Strategic Planning: What to Expect When Selecting a Facilitator

by | Jul 20, 2021 | Strategic Planning

Are you diving into strategic planning for your organization, but still have doubts about who should facilitate the process and what to expect? In this article, we explain the basics of working with and selecting a strategic planning facilitator.


What is a Strategic Planning Facilitator?

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “facilitate” means:

to make easier : help bring about

When it comes to strategic planning, a facilitator is there to make your organization’s planning process not only easier but also more effective.

A strategic planning facilitator guides an organization’s board and staff leadership in navigating rigorous, inclusive, efficient, and successful strategic planning sessions.

Facilitation is both a science and an art and selecting the right facilitator can make a significant difference in your strategic planning process. Professional facilitators often utilize evidence-based processes to guide focused conversations that allow groups to engage in more efficient and effective discussions. They observe the energy in the room and artfully channel it toward a product such as a written strategic plan.

It’s worth noting that a facilitator is different from an educator or a consultant. While many consultants might offer all these services as part of strategic planning, there are different processes, products, and expectations associated with each.

  • Educators provide instruction designed to explain “what you need to know.”
  • Consultants offer expert advice and help you decide “how you might apply it.”
  • Facilitators serve as neutral agents who “plan, guide and manage a group event to ensure that the group’s objectives are met effectively, with clear thinking, good participation and full buy-in from everyone who is involved.”

Since strategic planning generally includes a retreat for board and staff leadership, having a professional facilitator is vital. When choosing a strategic planning consulting firm, you’ll want to be sure the company has proven experience with facilitation.


The Role of a Strategic Planning Facilitator

A strategic planning facilitator has several distinct roles in the overall planning process, primarily focused on the retreat or other strategy sessions that bring together your board and staff leadership.

A professional facilitator will:

    1. Provide a framework and agenda for the strategic planning retreat, including goals and outcomes for the session.
    2. Provide unbiased objectivity during the strategic planning session.
    3. Listen actively to all participants.
    4. Craft intentional questions designed to keep the group focused and engaged.
    5. Keep time so that the group can achieve its goals (instead of always running out of time).
    6. Create an inclusive and safe atmosphere.
    7. Foster individual participation.
    8. Encourage honest and intentional communication from all participants.
    9. Strive to foster consensus-building within the group.
    10. Guide the group’s action planning and reflection processes.

Sounds easy, right?

Completing a thorough strategic planning process while balancing diverse opinions, personalities, and priorities can get tricky. Whether you seek a professional who is willing to volunteer their time or charge you a fee, it is essential that your facilitator is prepared to fulfill all these facilitation activities. Otherwise, you can end up with a rushed, incomplete, or unsuccessful strategic planning process.

Read more: What Does it Really Take to Arrive at a Consensus?


How to Select a Professional Strategic Planning Facilitator

To ensure your strategic planning facilitator has the experience and approach to best support your organization, you’ll need to evaluate their proposal carefully. Note that this information is often included as part of an overall scope submitted by a strategic planning firm.

We’ve found that there are 10 areas that skilled strategic planning facilitators should be able to describe in detail. If you’re assessing a strategic planning facilitator’s proposal and don’t see these areas covered, be sure to ask. If a facilitator or firm can’t answer these questions, that’s an indicator that they might not be prepared to help your organization achieve a successful outcome.

During your selection process, you’ll want to pay close attention to the following 10 areas:

1. Description of the facilitator’s PROCESS

Is the facilitator proposing a single retreat or a series of strategy sessions? What does the facilitator’s process include during the pre-retreat, retreat, and post-retreat (or strategy sessions) phases?

2. Overview of their facilitation STYLE

Will the facilitator engage the group in icebreakers, use videos and slide decks, or deploy other creative mediums to engage participants? How do they deal with conflict or disagreement among participants?

3. Confirmation of strategic planning METHOD

Does the facilitator use an evidence-based method or a process they have created and successfully used with other clients?

4. Outline of “who does what”

Can the facilitator provide you with pre-planning checklists and a written contract? Does the contract detail the roles and responsibilities of all parties, including both the client and the contractor?

5. Key timelines

Does the facilitator communicate timelines clearly? This should include timelines for every stage of their proposed process, including before, during, and after the retreat or strategy sessions.

6. Cost of service

Does the facilitator’s contract include a flat fee for service, so you are not surprised by the final sum of their “hourly rates?”

7. Scope of work

Is the scope of work clear and detailed? Is the time dedicated to each activity commensurate with the scope of what you are hoping to accomplish? Consider how many years your strategic plan will cover, and the level of content associated with each year of planning.

8. Space requirements

Can the facilitator provide detailed space and set-up requirements to ensure the retreat location contributes to an organized and productive process?

9. Description of the final PRODUCT

Will the facilitator capture the strategic planning conversations and content in a professionally formatted document, or do they expect you to produce the written plan?

10. Referrals

Can the facilitator provide referrals from strategic planning clients who are willing to share their experiences?

Are you looking for a strategic planning facilitator?


Finding a Facilitator

There are incredible facilitators working in every sector. But not every facilitator is a match for every organization.

When selecting a facilitator, you’ll want to make sure their approach will work for your team. Now that we’ve covered the basics of what to look for, the next step to finding the right facilitator for your organization is creating a strategic planning RFP or request for proposals. Our handy guide to writing a strategic planning RFP can get you started.

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