8 Rules for Success

A Strategic Planning Facilitator’s 8 Rules for Success Ensure Clients Build the Plan they Need

Each time people come together to address important organizational issues and a facilitator is engaged there should be high expectations and low risk. The high expectations are for anticipated breakthroughs. The low risk refers to the possibility of not meeting client expectations.

The sad truth is that organizations have lousy meetings with some frequency. Consequently, leaders often contract with facilitators to ensure that important meetings are both conclusive and productive.

Consider the 8 rules below so that you as a facilitator can achieve sustained success.

Rule # 1 – Satisfy Yourself that the Client’s Needs Match your Capabilities

People will occasionally contact me to ask if I can help them with an upcoming off-site. That is a good start because I like to work with clients at off-sites. But then they may describe their expectations which are outside of my wheelhouse.

For example, they may say that they are looking to do some team building through a variety of games and fun exercises. At that point I know that my capabilities do not match their needs. I am not the guy to do team building through games and fun exercises. Nor are my colleagues. Our interests and capabilities are more focused on facilitating teams to address critical issues facing organizations. There is a place for the former types of activities and so in those instances I will refer a facilitator that is better equipped to meet their needs.

This example is obvious. But when prospects contact me to help them with the development of a plan for example, I still need to ensure that I understand the scope and scale of their expectations and to be sure that I can facilitate the session. Therefor it is essential that we ask a lot of preliminary questions to determine if we might have a good match between their needs and our skills.

Rule # 2 – Clearly Define the End Product

We might have a potential for a match, but we need to be extremely specific about client expectations and our resources. I find it helps to discuss client expectations by speaking about a product to be created through the facilitated meeting. The product may be a Strategic Plan, Strategic Framework, or Priority Action Plan – ones that we have expertise in creating.

Our consulting/facilitation practice is built around a range of specific products. These products can be illustrated with templates and other illustrations. It is essential that we have a detailed discussion of our products to determine if we can truly match their needs.

Rule # 3- Agree on the Time Required

I have experience with how long a group will need to build any one of our products. Clients on the other hand can have widely differing expectations about how long they will need. They almost always underestimate the required time. Therefore, it is essential to reach agreement on not only what will be achieved but how much time and effort will be needed to get there.

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Rule # 4- Utilize a Structured Process

When we facilitate our Strategic Framework Program or Strategic Business Review, each activity is a series of linked components. The results of one activity are often inputs into another. The final set of activities is the culmination of the creation of a plan. If participants do not appreciate that they are working on essential building blocks they can become critics of the process and become a danger to your success.

Rule # 5- Manage the Process

In the preceding rules we have established a mandate to conduct the facilitated session within a prescribed timeframe. But we still must manage our time so that the planning session is completed on time and with conclusive results. Therefor, at every step of the way, we as facilitators must consider whether to extend critical discussions or contract discussions. We need fluidity during the process, and we need to achieve the result we set for ourselves, on time. If we get to the finish line later than anticipated it really takes the shine off the experience. If we do not get to the finish line, it is a disaster.

Rule # 6 – Own the Process

There is not a facilitator anywhere in the world who has not encountered participants who question the process and suggest ‘maybe we should try something slightly different’. Participants may have legitimately diagnosed a weakness in the process They may have conceived of a better way to proceed. Or, they may simply have a need to influence the process because they have a high need for control.

Almost always the facilitator must forestall attempts to change the process. This is the time for the facilitator to manage the process like they own it – because they do. It is axiomatic that the facilitator is responsible for the process and the participants are responsible for the content. If a facilitator loses control of the process they cease to bring value to the clients.

Rule # 7 – Use Models

Most often planning processes involve participants who are learning new ways of thinking about their organization. I find that adults can process new ideas better when they can see concepts in the form of models, diagrams, and illustrations.

It is critical that everyone is equipped to use common language to express common concepts. So, at the front end of a planning session take the time to introduce any new concepts or new templates and let people interact, before using them to address the vital organizational issues.

Rule # 8 – Create Intensity

Breakthroughs in collective thinking do not emerge without individual views being heard and considered. The role of the facilitator is to create the environment in which to generate and assess conflicting ideas in a way that bad ideas get removed and good ideas gain acceptance. If there is no intensity to the discussion it likely means it is the same old – same old group chat.

Remember that it is easy to achieve group acceptance quickly, but real value often comes when the group is not permitted to quit the process too soon. By staying with it, new creative perspectives can emerge and a consensus with real commitment can be established.

The chart below summarizes these eight rules from two perspectives – the Facilitator’s perspective and the Client’s perspective.

Eight Rules from Two Perspectives

Facilitator’s Perspective Rules Client’s Perspective
Do we have the capabilities they need? Client needs – Facilitator Capabilities Do they understand what we need?
Do they really need our product? Defined End Product Can their product be really useful?
Will they invest the time? Agreed Timeframe Is the timeframe reasonable?
Can we generate confidence in the process? Use a Structured Process Do they have the right approach?
We need to get to the end in the time available Manage the Process Can they get us where we need to be in the time available?
Will they buy into the process? Own the Process Can they manage the process?
What is the best way to communicate? Use Models How will they introduce new ideas?
We will push as much as required to generate breakthroughs Create Intensity We must push past the same old discussion

Bonus Rule – Celebrate Success!