People Power in Business Blog

To use an External Facilitator or Not?

The Top Five Factors the will help you make the right choice…

It can sometimes be difficult to know if you will get value from an external facilitator in your strategy development and business planning process, and it’s important to assess the risk before you make your choice.

If its business as usual for you and not much is expected to change over the next three to five years, then there is not much point getting someone in to help you with your planning.  And its true that no one knows your business like you do. However, there are not many businesses that could withstand the force and speed of external change sufficiently that they could get away with no internal change for more than a year.

On the other hand, if you don’t have internal capacity to facilitate the required outcome, then you already know the answer and it could be time to engage your expert.

It may be that you only become clear about your capacity to achieve an effective outcome without external expertise, once you have taken yourself through a more detailed assessment of your needs.  Here are my top five factors to take into account when considering whether or not to use an external facilitator:

  1. Complexity of the project
  2. Size of the change
  3. Level of uncertainty
  4. Consequences of failure
  5. Strong internal capacity vs Limited internal capacity

It can be helpful to rate your strategy development and planning challenge against each one of these five factors, as a rating out of 10. A 3/10 rating is at the low end of risk and a 7/10 is at the high end of risk. For example, the acquisition of an existing business with multiple offices around the country could be considered a complex project with a rating of 8/10.

If any one of these five factors is rated 6-10/10, then you would likely find multiple benefits from engaging an expert who can provide objectivity, and a specific set of skills and knowledge that helps you engage your entire team in the process and gain important buy-in for the changes ahead. 

Complexity of the Project - ?/10

Clearly the more complex the project, the more hurdles you could potentially be facing. If you are a business owner merging two businesses, then you will have significant communication and cultural challenges. If you’re an industry association, or a federated sporting body, you might need greater collaboration and buy-in from your stakeholders to be able to deliver on your promise to your members. In all these cases, the greater the complexity of the project, the higher the next three factors are also likely to be.

Size of the Change - ?/10

We know that most people instinctively resist change and this resistance can derail the most immaculate plan if the process is not handled with skill and care right from the beginning. The challenge will also depend on the size of the change required of the team and the business in moving forward.

There might be changes in your market that you haven’t yet acknowledged strategically as a business, that you can no longer ignore, and you will need to respond to. There might be profitability or market share imperatives that will require some key internal changes. Alternatively, you might already have buy-in from your internal team, but your key strategic partners and stakeholders are likely to resist some of your plans without a higher level of engagement.

Level of Uncertainty - ?/10

Uncertainty is always present when we are making future plans and there lies the crux of the challenge. The greater the potential for uncertainty, the more you will need your team to be engaged, responsive and ready to step outside their comfort zones in the implementation of the plan further down the track.

The external environment is forcing change upon us every day as our competitors pursue innovation, our customers change their expectations, disruptive technologies emerge, and governance and regulatory changes are imposed upon us.  A level of uncertainty is guaranteed.

Consequences of Failure - ?/10

Assessing the potential magnitude of the consequences of failure will help you determine the value of investing in an expert facilitator. Any business or enterprise requires enormous investment and commitment from someone, and no one wants to knowingly proceed, anticipating any chance of failure. Success is our only option.  Keep in mind that you are relying on a team of other people to implement this plan, and that fact alone increases the risk.

Internal Capacity - ?/10

If your business truly does have the internal capacity for a facilitator to address the unholy combination of uncertainty, change and risk in guiding your team effectively through a strategy development and planning process, then it probably makes sense to use your own resources.

All professional facilitators have a niche area of expertise and a variety of strategy, business and communication skills to offer. Even with all of that available to you, their objectivity is one of the greatest benefits they can bring. Whether your organisational challenge is a relatively simple one, or more complex, a greater level of objectivity will allow you to question the way things have always been done. It will provide a different perspective that might truly make the difference, and that you might not otherwise consider.

The right facilitator can help you set up your team powerfully from the beginning so they have the best possible chance of implementing your plan to success.

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