Choosing an internal or external strategy facilitator

external strategy facilitator Strategy facilitators help teams develop great strategy for winning. When you’re deciding whether you should use an internal or external strategy facilitator consider the advantages and disadvantages of each. This blog’s designed to help you do a quick audit of which might work best for you.

When to use an internal facilitator

Yes, I’m an external strategy facilitator but this doesn’t mean I don’t encourage teams and leaders to consider an internal facilitator before they look externally.

Internal facilitators come from inside your organisation or team. They're often middle or upper-level staff members with skill and experience in guiding team strategy discussions, processes and decision-making. But your consideration process of whether to use an internal facilitator shouldn't stop at "have we got a gun facilitator in-house?" The more important consideration is “should we be using someone in-house for this issue?” You also need to consider whether an internal facilitator has knowledge or expertise in the subject matter and whether they have a vested interest in the outcomes.

Here are a few key advantage and disadvantages of using an internal facilitator:

Advantages:

  1. They’re cheap. Hey, budget’s always an issue, right?
  2. Internal facilitators often have a lot of knowledge about the matter being discussed.
  3. They often have both the history and context of the situation (and sometimes the people involved too).
  4. An internal facilitator's relationships with the team may assist the process.

Disadvantages:

  1. Almost always, internal facilitators have untested assumptions and biases about the issue at hand. While history of the situation can be an advantage, more often than not it can skew the outcome.
  2. The team may believe an internal facilitator is biased for or against certain team members or decisions. They may then change their engagement and responses as a consequence.
  3. Internal facilitators may not want to risk their position within an organisation by asking difficult or controversial questions. They work there after all and may not want to rock the boat.
  4. An internal facilitator may be reluctant to challenge your team. It’s human nature to fear payback.

When to use an external strategy facilitator

As an experienced team strategy facilitator I often use the list of advantages and disadvantages (above) to see if my client would benefit from an external facilitator. Sometimes it’s not needed, but often it's critical.

As an external strategy facilitator my primary role is to guide a process that assists a team to develop a strategy that works and gets the best out of them. In this process I push them, I look at different angles, I challenge and interject (respectfully).  

External strategy facilitators have absolutely zero vested interest in supporting a specific decision. Our purpose is to help a team and company create a great strategy and get a valuable outcome. We're looking for the right decision.

Here are a few key advantage and disadvantages of using an external strategy facilitator.

Advantages:

  • External strategy facilitators typically create an atmosphere of neutral or unbiased facilitation.
  • They bring fresh perspectives and new questions to the discussion.
  • They are willing to ask difficult questions and confront assumptions.
  • They can move the group forward when dealing with difficult or controversial issues.

Disadvantages:

Yes, there are disadvantages.

  • Cost. A good external strategy facilitator is not cheap.
  • There’s a ramp up period required. A external facilitator requires time to become intimate with the issues, understand the context, get to know the team members and leaders that are involved.
  • External facilitator can be initially viewed as outsiders and it sometimes takes time to build trust with the team
  • They may only be present for a portion of a larger process/series of questions

Whether you go with someone in-house or bring in a professional, it's about the team and what’s at stake. If you’ve got a gun ‘in-house’ then use her. Just make sure she’s got the strategic experience, is objective, will ask the tough questions and can push and guide the team to get to a great outcome.

If you’ve had some experience in this space, let me know in the comments below.

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Filed Under: Strategic Marketing, Strategy Facilitation

Shane Davies

About Shane Davies

Shane Davies is a digital marketing strategy expert. He helps B2B companies win the work they should be winning. He lives in Cottesloe, Western Australia with his wife and two daughters. You can follow him on or LinkedIn or or Google+