professional facilitator

Corporate Retreats 101

Many organizations host an annual offsite retreat. Reasons vary for doing this, and in a future article we will discuss of those, as well as how they might differ from each other. This article will focus on not only why you should utilize a professional facilitator but the role that facilitator should play.

Why use a facilitator?

The facilitator’s sole purpose is to assist the event organizer to obtain the desired outcomes from the retreat. It is as simple as that. The reason the boss should not try to fulfil this role themselves, is the same reason you can’t teach your spouse to drive a stick shift. The boss is too close to the situation.

He/she holds power over the participants, which almost always forces the conversation in a way that is not intended. The group will tend to anchor on any statement made by the boss, rather than open up for a free flow of ideas. No matter how open the boss is to new ideas, the tendency for the group will be to converge on what they think the boss is looking for.

So why not just leave the boss out of the room? That can work, the problem is that the boss may have some great ideas that we would want to be part of the discussion. What we want to avoid is those ideas being the only ideas worth listening to. A professional facilitator is trained to allow everybody in the room to have a voice, and minimize the power dynamics between the participants.

Caution

A facilitator is NOT a consultant. Many try to play the role, and in my opinion, should not. Two reasons. First is that the power dynamics noted above will shift to the facilitator, and the results will suffer. Second, is that the facilitator is an expert in getting people to discuss ideas, synthesize and assist the group in narrowing those to actionable ideas. They are not an expert in your industry, or within your organization.

The best facilitator’s recognize that THE ANSWER IS IN THE ROOM. This means the participants are where the ideas will come from. They understand the needs or the organization, as well as the limits of the organization. The facilitator’s role is to get all relevant ideas presented. Then discuss the ideas to a point where the group can come to decisions.

Build Trust and Minimize Power

There are several ways the facilitator can perform their magic. There are as many techniques as there are facilitator’s. The overriding concept they will all get to, will be the process of diverging, then converging. It is my belief that there are two main factors to allow for this process, building trust is first:

  1. Create Trust in the facilitator
  2. Trust in the others in the room
  3. Have Trust in the process

The other main factor surrounds the concept of power. Power comes in many forms, and may show up in different ways during a corporate retreat. The key is for the facilitator to recognize when it happens, then use their skills and tools to minimize the destructive force.

Conclusion

If a group wants to maximize the experience of a corporate retreat, then use a professional facilitator to run the meetings. Find a facilitator who does not have a direct interest in the outcomes, to minimize bias. Interview this person to help ensure they are capable not only of setting an agenda, but managing the egos in the room. They need to be able to listen. By this I mean not just what is spoken, but the unspoken as well. The inflection in the voice, the volume, any symbols, and gestures to understand the meaning of what is being said.

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