Your planning team may be a freight train in fluffy snow as it plows through any decision it confronts. Sooner or later, though, it will almost certainly be derailed by an issue or season that just will not let itself be resolved.
Where did things go wrong? And how can your team go from just having more discussions to finally seeing real change?
First, stop to consider what is really happening…
- Do some people have an emotional attachment to one way of doing things?
- Maybe everyone recognizes that change is needed, but no two people agree on which direction is best?
- Perhaps you have alignment on what to do, but can’t agree on the actual steps to make it happen?
- Most volatile of all, do you need to pinpoint where a project went wrong, fix what’s broken, and get things back on track, without laying blame or splitting the group into warring factions?
If any of those scenarios sound familiar, your group will likely benefit from the input of a professional facilitator.
A skilled facilitator can give you a step-by-step guide to an actionable outcome.
In situations like the above, a highly trained facilitator can corral all your team’s thoughts and theories, identify and quell the fights and fears, and develop specific steps and timelines that will finally move a project forward.
To start at the very beginning though, long before leading your discussion, a skillful facilitator can help determine exactly what should and shouldn’t be covered within your available time. What are some common problems with agendas?
- All too often, agendas suffer from “scope creep,” ballooning from one initial idea into a wide range of topics that “just have to” be covered “since we’re already there.”
- A crowded agenda will not leave enough time for adequate debate and reflection to ensure buy-in from everyone involved.
- With too much to be covered, the consequences of each potential path may not be fully considered, until after the decision has been made and the meeting has ended.
- Some viable options may be missed altogether, simply because enough time was not given to exploring alternatives.
An experienced facilitator will be able to recognize whether or not enough time is being given to the topics at hand, and how long people typically need to feel they have been heard, and have had a chance to truly hear what others are saying. The process and format they create can become your step-by-step guide to resolving your crisis and finally moving toward your targeted outcome.
“But do we really need a facilitator?”
“Is an external facilitator the right fit for our situation? Can’t we just get someone on our team to do that?” Valid questions. A big part of the answer depends on how much everyone involved needs confidence in the process and the results that might come from it.
One of the key frustrations of a planning session without an outside facilitator is the challenge of whether or not the session leader is seen by everyone as a neutral voice, not perceived to be pushing one agenda or favoring one outcome. Let’s face it… if you have an important or divisive issue at hand, anyone within your group is likely to have already expressed their opinion, perhaps repeatedly and passionately. If a thought leader from one side of the debate is leading the process, anyone with a differing opinion is likely to feel concerned that the discussion may not be balanced.
On the other extreme, having a facilitator from within may mean that that person’s input and viewpoints get missed entirely. This is even more likely to be a problem if one of the best communicators and most trusted people — and that is typically someone at or near the top of your organization — is usually chosen to be the facilitator. In such a role, that person will likely focus on bringing out various viewpoints within the group, to ensure a neutral process and avoid seeming too pushy. They may be hesitant to introduce any of their own opinions or thought. As a result, the group will lose some insights that could have helped form a better outcome. It also introduces the possibility that that person may end the session feeling frustrated that they were unable to contribute to the discussion and whatever the final result might be.
A facilitator can build confidence with a library of problem-solving techniques.
Unless you’ve actually studied facilitation and kept up with the latest best practices and developments, you would likely be shocked at the range of techniques and approaches available. A prepared facilitator, on the other hand, will:
- Be comfortable considering Gap Analysis, Lewin’s Force Field Analysis, Root Cause Analysis, Decision Grids, and many other well-established methodologies to determine which would be most likely to address your particular challenge.
- Recognize which approach is most likely to generate meaningful discussion and analysis, and take your team toward a successful outcome.
- Know how and when to quickly change and implement an approach “on the fly,” as the discussion changes shape or tempo.
- Know that the proper choice and implementation of the right tools for each situation can help everyone involved gain a deeper understanding of the issues and potential outcomes.
Also of vital importance, a facilitator will be able to prepare a report that clearly outlines your situation, presents the objectives of your process, and explains the projected outcomes. This will often help those affected gain confidence in the decisions that were made, which should in turn save time by minimizing the follow-up explanations, debates, and doubts that plague many initiatives when done in-house. Similar to having an auditor review a company’s financial documents, just having an external facilitator can immensely improve confidence in whether or not a process was properly handled.
When the talk gets heated, a good facilitator can cool things down.
This can be the area where the value of your investment in a professional facilitator quickly becomes evident. If a project failed and you need to develop an objective, accurate assessment of why, and how to get back on track, seriously consider a professional facilitator. Even highly respected CEOs of the biggest firms in the world often find themselves unable to step outside the emotion of such moments. Things are simply too close and there is too much at stake on a personal level, making it virtually impossible for anyone to see things clearly… and give everyone else the confidence that the session will produce an objective analysis rather than some well-worded excuses.
So… what’s keeping you from finding the right facilitator?
Do any of the above points sound familiar or hit home for you and your team? If you feel it is time to contact a facilitator, say hi and explain your situation. And if there is something else that makes you feel you are better served by keeping things in house, please let me know that as well. Either way, please feel free to leave your comments below; I would love to better understand your situation, and wish you all the best with your team’s strategic planning or visioning session!