle an issue. LLC has organized most of our consultative sessions to help leadership programs and foundations that are trying to figure out how to integrate evaluation findings to strengthen their current work. We have also organized sessions around leadership program design. The sessions can be done virtually but in that case it’s hard to keep people engaged for more than 90 minutes. We really like to devote a good chunk of time for deep dive into the topic. Ideally we like to have 2-3 hours and share food (which helps to build community). It’s important to allow time for participants to provide context to one another about the perspectives and experiences they are bringing to the topic. We also like to send a short packet of materials to participant ahead of time to give them critical background information so that we can hit the ground running. (Out of respect for people’s time we try to keep reading information to 15-30 minutes max.) During the session after brief introductions we jump into the questions that have been frame in advance and we allow time at the end for the group to synthesize what they have heard into recommendations that are captured and shared with all participants.

Recently we had a chance to bring a diverse group of folks in the LLC community together to support the Mesoamerican Reef Leadership program as it tackled to questions relevant to many leadership programs:

1.) how to maximize the impact of leadership projects and 2.) how to design a leadership program to support an emerging network. I have to say the discussion shifted my thinking in surprising ways and brought in a lot of great ideas. Everyone enjoyed and appreciated the value of the exchange, in fact so much so, that they recommended that we  host more consultative sessions.  We look forward to sharing our learning from the recent session on leadership projects and network and we wanted to share more about the process in case you would like to take advantage of a consultative session as you grapple with your big leadership development questions. LLC does these sessions as part of our consulting services and we are happy to coach and share ideas about how to do it if you would like to organize one yourself.  It’s a great way to tap the collective leadership of the fabulous folks who are part of our community.

Images Source: Eugene Eric Kim 2013