What to Look For When Hiring a Meeting Facilitator

Posted by Kristin Arnold on March 28, 2012

You’ve decided to bring in a facilitator to help your team achieve the desired results – either an internal company facilitator or an external professional facilitator.  There are four elements you should consider (and one caveat) when hiring a facilitator:

Skill level.  Effective facilitators have extensive knowledge of group dynamics, process tools and techniques.  They are able to guide the group to achieve the desired result (link)

Experience.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a “facilitation” cook book with a sure-fire recipe to move a group from one point to another.  Not only does the facilitator need to have the process skills to do the job, but he should also have some experience to go along with it.  No two groups are alike, and so having an extensive repertoire of successes (and some not-so-great meetings) is just as important as the meeting you want them to facilitate!

Cultural Fit.  You want to make sure the facilitator is a good cultural fit for your group.  For example, I work really well with left-brained, executives and program/project managers.  These are folks who want results yesterday and don’t have a whole lot of patience for touchy-feely teamwork.  So we focus on the results and build the team while doing real work.  I call it teamwork without the fluff.  So if the culture of the group is into singing Kumbya, well, we aren’t going to be a good fit.  I’ll refer you to another well-qualified facilitator!

Adapts Well.  A good facilitator is dynamic and adapts well to a quickly changing situation. During the initial start-up phase, the facilitator will identify the possible potholes in the road and develop strategies to prevent problems from happening in the first place.  Yet, even with all that preparation, the group may decide to go in a different direction.  Make sure your facilitator is not wedded to her process and will be willing to call a “strategic moment” –clarifying the new direction, making sure the group is not being hijacked by one person and to proceed with the agreed-upon desires of the group.

Beware the Consultant as a Facilitator.  You hire a facilitator when you believe the knowledge is already resident in the room whereas you hire a consultant when you DON’T believe the group knows what to do.  I use the distinction of being the “guide on the side” facilitator vs. the “sage on the stage” consultant.

When you hire the consultant to facilitate, there is a real danger that the consultant may:

1.  Manipulate the conversation in such a way that the group agrees to the consultant’s recommendation.  Unfortunately, once the consultant departs, you may or may not have complete buy-in to the decision.

2.  Dive into the content side of the conversation and forget to guide the process.  In essence, they revert to the consultant role with no one making sure we stay on task.

3.  Hijack the conversation making sure their point of view is heard.

There are plenty of consultants who can facilitate – just be clear about what you want the consultant to do – facilitate or consult.  Or, many of my clients hire the consultant to participate in the meeting as one equal voice among many, and hire a professional facilitator to guide the process.

When you have found someone who meets all four elements, you have found your facilitator.  Invest some time up front to clarify the objectives and your facilitator will be your partner in guiding the group to achieve the desired results in the least amount of time with a high degree of collaboration.

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