While a team member can effectively perform the role of facilitator in many situations, it is often preferable to use a facilitator who is not a team member nor a member of the related functional area. This might be an “in-house” facilitator who is not associated with the team’s work or an independent facilitator (like myself!)
The Sponsor and Team Leader should consider using an “outside” facilitator when there appears to be a meeting with a high degree of :
- Importance. Leading an important meeting and participating in that meeting are each sufficiently demanding to warrant having a facilitator focus on the former.
- Ambiguity. When the problem is poorly defined or defined differently by multiple parties, an unbiased facilitator can listen to, analyze, and integrate everyone’s views, helping to construct an integrated, shared understanding of the problem.
- Uniqueness. Most teams that have developed their own patterns for addressing ordinary problems are making repeat decisions. When approaching an unusual situation, a group can benefit from a process expert to provide a fresh approach to the team’s efforts.
- Complexity. When the issue is intricate, has lots of moving parts and/or is difficult to understand, a neutral, objective facilitator can help bring clarity to each of the parts as well as the whole.
- Inefficiencies. Team members may be reluctant to attend meetings because of competing demands on their time, doubts about the amount of progress they will be able to make, or travel costs. By making each team meeting more efficient and productive, a facilitator can reduce the overall cost in terms of time.
- Distrust or Bias. Team members may view the team leader or process owner as “biased” – steering the process in some way to promote his or her own agenda.
- Intimidation. When team members are of disparate educational, social or economic status, are at different hierarchical levels, or are in other types of control relationships (such as purchaser-supplier or client-provider), some team members may feel intimidated and not participate.
- Rivalry. Team members are typically reluctant to reveal personal rivalries or attack one another in the presence of an outsider. And, if rivalries do surface, a facilitator can determine if they are relevant to the task at hand. If they are not, the facilitator will refocus the group on its stated purpose.
 Adapted from Sandor P. Schuman, “The Role of Facilitation in Collaborative Groups,” in C. Huxham, ed., The Search for Collaborative Advantage (London, UK: Sage Publications, 1996).
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.