Facilitation: Outsource or DIY?

When I first started in the world of professional facilitation 25 years ago, the skill of leading groups through a structured process was a rare commodity. However, today, the ability to facilitate groups through the processes of making decisions, solving problems and putting plans together, has become a core competency for many leadership roles.  But, the question remains, when it comes to facilitation should you outsource the role to a professional or take a do-it-yourself approach?


Many of my clients are capable facilitators, willing and able to facilitate their teams or stakeholders to resolution.  However, at times, they feel strongly that a professional brings value for a number of key reasons.

Following appear to be the primary drivers of the decision to outsource the facilitation role:

I want a facilitator to run the meeting so that I can participate.

Freeing up the leader to engage fully with group members is probably the most common reason for hiring an external facilitator.  My clients tend to be in senior leadership positions. So, when he or she wishes to debate, challenge and be challenged in a collaborative fashion with their staff, their ability to do so is compromised if they are also responsible for running the meeting.  It is difficult to be seen as listening and participating equally when you are also responsible for deciding who can speak when and at what point we’ve heard enough from a particular individual.

I need a neutral 3rd party who doesn’t have a stake in the meeting outcome.

Most important meetings have differing agendas, viewpoints and perspectives among participants and for many, there can be a lot at stake.  Multi-stakeholder meetings often bring diverse viewpoints to the table and the person running the meeting will most often have their own point of view or perceived bias.  To avoid the perceived conflict of interest, a neutral 3rd party facilitator can be used.  The facilitator is present for the duration of the meeting and carries no stake in whatever the group decision may be and thus, isn’t perceived as pushing toward a particular outcome.

I don’t have the expertise to design a complex facilitation process.

Making a decision for ourselves is typically very quick; milliseconds even.  So why do things slow down and become so cumbersome when we introduce another person into the decision process where consensus is necessary? Imagine adding 10 or 100 more people!  It may become impossible without expertise in process design.  It can be very expensive to bring many people together for a critical meeting.  If participants are flying in from all over the country for a critical one-day meeting…it better be a good meeting!  A well-designed meeting process of discussion will increase the chances of reaching the required decision, plan or outcome in that one day.  In absence of a well-designed meeting process, results may be less than hoped and more costly in the long run if multiple meetings are required to achieve the same result.

There is significant potential for conflict or disruption.

It is not uncommon for some types of meetings to be prone to conflict or disruption from participants.  Dealing with these behaviours requires an adept ability to be both diplomatic and firm.  It is not fair to all participants to suffer the unacceptable or challenging behaviours of one or a few.  Often times, the meeting outcome is of sufficient importance, that hiring a professional facilitator with the experience and skills to handle these difficult behaviours is money well spent.

So, while you may be running your meetings currently, these are a few reasons why outsourcing the facilitation role might help you get things done more quickly, more cheaply and with more meaningful results.