Photo courtesy of Leadership Victoria

There are many reasons why groups from all kinds of organizations need to come together, such as for strategic planning, program planning, community consultations, annual general meetings, team retreats and other meetings focused on group relationship-building and collaboration. While it may be tempting for groups to use their own people as meeting facilitators, many of us know that a professional external facilitator can support a group to work more effectively in ways that someone from the team cannot do. Here are five reasons why a facilitator from outside the organization should be an essential part of your group event.

We know how to design an agenda: External facilitators who make themselves available for hire should have expertise in process design that they’ve gained through both extensive professional development and real live practice with groups. They know how to design a purposeful and intentional agenda that moves people through activities towards the group’s desired outcomes. I tend to ask clients questions such as, “Why are you holding this event?”, “What would make this event successful for you?” and “What would you like the group to have accomplished together by the end of the event?” Then I spend time putting together a purposeful agenda that I think will help the group meet those goals, drawing a variety of activities from many sources and thinking both about the activities themselves as well as how people will move from activity to activity during the meeting.

We keep the group engaged: Group engagement doesn’t just happen when you throw a group of people in the room. Professional facilitators know how to craft a group event so that people are engaged right from when they walk in the door. While my main job is to help the group get their work done, we also tend to have a lot of fun along the way! I know how to design sessions so that everyone’s voices are heard and group’s energy levels are maintained. The best compliment I got this year from a participant at the end of a group event was that, “It was the first meeting I’ve been in at our organization where no one pulled out their phones.” (Hooray!)

We can ask the tough questions. Often it’s easier for an external facilitator to ask the “dumb” or hard questions that a group needs to discuss or address, or bring up the so-called elephant in the room. Professional facilitators know how to do this so that group members feel comfortable in expressing what they need to express. I know how to build trust with and among the group to lay the foundation so that people feel as safe as possible to have tough conversations. The focus and awareness I bring to any event as to who is talking and who is not talking (and my intentionality at inviting everyone into the conversation) can help surface new information and ideas that the group might not normally hear. And, although I will never be entirely “neutral” as an outside facilitator, it’s often an advantage that I don’t have anything personally invested in the group’s work like a member of the team would. This means it’s often easier for me to hear all voices and perhaps even point out missing perspectives or gaps from my outsider’s perspective.

We can change things up in the moment. Working with groups is complex, and sometimes groups do unexpected things. A professional facilitator prepares extremely well so that they can be flexible to change up the way the group is working together in the moment, when the group appears to need something different than what was originally planned. I track the group’s energy, mood, conversations and progress every step of the way, and I know how to pull different methods and tools out of my facilitators “toolbox” when the group’s direction might be shifting. While I always come in with a solid plan, often I have to modify it either somewhat or a lot depending on the group’s emergent needs.

We make sure the work gets captured. There’s nothing worse than having a meeting where great ideas are shared but nothing gets written down or done after the fact – leaving participants to wonder why they even had the meeting in the first place. A professional facilitator will plan and implement harvesting methods all throughout the meeting, so that the group’s work gets accurately captured and it can bring taken forward from the meeting and turned into action items and next steps. I usually make sure all my groups talk about next steps before they leave the meeting because people need to know that something is going to come from their hard work.

Want to start gaining some of these kinds of group process facilitation skills? Join my upcoming workshop at Royal Roads University, “Fundamentals of Group Facilitation”, on January 22, 2020.

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