Facilitator, Consultant, or both?

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What are the differences between a facilitator and a consultant? Can someone be both at the same time? Which would bring the most value to our specific situation? Or do we need both?

Generally speaking, you hire a consultant for for their ability to provide analysis and advice. You’re hiring them for what they know about your particular problem, your business, your industry, or the change you want to drive. Good consultants seek to understand your needs, and apply their skills and knowledge to your situation. Ultimately, you hire a consultant to tell you what to do.

In contrast, you hire a facilitator to get the most value from your own team’s knowledge and analysis. You’re hiring them for their ability to apply a set of methods, tools, and communication skills to help your team be more effective in coming to their own conclusions. Good facilitators seek to understand your objectives, as well as the roles and capabilities of all participants in the process, and guide the team through a process to achieve the objectives. Ultimately, you hire a facilitator to guide your team to decide what to do.

Both roles have their place. Sometimes you may know that your team doesn’t possess the knowledge and expertise to solve a particular problem or choose between options. A good consultant can bring the experience and outside view to advise you effectively. In many cases, there is no shortage of “talk” about a particular problem, and everyone has an opinion, but there isn’t a lot progress toward reaching consensus on decisions and actions. A good facilitator can break the “log jam” and enable initiatives to advance.

Often, you may need both roles. You may need to leverage a consultant to bring additional expertise and skills to your team, while leveraging a facilitator to get the most out of the team as a whole (including the consultant). Many consultants will claim to have facilitation skills… but be careful in trying to combine roles. Effective facilitation is a challenging specialty, and I’ve seen plenty of great consultants who are poor facilitators. Even in the best conditions, it’s difficult to impartially lead a team through a participative process, while simultaneously providing subject matter expertise and analysis of the situation in real-time.

You may be fortunate enough to find an individual who can wear either hat, but you should ensure they are only wearing one hat at a time during the engagement. When they wear their “consultant hat”, they have a “dog in the hunt”… they will attempt to drive the team toward their proposed solution, or toward their recommended outcome. A facilitator will resist this urge, and instead seek to draw out all options and opinions, enable the team to evaluate them, and allow the best options to stand on their own merit. If a consultant is in the group being facilitated, they have the ability to present their facts and opinions, and influence the outcome accordingly.

At INTJenuity, our facilitators bring a variety of experience and expertise to the table. We’ll typically be wearing our “facilitator hat”, but will let you know if we have consultative experience that may also be useful. We’ll discuss how to best apply our capabilities, while being careful not to “break” the participative process.

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