At this time of the year business owners and their teams are making plans for the next financial year.  This planning process can take many forms – it can be anything from a full strategic session incorporating life, growth, profit, people, and wealth plans or it may be limited to a simple budget.  The process may include the owners only, the leadership team or the entire team – for all or part of the session.

Whatever the format, one of the most important considerations is deciding who will facilitate the session.  The most successful businesses engage external facilitators with experience, with a proven process, and who can bring fresh intellectual capital to the table.

The alternative is to facilitate the session yourself or to use someone internal to the organisation.  This can be fraught with complications and, from my experience, does not promote the most creative, diverse and effective flow of ideas, solutions and strategies.

Here are 7 reasons why you should engage an external facilitator

1. It’s almost impossible to ride two horses at once!  It is not effective to be switching between roles – the role of a facilitator and a participant.  In order to stay focused, to keep the momentum going as you brainstorm ideas and build strategies you cannot be interrupted by the demands of your role as facilitator.  Mind chatter breaks the flow of thought and it is near impossible to retrieve that last thought, comment or idea.

2. You know what you know AND you don’t know what you don’t know – this places invisible boundaries around the potential of your business.  If you choose not to bring some fresh intellect into the mix, or to have someone who is not prepared to challenge the participants to stretch their thinking beyond what they currently think is possible – then you will most likely get what you already have.  Same stuff, different day!

3. Strategic sessions are just that – strategic, and are generally not the time or place to become bogged down in detail.  The external facilitator will ensure that everyone understands the “rules” around the process and what the desired outcomes are.  They have little interest in the detail, whereas an internal facilitator may have, particularly if it directly impacts their job or if they are not entirely supportive of the idea.

4. The facilitator is the mood maker and not burdened with the business politics, current challenges or past issues of the participants. They will bring a fresh, untainted mood to the day.  If the internal facilitator is feeling challenged about capacity, feels that they are already too busy to deal with more projects, or has an urgent business matter that is playing out in the background, this will impact on their energy and mindset which will be “caught” by the participants – and will put a huge dampener on the whole session.

5. A pre-planned agenda incorporating timing and outcomes is essential.  The session needs to be built in a way that encourages participants to participate fully with the requisite knowledge and without fear of reprisal.  In order to be relevant and effective the strategy session must stay on track and cannot be influenced by side agendas or the facilitators’ particular projects of interest.

6. A facilitator must listen actively and manage the process.  Internal facilitators may find it challenging to listen without judgement and to be patient enough to recognise that others may not have the same degree of knowledge on a subject as they have.  This may result in cutting conversation short, or flippantly dismissing an idea – and this will inhibit the free flowing input of ideas and information that is essential to the strategic process.  The internal facilitator can be too close to the business.

7. It is important that participants do not feel any pressure to take the same view as the facilitator or to be afraid to speak up and contribute.  If the internal facilitator holds a position of power in the organisation, this may impact on the discussion and input.  The facilitator holds the “talking stick” and can take over the session and make decisions which may not be entirely supported by the group, without even realising it.

Often the person who puts their hand up to be the facilitator is the more confident, entrepreneurial partner, director or leader and is not backwards in coming forward with their ideas and input – as a consequence these 7 reasons are even more important.  Or alternatively, they are so focused on doing a great job of facilitating they do not contribute as they would normally.  In both cases, value is left on the table and potentially, the business suffers.

At Opening Gates we have a proven strategic process, we have years of experience and have facilitated amazing outcomes for our clients.

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