Hiring an experienced facilitator can seem like an expensive business, so are they worth it?
We obviously think the answer to this question is a resounding YES, in particular with regard to strategic and creative thinking workshops. While hiring an experienced facilitator won’t guarantee you success in your workshop, NOT hiring one is almost certainly dooming the workshop to failure.
Here are several reasons why:
Excellent facilitation is not only an art form, it is also a specialised skill set. The job of a facilitator is to guide a variety of different parties (with their attendant differing agendas, perspectives, personalities and ideas) towards an agreed objective. Not only does the facilitator need to be aware of, and manage, different group dynamics, which can often derail the best laid plans, they also need to ensure that each person is contributing to the best of their ability and feels valued enough to continue doing so. The facilitator is also charged with keeping energy high and the mood positive, thereby creating a safe and stimulating environment where discussion and ideas can flow. Further, the facilitator is responsible for keeping track of (and often recording) the multitude of ideas and discussions that emerge in a workshop, and ensuring that discussions continually head in the right direction, all while keeping a close eye on the clock. In short, facilitating is a skilled, multi-faceted job that requires the facilitator to wear a number of hats and keep quite a few balls in the air. Without the skills that come largely through experience, this can be a daunting task.
Mitigating the Seniority Effect
A key aspect of strategic and creative thinking workshops is challenging existing mind sets and assumptions and exploring new thinking and ideas. For a workshop to be at all useful, the facilitator needs to ensure all voices are heard equally and everyone’s contribution is considered. The facilitator’s job is to create a safe and non-judgemental environment, where everyone feels free to speak honestly and openly. Only in this way can ideas be properly explored and break-through thinking achieved (which is why you want the workshop in the first place!)
One of the key threats to this process is the group dynamics that emerge from having different levels of seniority in the room. Quite often the facilitator needs to keep the more senior people from dominating the discussions with their own agendas. This is a very difficult ask of someone internal who may feel they could be jeopardising their career by telling their boss to behave.
As external facilitators are not part of the internal politics of an organisation and their day-to-day happiness is not dependant on pleasing various people higher up the food chain, they are better able to mitigate the negative dynamics seniority can play within the workshop by using specific techniques and strategies not always available to a “team member”.
Hiring Trust and Objectivity
For a workshop to be successful, the participants have to trust both the facilitator and the process. The facilitator will often have to take participants out of their comfort zone, to help them look at issues from a different perspective. Participants have to feel that the facilitator has the best interests of the group at heart. They have to trust the facilitator is objective. This is impossible if the facilitator is part of the team. A team member automatically has a position regarding the problem at hand, however hard they work to be objective.
In a sense, the facilitator holds the role of an impartial arbitrator in a workshop environment. This is a full time role, and as such, a team member cannot be both the facilitator and a participant and achieve a successful outcome. Even if a team member does opt to be the facilitator and somehow successfully maintains a level of objectivity, the group will then lose out on the valuable knowledge and insights that he or she would have been able to contribute to the discussion as a participant.
Strategic and creative thinking workshops are almost always about bringing people together to try to solve a problem or to take advantage of an opportunity. To paraphrase Einstein, “You can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it.” To be addressed, problems need to be tackled from a different perspective. When you brief an external facilitator to run your workshop, you effectively bring in fresh eyes to the problem from the get-go. The external facilitator is not bound by your existing thinking. They will encourage you to question your assumptions and force you to look at things from a new perspective, thereby enhancing the probability of achieving break-through thinking and innovative ideas within the workshop itself.
Time is Money
Finally, while it might seem like an external facilitator is expensive, add up the cost of having all those the participants, often more senior personnel, in the workshop and you will soon realise that buying in the expertise to ensure your workshop has the best possible chance of success, is money well spent.