Case Study

Top four signs it’s time to hire a facilitator

By Dallase Scott, Director of Change Management

I am constantly impressed with the talented people I get to work with at the dozens of colleges and universities GreenerU supports.

They are passionate, intelligent people who have figured out how to get important work done at complex organizations. When they bring me on board to facilitate important meetings, strategic plans, or staff retreats, it is very clear that they could do this work themselves. But they have identified that, for this project, they want someone they can trust to step in and support them in moving forward.

You might be at that point too. You’ve got all kinds of ideas about making change at your institution. Maybe you’ve even had some preliminary planning sessions with key stakeholders to talk about how to move forward together. Maybe you see the big picture, but no one else is there with you. Or frankly, you just have limited bandwidth. Working with an outside consultant can be an additional tool that enables you to push past some of these plateaus.

Here’s when you know it’s time to find a facilitator.

When it’s hard to be objective

When I served in the Peace Corps, more than a decade ago, I thought I was there to change the world.

Looking back, I realize that what changed the most was my worldview. I had no idea what I didn’t know, especially in terms of how limited my perspective was in a completely different culture.

In Peace Corps training, we were taught that no matter how much  work you do to shed your biases, you can’t scrub out your history. It’s like putting someone’s blue-tinted sunglasses on top of your yellow-tinted pair. You think you are seeing their perspective, but you’re only really seeing everything in green.

The same goes for the challenges of effecting change from within your existing system. You already have a history with your colleagues at your place of work. You have biases built up for what can and can’t be done, and your broad perspective has been compromised by responsibilities and allegiances.

When you’re in the paradigm, it’s much harder to connect the dots. A facilitator can take a fresh look at a system from a neutral perspective and push for a fuller truth from a diverse group of stakeholder group.

When your plate is full

Even if you are well versed in stakeholder mapping, meeting management, engagement, navigating challenging behaviors, and planning, those aren’t the only things you have been hired to do. You have more on your plate which often includes the implementation of the many layers of sustainability programming in alignment with the mission of your school.

Sure, you could do this. But should you? The process, and especially the outcome, may be a lot more valuable at the end of the day when you outsource strategic planning to a facilitator who can take this off your plate.

When you want to participate fully in the conversation

Neutrality is an extremely important characteristic of a facilitator. For internal meetings you facilitate, you may find yourself stretched between opposing forces: one that is managing the group, and one that has valuable insights and expertise that should weigh in on the discussion.

Sometimes more value can come from stepping out of the facilitator role to fully embrace being a group participant and add to the conversation. You can leave the time management, note-taking, and boundary-setting to a neutral third party.

When you need someone to give it to you (or your group) straight

Every group I work with comes with their own set of challenges. Most, if not all, can be linked back to miscommunication, unclear roles or responsibilities, and fear of giving candid feedback. All of this has the potential to lead to an unhealthily opaque team dynamic.

The reasons are many: some fear retribution if they speak up, while others are uncomfortable with conflict. Most have just never been given the tools to navigate conflict in a constructive manner.

In almost every work environment, candor is paramount. A neutral facilitator can set the stage for this conversation without the same baggage as an insider. They are also tasked with presenting information that’s potentially difficult to convey in a manner that’s sensitive and thoughtful enough for someone to hear it.

This is no simple task! But I’ve seen significant positive changes to group dynamics after offering an unvarnished set of observations, which sometimes lead to a whole new way of getting things done.

Facilitation is all about charting a new course and driving it through to progress. It is sometimes messy and complicated, with many different voices and opinions competing for dominance. At the end of the day, progress occurs when those many divergent viewpoints are woven together to form a unified, focused path forward. With a good facilitator on your side, you can push past boundaries that felt unmovable and create change at your organization faster and with a new set of partners.

With a four-member-strong Change Management team, GreenerU has facilitated group decision-making processes for nearly 30 schools, including Brown University, Concord Academy, East Carolina University, Princeton University, and Columbia University. If your school needs professional assistance in developing a sustainability strategic planning process, organizational management, STARS reporting support, or sustainability-related research, contact us!