Having facilitated a number of meetings over the years I was interested last weekend to being on the receiving end. As a trustee of the Dyspraxia Foundation we had a weekend away to discuss the future strategy of the charity, it's mission, its values and what we saw as the direction of travel for the next 5 years. In my former role as a partner in a national firm of accountants, I was quite used to having an external facilitator and it was interesting to compare and contrast such facilitators against my own work in this area. This weekend was possibly the best facilitated event I have ever attended. This was largely because all of the 3 people, (one external and two internal) made every effort to ensure that no one person dominated each session with their views (and believe me there were a number of loud voices to contain including yours truly!). Likewise that everyone had the chance to input.
It was interesting to hear the quiet ones finding their voice throughout the weekend; all due to the skills of the facilitators. The internal ones subjugated their own thoughts (without feeling constrained) to the greater good so that by the end of the weekend we had thoroughly discussed the topics we needed to and had some clear outputs to take us forward. As with all such meetings the proof is in the future actions but I left the meeting with a positive view and knowing that my own role and those of the others would be constructively challenged going forward.
So what about the external facilitator? What did she bring to the party? What she brought was a fresh perspective to our deliberations. What she did not do was tell us what to do. What she did do was to challenge us on the environment in which we operated and why we are doing what we are doing. She helped us voice our fears about where we are now and also to identify the issues that were blocking us from taking things forward; particularly the fear of change. Although she had been prepped about the organisation and done some of her own research, there was never any sense of her telling us what to do. By asking questions and teasing information out of everyone she helped us identify the challenges we faced so that we could clearly see the steps we needed to take to overcome these challenges.
Facilitators come in all shapes and sizes and work in all sorts of environments whether, manufacturing, retailing, software,professional services, not for profit or even government (though clearly Mr Speaker is perhaps not the best example!) but we all have one approach in common. We help you to see where you are now, where you want to get to and then encourage you to work out the best methodology for your organisation as to how to get there. There is no one method that is right for everyone but choosing the right facilitator whether internal of external is a great start.