The growth of online meetings, including workshops, has led many to ask about the role of professional facilitators in remote meetings. Would it be better to use an internally sourced facilitator, or have the skills of professional external facilitators become even more important.
We look at the pros and cons for each below – they both have their strengths. We offer professional facilitation services to our clients, but also recognize that at times an internal facilitator may be preferred, and think it important that organizations fully understand the respective benefits of each approach before making a decision.
Internally sourced facilitators have several unique advantages that sometimes come to the for as organizations prepare for team workshops.
- Detailed insider knowledge. Insiders will be familiar with issues to be discussed, background information and any important relationships to consider. This may be significant in some situations, where background complexity or needed institutional knowledge is high.
- Ownership – they will be involved with the project through to its success or failure. An internal facilitator will be around to witness the ultimate consequences of the workshop – both positive and negative. This is likely to mean that have a sense of ownership of the overall process (understanding that they personally will not be responsible for the specific decision reached at the workshop).
- Cost. An internal facilitator is likely to be available for no or little additional cost vs the expense of bringing in an professional external facilitator.
- Speed. It may be quicker to source someone in-house and bring them up to speed. Having said that, external facilitators can also move very quickly.
- Trust. Depending on who is selected, they may be able to build trust more quickly with workshop participants given their tenure and track record with the company.
External facilitators do this work full time and generally bring deep experience in framing and running workshops, including managing the various issues that emerge, and have a wide range of facilitation tools to employ.
- Neutrality. The external facilitator will bring an unbiased and disinterested perspective. They will not pre-committed to various project proposals or strategy directions, which will allow them to play the role of honest broker.
- Fresh perspective. Coming the issues with fresh eyes, the external facilitator may see some issues that aren’t as obvious to those closer to the project. They have the freedom to ask the “dumb” questions.
- Frees the sponsor to engage in the workshop. The project sponsor, which is often the CEO, can work with facilitator in planning and setting goals, but can then fully participate with confidence that the process will move through appropriately.
- Willing to challenge assumptions. Not being part of the internal authority structure, and given their explicit role as facilitator, the external facilitator has the freedom to challenge assumptions and ask tough questions, including those directed at the most senior people in the room.
- Manage personalities. Being outside the authority structure of the organization also gives the external facilitator an easier path to managing difficult behaviors or personalities during the workshop. Likely, they will have experience in managing this type of issues, so will also be better placed from an experiential perspective to deal with these difficulties as they emerge.
- Better agenda design. The professional background in preparing workshops for a living is likely to yield better agenda design based on learned experience and best practice.
- Professional facilitation background. Professional experience and toolkits will probably exceed that of even an experienced internal facilitator. A professional facilitator works on developing company statements, strategies and related workshops all the time and will have experience across most of the challenging issues that emerge. Their detailed knowledge of the planning and workshop process will be a powerful advantage, as will their goal orientation and desire to finalize the workshop outcomes in a way that is most useful to the organization.
- Focus. The external facilitator takes the role as a stand-alone professional commitment and will apply the necessary time to achieve goals. An internal facilitator, even if very competent, is likely to have competing priorities and may not be able to apply as much time to the project.
Regardless of whether an internal or external facilitator is chosen, it will still take clarity of objectives, deep preparation and getting the right people with the right information in their hands in the room (or virtual room) together in order to achieve a successful workshops that benefits the organization.
Ø Internal and external facilitators both have their advantages which should be understood as part of workshop planning.
Ø Internally sourced facilitators will be able to use their inside knowledge of the company to get up to speed quickly and navigate various issues. They will come with little or no additional cost, and may have the trust of workshop participants from the work go.
Ø Externally sourced facilitators bring a neutral perspective, and look at problems with fresh eyes, which may allow them to see things less obvious to insiders. As an outsider, they have the freedom to challenge assumptions, including those of senior leaders, and also more easily manage personalities as issues emerge. Their professional background will likely result in better agenda design and a more seamless experience, owing to their specific experience with this type of worth.
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