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“Should we use an internal or external facilitator?” Good question. Everyone has experienced good and not-so-good facilitators. All too frequently, the ‘poor’ experiences can be attributed to the selection of the facilitator. Break that down further, and you may discover you chose an internal facilitator when you should have hired someone from outside your organization (or an external facilitator). The next time you’re faced with this choice, rather than guess, use the twenty questions below to determine whether to use an internal or external facilitator.

Keep in mind that the topic of “change” drives the need for facilitation, a term many find uncomfortable. Some attribute the resistance to change with the FUD factor—Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.  This article will help remove the mystique of deciding which type of facilitator will be optimal, and more importantly, why.

Internal Facilitator Defined

Internal facilitation depends on people who are part of the organization, project, or community as meeting managers. In organizations, they frequently represent middle or upper-level staff members with skills in guiding group discussions, activities, and consensual decision-making. Internal facilitators may or may not have substantive knowledge or expertise in the technical/content issues that are being discussed. Content knowledge is not important, although they must be conversant in the language.

External Facilitator Defined

External facilitation depends on people from outside the organization, frequently in the form of a ‘consultant’. Facilitators external to the organization provide meeting design, activities, and decision-making tools to assist the group in building consensus and taking action. External facilitators should have no vested interest or bias toward supporting a specific decision.

Justification and Logic for Internal or External Facilitators

Groups need meetings that make progress, and good facilitation makes this possible. A skilled facilitator and meeting designer develop an effective process that guides the discussion to get results. Facilitators can be either internal to your group, or external. Both types have advantages and disadvantages.

What is the logic of the decision? Following the discussion below you will find a tool with 20 simple questions.  Using three to five minutes to answer them will help you quickly determine if you should keep it ‘inside’ or hire someone from ‘outside’. And when the decision is not clear, the tool makes evident the risk factors to consider. 

First, a brief discussion about twelve factors to consider.

Six Factors that Favor the Use of Internal Facilitators

Reasons for Internal Facilitator Logic and Justification
Content Knowledge Internal facilitators often have detailed knowledge about the issue(s) being discussed.
Context Awareness They have knowledge of the history and context of the situation. They have knowledge and/ or relationships with many of the participants and stakeholders.
Life-cycle Presumably, internal facilitators will still be around after the workshop and perhaps must live with any projects or initiatives that result.
Out of Pocket Cost Likely less, probably much less
Quicker Internal facilitators don’t require as much time to become familiar with the issue, context, participants and stakeholders involved. By balancing their workload, internal facilitators can be made available almost instantly with management support.
Respect As a known agent, internal facilitators may be more respected than another ‘outsider’ or ‘consultant’ who may not be trusted.

 

Six Factors that Favor the Use of External Facilitators

Reasons for External Facilitators Logic and Justification
Better Agenda Design Professional external facilitators understand and rely on the importance of meeting design. Some call this methodology, but in a practical sense, it includes the agenda steps, activities, and tools that will be sequenced to create the deliverable, aka what DONE looks like.

Experience and increased expertise working with other clients and industries create special expertise that can help bring in new ways of looking at problems and solutions.

Challenge the Moment One strength of external facilitators yields the ability to spot important insights and redirect focus to ensure that important, yet tangential issues, get explored.

External facilitators may bring a fresh perspective and new questions. They should be willing to ask difficult questions and confront commonly held assumptions.

Challenge the Status Quo Coming from a broad range of industries, external facilitators are better skilled at challenging groupthink. They can use their external insights to challenge deep internal paradigms and assumptions.

On the contrary, internal facilitators may not be willing to risk their standing within the community and be fearful of retribution

Focused Preparation Full-time professional external facilitators know how to plan and run successful workshops to get the most out of the significant resource investment you have allocated or invested. External facilitators plan so they can deliver maximum value for the duration of the session.
Neutrality and Independence External facilitators help participants feel like they ‘own’ the outcomes.

On the contrary, internal facilitators may be perceived to lend bias, against participants, stakeholders, and decisions.

Sponsor Fully Participates By using external facilitators, the sponsor(s) or decision-maker(s) can be fully engaged and present during discussions.

 

Scoring the Attractiveness of Using Internal or External Facilitators

Simply write to us if you prefer to receive the following as a quick and simple spreadsheet that you can modify or adapt. For example, you could weigh the questions and multiply the weights by your score to develop a weighted score. However, the simple approach suggested below will take you less than five minutes. It will generate a score that will be a positive integer between twenty and one hundred. 

Scoring Interpretation

Higher numbers incline toward favoring external facilitators while lower numbers favorably encourage the use of internal facilitators. We recommend using either the numbers one (favors internal), three (equal ranking), or five (favors external).  However, if you are stuck or need some flexibility, we’ve kept the door open for you to use the numbers two (slightly favors internal facilitators) or four (slightly favors external facilitators) if required.

How to Decide Between Using An Internal or External Facilitator

Click button below to open a downloadable PDF version

Conclusion—Interpretation of Results

While not a statistically tested tool, we know the logic is directionally correct. Smaller numbers (associated with less meeting risk) favor using internal facilitators. Larger numbers (associated with greater meeting risk) favor the use of external facilitators.

Based on a sampling we conducted, scores of fifty and below speak strongly toward the use of internal facilitators and also indicate less risky workshop sessions. Scores of seventy-five and above favor the use of external facilitators and also indicate more risky workshop sessions.

If you score between fifty and seventy-five, which direction does it favor? While it may not matter too much, look at the questions driving the scores and ask yourself which one(s) are most important. If unable to develop clear insight, perhaps you should consider a combination with the external facilitator taking the lead, supported by an internal facilitator. Or, perhaps consider an internal facilitator taking the lead, mentored by an external facilitator.

NOTE: While the factors used are not independent variables, they all deserve consideration. For example, the scope could be narrow such as the acquisition of a single company but many stakeholders are required including finance, HR, legal, etc. Conversely, the scope could be wide such as the acquisition of a new product line but the stakeholder involvement might be restricted to customer contacts such as marketing, sales, and customer service.

“Facilitation represents an approach used by appointed individuals, which teams foster to build capacity and support practice change. Increased understanding of facilitation roles constitutes an asset in training practitioners such as organizational development experts, consultants, facilitators, and facilitation teams. It also helps decision makers become aware of the multiple roles and dynamics involved and the key competencies needed to recruit external facilitators or members of interprofessional facilitation teams.”[1]

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[1] Implementation Science, “External facilitators and interprofessional facilitation teams: a qualitative study of their roles in supporting practice change”, Received 2015 Sep 15; Accepted 2016 Jun 16, Sylvie Lessard, Céline Bareil, Lyne Lalonde, Fabie Duhamel, Eveline Hudon, Johanne Goudreau, and Lise Lévesque, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4947272/

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Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practicing methodology. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools before class concludes. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Become Part of the Solution While You Improve Your Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology Skills

MG RUSH Professional Facilitation curriculum provides an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA. (We also provide 3.2 CEUs for other professions). Taught by world-class instructors, our courses provide an immersive classroom experience where students not only learn, but practice skills used for effective facilitation, leadership, and effective meeting design.

Nobody is smarter than everybody so attend an MG RUSH  Professional Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology workshop offered around the world. For additional details, see MG RUSH  for a current schedule.

Go to the Facilitation Training Store to access proven, in-house resources, including fully annotated agendas, break timers, and templates. Finally, take a few seconds to buy us a cup of coffee and please SHARE with others.

In conclusion, we dare you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader. #facilitationtraining

Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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