I am often asked the question, “What’s the difference between a ‘facilitator’ and a ‘consultant’? It’s a good question, especially since my legal company name is “Quality Process Consultants, Inc,” specializing in high stakes meeting facilitation and training others to facilitate!
So let’s start with the definitions:
- A consultant has a depth and breadth of expertise in a specific topical area. An organization hires a consultant when the organization does NOT have the needed expertise on the payroll. You hire a consultant to “do it” (whatever is needed) for you. Companies do this all the time. Need an in-depth analysis of your target market? Because you don’t have the talent inside the company, you go look outside the company and hire someone with the experience and expertise to do it for you. OR you bring on a specific person to bring that expertise to the table on an ongoing basis – be it on demand, retainer, fractional or full-time position. That’s a consultant.
- A facilitator, on the other hand, has a depth and breadth of expertise in process. The organization has a good understanding of the subject matter yet they need some help processing the information and helping them think it through to make the best decision for the organization.
You hire a facilitator when you believe the knowledge is already resident in the room whereas you hire a consultant when you DON’T believe the group knows what to do. I use the distinction of being the “guide on the side” facilitator vs. the “sage on the stage” consultant.
When you hire the consultant to facilitate, there is a real danger that the consultant may:
- Manipulate the conversation in such a way that the group agrees to the consultant’s recommendation. Unfortunately, once the consultant departs, you may or may not have complete buy-in to the decision.
- Dive into the content side of the conversation and forget to guide the process. In essence, they revert to the consultant role with no one making sure we stay on task.
- Hijack the conversation making sure their point of view is heard.
There are plenty of consultants who can facilitate – just be clear about what you want the consultant to do – facilitate or consult. Or, many of my clients hire the consultant to participate in the meeting as one equal voice among many, and hire someone like me – a professional facilitator – to guide the process.
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.
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