What 10 Key Questions should You Ask an External Facilitator before He/She is Hired?
Management people in organizations of all sizes and types come together in meetings for a variety of reasons. This may be to:
|• Plan strategy or major goals
• Share important information
• Plan future work/projects
• Learn from mistakes/shortfalls
|• Create wider organization buy-in
• Solve major problems/make decisions
• Launch a new product/service or initiative
• Announce change of some kind etc.
While all of these reasons to meet can be successfully coordinated by the team leader (whether it’s a senior executive, a general manager or even a CEO) when a lot is riding on getting the best possible result, it may be better to hire an external facilitator as a guide and in this brief article we’ll explore why this is the case and what you should look for when you look to select one.
So what is an external facilitator’s specific role?
Although a third party person of any kind cannot know as much as an organization’s internal team (although you expect him or her to invest the time in researching the company and the issue), the primary role in helping the internal leader is two-fold:
- Firstly, he or she is there to relieve the leader of having to manage and steer the group and to participate more fully as an active contributor.
- Secondly, he or she is there to provide deep knowledge of group processes to formulate and deliver the needed structure for session interactions to be effective. The primary focus of the external facilitator is therefore to focus mostly on group dynamics and processes allowing the participants to then focus predominantly on the content or the substance of their work together.
Given the above, external facilitators deal with behaviors, skills and techniques that help a group work together effectively and accomplish its stated purpose (and maybe even get beyond its stated purpose when this is also valuable). The facilitator often therefore assists participants in discovering what the group may already know and offers alternative ways of interpreting their experience(s) or to translate it into a wider variety of alternative future courses of action than they might have identified on their own. As a result, the external facilitator spends considerable time presenting ideas and possible areas of discussion that encourage participants to critically examine and build on the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and assumptions by which they work and even live, so as to get to better future outcomes. This is therefore a very different role to someone who is an experienced trainer, who by definition is presenting information as a content subject matter expert, rather than the facilitator who is seeking to elicit information in a variety of what might be quite subtle ways.
How do we identify a good external facilitator?
Although it can be argued that the primary role of the external facilitator is to help team participants to work together effectively by providing the sound structure or process while they remain focused on the content of the session, this does not mean that all facilitators are good at this or will “fit-in” to a group’s discussions quickly and well. This is especially true if the meeting is a long one (a day or even several days) or at an off-site “retreat” where the group may be getting away from the day to day and need the facilitator to quickly pull a group together and get it rapidly focused on its main task. So, how do we find such a person and what should we look for in terms on his or her skill and experience set when we do? The “finding” part is relatively easier than it was in the past because tools such as Google/Bing and networking sites such as LinkedIn can be readily searched for possible candidates (local and otherwise) who appear to have the requisite skills, experience or industry knowledge. However, making sure that the person is a good fit means asking probing questions, and to this end the following are suggested as 10 of the best to put to a would-be external facilitator:
- What past senior/strategic leadership experience have you had personally?
- How broad or varied is your facilitation experience?
- Are you well-qualified educationally and widely read in terms of business?
- How familiar are you with a range of group facilitation tools (which ones)?
- How do you like to guide discussions so that they are efficient and effective?
- What are some of your favorite “insightful” questions you like to ask a group?
- How do you like to deal with dominant personalities in a given group?
- What technique do you use to bring in quieter members of the group?
- How do you like to encourage deep and varied communication in a group?
- How do you move discussions intelligently to decisions and actions
There are many other questions you could ask of course, but these 10 will reveal a lot from the answers that are given. And if you are still not sure, ask if you can see the person in a video which shows them talking about facilitation or even in “facilitator mode” and then ask for references from past satisfied clients. This kind of care may sound like a lot of work but the payoff from getting a great facilitator can be huge and you never know-you may utilize such a person many times.
© Jon Warner, 2017