Away-days are a common part of the overall strategy process adopted by many organisations’ leaders nowadays. One key aspect of an away-day is deciding who should facilitate the meeting. Below are a dozen reasons for choosing a professional, external strategy facilitator, rather than using an internal staff member or Board member to take on the role:

1) Independence: An external facilitator will bring a detached, ‘outside-in’ perspective. In contrast, an ‘internal’ facilitator will tend to struggle to see things as objectively: human nature would inevitably lead him/her to see things through the organisation’s existing lens. An external, professional facilitator can see things more as they are, free from internal ‘biased’ thinking.

2) Wider experience, fresher ideas: A professional facilitator will normally have lots more experience across a wider variety of sectors and situations than an internal facilitator. This richer experience will mean he/she can typically spot issues, see connections and ‘join the dots’ faster in discussions than an in internal staff member. He/she will also be able to offer ideas, experiences, and perspectives from other sectors and previous assignments to help enrich discussions at a strategy meeting.

3) Inclination to challenge: An external professional comes with the ‘permission’ to encourage fresh thinking, raise some challenging or searching questions, stimulate perhaps awkward or unspoken ideas, and pose unvoiced options or viewpoints! He/she can play ‘devil’s advocate’ more easily – without worrying about internal company politics or damaging their promotion prospects in the organisation. An external facilitator will ‘push the envelope’ more effectively and ensure bigger, bolder thinking is achieved in a strategy meeting.

4) Strategy expertise to best serve your wider strategic process: A professional ‘strategic’ facilitator will have the dedicated skill and wider experience to relate your strategy meeting to your wider strategy process and plan/design an agenda and programme with you that will work most appropriately. This will include knowing about best-practice strategy tools, frameworks and workshop methods to use. An optimally designed meeting will ensure you achieve your desired outcomes and objectives for the meeting.

5) External confidant for senior leaders: An external facilitator can act as a confidential, impartial and independent observer/adviser/confidant for your CEO or Board Chair to help plan and prepare for a strategy meeting. Leaders can use the facilitator to share and discuss sensitive issues and broach new ideas and options privately before they are perhaps raised openly with the full team.

6) Planning advance data and analysis: Much of the success of a strategy meeting depends on pulling together relevant strategic data and carrying out appropriate analysis and thinking before the actual day. A professional strategy facilitator will have the expertise (as well as objectivity and flexibility) to help advise on and assist with such pre-work. An internal facilitator is not so likely to have the time (or know-how) to provide such support.

7) Full team participation: By using a professional strategy facilitator every member of the team – including CEO, Chair or other senior executive – can fully participate and engage in the discussions in the meeting. None of the team needs to worry about things like thinking of questions to ask, chairing discussions, or taking notes. Nobody has their thinking or brainpower distracted!

8) Skilfully managed group discussion: A strategy session needs skilled management of both process and team dynamics on the day. A professional faciliator will have knowledge and skill on both fronts – ranging from tools and techniques for group thinking and ensuring everyone has a say to knowing how to manage any conflict or strong emotions in discussions. In contrast, dealing with team dynamics can be very difficult for internal facilitators, especially if they have existing relationships with people in the room.

9) Lower risk and outcome-focussed: Strategy meetings are expensive events in terms of the cost of senior people being away from their day job, so there’s a serious risk of wasted time if meetings are not run well. A professional facilitator can cut this risk right down. He/she will have the objectivity, drive and confidence and ‘big-picture’ perspective to ensure a strategy meeting gets through the agenda planned and focuses on achieving the particular goals set. In contrast, internal facilitators can typically find it more difficult to keep difficult discussions ‘on track’ and focussed because of the difficulty sometimes of challenging colleagues with whom they work day-to-day.

10) Output/action documentation: A professional facilitator will provide you with actionable documentation of meeting outcomes – including, typically, a summary of each session. His external role will ensure the write-up is factual, objective and balanced.

11) Improved team spirit/energy: A well-designed strategy meeting, as well as dealing with strategy development, can at the same time help to improve the morale, motivation and relationship dynamics of the team itself. An experienced professional facilitator will know how to incorporate into the meeting suitable sessions, activities and techniques that will be helpful to those aspects of a team. An internal facilitator will be less likely to have the right position, credibility or skill-set to help deliver those wider team benefits.

12) Assistance with wider areas of the strategy process: A professional strategy facilitator can assist an organisation with many other areas beyond just moderating the actual meeting itself. Well ahead of the meeting, for instance, he/she can help a CEO/leadership team clarify what are the strategic issues that need to be dealt with, identify what range of information should be gathered, and identify/think about which wider groups of people need to be consulted. After the strategy meeting, a professional facilitator will be able to work with, guide and support the executive team in drawing up and translating outputs into firmer plans.

Other examples of a potentially wider contribution include: conducting research/consultation meetings with certain stakeholder groups or key, individual stakeholders; helping individual executives or task groups look at delegated issues; briefing and possibly co-ordinating other third-party advisers/professionals needed (e.g. accountants, HR advisers, market research firm); work with the team to review and help improve its own effectiveness; and acting as project manager for some or all of the strategy process.

We hope the above list helps you to appreciate the value of using a professional, external strategic facilitator!

If you have any questions, or would like to chat to Mike about support for a forthcoming strategy or Board meeting at your organisation, do contact us. Either phone us at the office on 01886 881092 or email us via the Contact Page on this website.

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