What benefits does an external facilitator provide?

In contrast to handling things internally, external facilitators allow all parties involved to fully participate in the process, with no one wearing several hats (leader, facilitator, expert, etc). In addition, an external facilitator is often introduced to a process when the organization anticipates significant challenges or conflict within.

What are crucial considerations when choosing a facilitator?

Look for experience, preparation, and flexibility. Excellent facilitators have a solid focus on outcomes and results, without compromising the needs of the group in the process. No matter how extensive a facilitator's training may be, nothing substitutes for real world experience. Familiarity with the diverse situations that can unfold, along with the ability to address issues head on, is crucial. If you don't fully trust your facilitator to lead the process before you convene all interested parties, it may be problematic to buy into any derived outcome.

What exactly does a facilitator do?

The answer to this question depends a bit on the exact situation you may be facing. In general, facilitators assist in defining realistic and desired results together with meeting agendas that meet your needs. During meetings, s/he 1) carries the responsibility to keep the process on track, 2) provides guidance to achieve desired results, 3) addresses unexpected issues that arise as a neutral party, and 4) assures mutually agreeable, effective outcomes.

Good facilitators rely on a rich skill set and a diverse background. Above all, they are process experts, can deal with a wide variety of personalities, and easily manage groups of people in a variety of work structures.