Top Tips for Choosing the Right Facilitator
3 July 2014 at 10:43 am
Conducting an annual planning workshop or retreat for a Not for Profit Board usually requires the CEO to choose a professional facilitator. Not for Profit strategy consultant Lesley Yates offers her top tips on finding the right facilitator.
It is difficult to undertake in-depth planning at Board meetings, where short-term matters and performance monitoring often dominate the agenda, and your Board may choose to set aside a day or two each year for strategic planning.
The decision about conducting an annual planning workshop or retreat usually requires the CEO to undertake the difficult job of choosing a professional facilitator for the day.
The Board expects the CEO to find a facilitator that is appropriate for the organisation, has a broad understanding of the sector, and will be able to work with the unique characteristics of the Board.
A facilitator can completely change the dynamic and outcome of the workshop, and choosing a poor facilitator will ultimately reflect poorly on the CEO.
These tips can help guide your thinking around finding the right facilitator for your organisation and ultimately getting the most out of your planning workshop.
Set Clear Outcomes
Before locating potential facilitators, consider the intended outcome of the workshop. Think about what the Board will have at the end of the day that it didn't have at the beginning of the day. This is important because often the discussion can move into the specifics before the outcome is determined – discussions around venue and guest speakers are often had before the intended outcome is determined.
The end should determine the means, and a planning day is a means to an end. Importantly, the intended outcome is the best criteria for selecting the best facilitator. Facilitators can and do vary a great deal in style, experience and expertise the facilitator that you select should be ‘fit for purpose’.
Once the outcome of the day is determined, you can consider how that will be achieved. Whilst it can be tempting to fill the day with guest speakers and PowerPoint presentations, this should be avoided – it disrupts the flow of discussion and prevents the Board from digging deeper, which is the very reason the Board has set aside a full day.
Too many presentations and speakers results in Board members becoming a passive audience and it also turns your facilitator into an MC – a very expensive one. If a guest speaker is required try not to schedule them in the very first session, place them before a morning tea or lunch break. Ensure the guest speaker is ‘thought provoking’ rather than presenting data or information – this can be included in the pre-reading for the workshop.
A facilitator should always meet with the CEO and preferably the Chairperson at least 14 days before the workshop. This discussion should be one in which the facilitator listens, rather than dominating the discussion by speaking about themselves or their ideas for the session: What are the current issues? What decisions have already been made? What are the intended outcomes?
After this meeting ask the facilitator to provide a draft running sheet with session content, timing and most importantly the expected outcomes from each session. A good facilitator should provide a running sheet that ensures that all activities and discussions are moving toward the intended outcome in a logical and robust process.
Ask to see this draft and have a further discussion to help clarify whether the design of the day is going to give you what you want.
Put effort into locating a number of possible candidates to facilitate the workshop. A simple Google search will turn up many results, particularly using terms like nfp facilitator or nfp strategic planning along with the name of the city you’re based in.
Importantly, ask for referrals from other CEOs in your network. This way you can be assured that the facilitator was effective and personable, as well as possibly save a bit of time in your search.
It is completely reasonable to ask the facilitator for a ‘ball park’ figure on how much one can expect to pay for a full day of facilitation. Always specify whether your workshop will be held on a weekday or a weekend, how many people will be attending, and where it will be held, as these two factors can have a significant impact on the cost. It takes a great deal longer to prepare for a large group of more than fifteen people than a Board-only session that is generally up to 12 people.
Avoid Using a Template
It’s preferable to avoid planning to a ‘template’ – the best model to use in planning is one that’s been customised to your Board, your organisation and its context. This is particularly important if the organisation is undergoing a significant change in direction or is facing new challenges such as system reform or a new government funding landscape.
However, a template model may be appropriate if the Board wants revisit the fundamentals of strategic planning. A facilitator that specialises in basic planning architecture will be the most appropriate and these facilitators should have a lower cost because they work from a standard format.
If you are engaging a new facilitator for the first time, ask for references and call them. If the Board is unhappy with the facilitator, it is going to be a very long and drawn-out day and an investment of time and funds that is not going to give you the result that you want.
Ask any proposed facilitator if they regularly seek feedback on their performance and if you can have copies of this feedback. Good facilitators should be able to provide you with the results of previous evaluations and will be more than happy to provide references to organisations that they have worked with before.
When following up with references, some important questions to ask can include:
Was the style of the facilitator appropriate? Did the facilitator conduct the session respectfully and did they appear to have a level of knowledge about the organisation and the sector?
Was the session designed well and was there enough time to discuss the important issues? Did the sessions keep to time? Did the facilitator allow conversations to reach their natural conclusion before moving on?
Did the session produce what was intended? Was it a valuable use of your time and money?
Pay a Fair Price
Many facilitators will have different ways of determining their fee for a workshop – some will charge by the hour, some by the day, and others on a whole-of-project basis. In order to get an accurate comparison between facilitators, it’s important that you’re clear on what you expect from their quote – ask facilitators to include their preparation costs and travel time, and make it clear whether you would like the facilitator to provide workshop notes or a written report.
It can be difficult to determine what the appropriate amount of money is for a high quality facilitator. It’s important to remember that whilst spending thousands of dollars on a single day’s facilitation will seem like a lot of money, a good facilitator will also spend time before the workshop preparing for the day, including by meeting with both the CEO and the Chair, as well as conducting background research into the organisation and the sector it operates in. Additionally, the facilitator should prepare a custom running sheet and agenda in order to achieve the outcomes you have set for the day.
As a general guide, a full day workshop can require three to four days’ worth of preparation, though obviously less time is required if the facilitator has worked with your organisation previously. As an indicative range, an organisation should expect to pay around $3,000-$4,000 for a full-day workshop held on a Saturday. This amount should include preparatory meetings, assembly of a running sheet and agenda, and provision of pre-reading if required.
Some facilitators will also offer to provide written workshop notes. This can enable the CEO to participate fully in the session, rather than taking notes or struggling to translate mass of butchers’ paper in the week following. Ideally, the facilitator would be accompanied by a second person in order to take comprehensive notes. Following the workshop, these notes can be formed into a strategic workshop, not only outlining what was discussed but also including key strategic recommendations for the Board. If a workshop report is required that can take an additional two days, possibly adding $1,000-$2,000 to the cost.
Always ask if there is a discount for charities and Not for Profit organisations. Many facilitators and consultants will take this into consideration when preparing their quote, especially if working with a small organisation with a turnover of under $1 million.
Ask About The Process
After you have selected a briefed the preferred facilitation, ensure that there is a good process for designing the format of the day. A facilitator should always meet with the CEO and preferably the Chairperson at least 14 days before the workshop. This discussion should be one in which the facilitator listens, rather than dominating the discussion by speaking about themselves or their ideas for the session: What are the current issues? What decisions have already been made? What are the intended outcomes?
After this meeting ask the facilitator to provide a draft running sheet with session content, timing and most importantly the expected outcomes from each session. A good facilitator should provide a running sheet that ensures that all activities and discussions are moving toward the intended outcome in a logical and robust process. Ask to see this draft and have a further discussion to help clarify whether the design of the day is going to give you what you want.
The decision to set aside a full day to plan is an important investment in the future of any organisation. To gain the full benefits of this day, you should invest the right amount of time and effort in selecting, briefing and managing a high quality facilitator.
Spending money on a high quality facilitator is an important investment, as your planning day can be much more productive.
About the Author: Lesley Yates is the Managing Partner of the Radno Group. With academic qualifications in education, economics and public relations, Yates has worked extensively across the public and private sectors, as well as having held a number of governance and leadership positions on government and Not for Profit Boards.