Why Use an Outside Facilitator for Strategy Sessions?

It’s getting to be that time of year again when many organizations start to think about holding strategy sessions. These sessions may be informal leadership team strategy sessions or more formal strategic planning retreats. Whatever format is used, I always suggest an outside facilitator – one who is skilled in facilitating senior-level strategy sessions – to guide the process.

I’m not saying this because I facilitate strategic planning sessions. I’m saying this because I’ve seen what happens when a client has used someone who is not qualified. When that has happened, more often than not the process has been painful, the output is weak, and the leadership team doesn’t implement well after the sessions end. Because of this, the strategy sessions have been an expensive, frustrating waste of time that no one wants to repeat – ever.

When a client has previously defaulted to a “less expensive solution”, they typically have defaulted to using in-house talent, a member of the leadership team, or an unqualified, outside facilitator. These solutions result in lesser-quality discussions and output. To help you understand the value of investing in a qualified, outside facilitator, let me share the realities of defaulting to one of these “less expensive” options:

  • Don’t Use In-House Talent to Facilitate Your Strategy Sessions

    When an organization defaults to using in-house talent to facilitate its strategy sessions, the staff member is either a member of the Human Resources or Training Department who is comfortable in front of a group of people, or it’s someone who has participated in strategic planning at a different organization, or it’s someone with a degree in Organizational Development or Strategy. Though each of these individuals brings some insight into strategic planning, none are qualified to effectively guide their senior team through strategy discussions. Because these individuals are staff members, they typically report to one or more members of the leadership team taking part in the strategy discussions. Therefore, the staff member’s ability to effectively challenge, push-back, question, or refocus the senior team is limited. Also, if the staff member has not had the experience of using a well-crafted plan to lead, they don’t know how to guide and push the team to develop solid, strategic output – so they end up creating less than effective output. Finally, and most damning, the leaders participating in the strategy session will not be comfortable discussing certain issues with a staff member in the room. Therefore, issues that should be discussed and debated, won’t be. When in-house talent facilitates strategy discussions, the quality of the discussions and output is limited.

  • Don’t Use a Member of the Leadership Team to Facilitate Your Strategy Sessions

    Members of the leadership team need to be active members of the discussions. They need to be able to think deeply yet creatively. They need to be able to link the details on internal operations to the nebulous risks of strategic possibilities. A member of the leadership team can’t do this level of thinking and facilitate the strategic discussions at the same time. A skilled facilitator knows how to corral discussions within limited timeframes. A skilled facilitator has experience interacting with and pushing back at senior-level executives to cause even deeper thinking. A skilled facilitator knows how to mediate debates, keep conversations moving in the directions needed, and adjust on the fly as the team’s needs shift. Also, members of the leadership team can’t help but be biased in their comments and perspective. Because of that, they intentionally or unintentionally skew the conversations, notes captured, or output toward their perspective when they facilitate discussions. When a member of the leadership team facilitates strategy discussions, the quality of the discussions and output is limited.

  • Don’t Use an Unqualified, Outside Facilitator to Facilitate Your Strategy Sessions

    Just as every doctor, teacher, or coach is not the same, not every consultant or facilitator is not the same. Each has specific skill sets and areas of expertise. Facilitators with a specialty in Human Resources and compensation strategies will not necessarily have the skills needed to facilitate corporate strategy discussions. A facilitator with expertise in Organizational Development will understand how an organization evolves and grows, but may not have the experience needed to effectively guide executive-level strategic planning sessions. An unqualified facilitator can be eaten alive by a team of executives who sense their time is being wasted. It’s not fair to the participants of the strategy sessions or to the facilitator to allow this type of mismatch to occur. Tensions increase, emotions flare, and time and money are wasted. When an unqualified facilitator facilitates strategy discussions, the quality of the discussions and output is limited.

When strategy discussions are facilitated well, it looks easy. It looks easy as the mood is kept focused yet light. It looks easy because time doesn’t stand still. It looks easy because everyone is so busy thinking, interacting, debating, and planning, time slips away. It looks easy because it’s been effective and yes – fun. It looks easy so others believe it is easy. However, when you think about it and analyze what it takes to facilitate sessions well, it’s not. It takes skill and experience. So when strategy discussions are facilitated by a skilled facilitator, the quality of the discussions and output far exceeds the fees paid.

Pay now or pay later. Your organization’s future depends upon it. Use a skilled facilitator for your strategy discussions.


Copyright MMXVII – Liz Weber, CMC, CSP – Weber Business Services, LLC – www.WBSLLC.com +1.717.597.8890

Liz supports clients with strategic and succession planning, as well as leadership training and executive coaching.

Liz Weber CMC CSP

Liz Weber CMC

Liz Weber coaches, consults, and trains leadership teams. She specializes in strategic and succession planning, and leadership development.

Liz is one of fewer than 100 people in the U.S. to hold both the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) and Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designations.

Contact Liz’s office at +1.717.597.8890 for more info on how Liz can help you, or click here to have Liz’s office contact you.



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