If you lead important meetings, you know how easy it is for one or two people to dominate the session, how frequently discussions get off-track and unfocused, how often disagreements can completely derail things, and how often meetings end with little getting done, no consensus, and no commitment to follow-up action.

Therefore, it can sometimes make sense to bring in an outside expert to guide the discussion. Group facilitators bring skills that provide purpose and clarity, engage people in productive conversations, prevent and resolve conflict, and ensure all voices are heard. Yet facilitators come with a cost: cost in terms of time to bring them up to speed and frequently cost in terms of dollars and cents to engage their services.

So, when is it worthwhile to bring in a facilitator? When might the benefit outweigh the costs? Consider the items below when determining whether to use a facilitator.

10. Neutral Party Needed. If the discussion requires guidance from a neutral party to engender trust or participation, consider using a facilitator.

9. Undefined Approach. If the product of the meeting or the work process to create the product is unclear or ill-defined, consider using a facilitator.

8. No Good Answers. If the situation appears as though there are no good answers and needs new, creative solutions, consider using a facilitator.

7. You are Vested. If you, as the meeting leader, are strongly vested in a particular position, but want to be open to other possible alternatives, consider using a facilitator.

6. Lack of Process Expertise. If there is a lack of expertise in guiding people through the work process you will be using (e.g., strategic planning, process improvement, issue resolution), consider using a facilitator.

5. Strong Opinions. If there are many strong opinions in the room and you need to create consensus, consider using a facilitator.

4. Lack of Experience in Group Dynamics. If you don’t have someone experienced in managing group dynamics, and you expect dysfunction, major disagreement or conflict, consider using a facilitator.

3. Team Ownership Required. If the team – not just one or two people – needs to feel ownership of the solution, consider using a facilitator.

2. Critical Results. If the results of the meeting are critical to the success of the enterprise, and there will be a variety of views in the room, consider using a facilitator.

1. Yes – 2 or More Times. If you have answered yes to two or more of these items, DEFINITELY USE A FACILITATOR!

When a Facilitator is NOT Necessary

1.    The decision is already made.

2.    Decision makers are not open to alternatives other than their own.

3.    The meeting is information only and requires no engagement and very little creation by the group.

4.    The group is relatively small.

5.    There is a commonality of opinion on how to proceed.

To learn more about facilitation skills, consider our course, The Effective Facilitator. The four-day course provides a structured approach for leading teams and facilitating meetings and covers over 100 techniques for getting amazing results from groups.