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Hiring Outside Help: Do You Need a Facilitator or Consultant?

by Sara Gallagher | July 20, 2016

Are you looking to engage an outside expert to help with your strategic plan or “capacity building” initiative? One of the first things you’ll want to decide is the type of expert that’s best for you.

At a high level, there are three options available: a Consultant, a Facilitator, or a hybrid of these. Any of these options is likely to provide measurable value to your effort. Let’s look at each one individually:

What is a Professional Consultant? 

When you hire a consultant, you will receive an analysis of your situation by an external expert. The consultant will become actively engaged in the planning process. They may make comments, play devil’s advocate, provide feedback, or even take an unpopular stance if they believe it is the best interests of the client. That said, a good consulting firm will make client engagement a non-negotiable part of the process. Without active client engagement and buy-in, any outputs stemming from the effort will be unlikely to “stick” once the consultant has left. Consultants are often asked to remain part of the team as the group moves from discussion to action and implementation.

What is a Professional Facilitator?

Generally, a facilitator will not be an active contributor or participant in the planning process. You and your group will provide the expertise, while the facilitator will act as a guide to keep the process moving along. For this reason, it is not strictly necessary for the facilitator to be an expert in your field or industry; their expertise lies in getting groups to work together effectively. Throughout the process, their job will be to keep the conversation productive, remove barriers to cooperation, and capture needed decisions. They may also introduce techniques or activities to inspire outside-the-box thinking or help the group navigate healthy conflict. However, the facilitator’s involvement usually ends when the planning is complete.

What if You Need More?

Many skilled consultants are also trained in advanced facilitation–so in some cases, clients are able to hire a consultant with specific, relevant expertise who is also able to engage the group in productive guided discussion. This can be an excellent way to capture the thoughts and ideas of stakeholders while also avoiding “group think,” the tendency of closed groups to make decisions in a way that is biased or blind to alternative perspectives.

I’d love to hear from you: Shoot a tweet telling me about your experience with consultants, facilitators, and/or hybrids in helping shape your strategy. Use the handle @PersimmonGroup to tell us what you keep in mind when hiring outside professionals.


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