Are you getting full value from your external facilitator?  

Written by Dr. Marc Levy

Most large Australian organisations invest considerably in hiring external facilitators to help them run their workshops and offsites. But are they getting their money’s worth? Are they fully tapping into the knowledge and skills that are available? And are they confident that their workshops conclude with a clear path forward and outcomes that justify the investment?

In a recent survey conducted, most respondents said that their facilitators met their expectations. Facilitators generally helped groups to get through the agenda, kept the conversation on track, worked towards the intended outcomes. But is that enough?

So, what should great facilitators do?

Here is what our survey respondents said:

  • Develop a working knowledge of what the organisation does (direction, challenges, opportunities, context) and understand group dynamics
  • Bring expertise depending on the topic e.g. strategy, change leadership, organisation development
  • Are process oriented
  • Achieve agreed workshop goals and objectives
  • Clarify roles, including the role of the leader (and agree with the leader how they will engage during the workshop)
  • Be independent and bring an external perspective
  • Manage the room and disparate views; guide discussions and don’t interrupt where possible, allowing participants to resolve issues
  • Hold the room to account, including follow up
  • Bring structured frameworks and thinking to the discussion
  • Fit with the team’s culture and engage the whole group, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to participate
  • Develop an understanding of the industry
  • Manage distractions; don’t be side tracked by strong views
  • Ask open questions and draw out unspoken issues
  • Produce an outcomes document that captures the key points discussed

And, on the flip side, great facilitators should not:

  • Allow a talkfest with no outcomes
  • Change the agenda without the agreement of the key client contact
  • Cut off important and relevant discussions
  • Be ego driven; must be able to listen in the moment

At Strategic Facilitators, we believe facilitators should have a good knowledge of your organisation and its industry so that they can contribute meaningfully on issues of content; they should be like a ‘dog with a bone’ with the workshop objectives, but flexible enough not to be artificially constrained by the agenda if a quality conversation runs over; and they should be ‘hard listeners’ and ‘fast processors’, attentive to the needs and feelings of members of a group.

So next time you are in the market for a facilitator, raise your expectations, and then raise them again. Write a checklist of what is important to your organisation. Think about the objectives you are trying to achieve – and ask interested facilitators about the distinctive contribution they will make. And get them to outline how they will facilitate your day to make it relevant, valuable and ultimately ‘great’!

(Full report: How Australian organisations can increase the value added by external facilitators)