Lara, stands in the center of a room, while participants stand in groups around the perimeter, answering questions on flipchart paper.

Should Your Strategic Plan Facilitator Be a Subject Expert?

I’ve been exploring strategic planning on my social media this month. I’ve been asked and answer questions about the topic, like: Why would my organization want to develop a strategic plan? How do we prepare for developing a strategic plan? What steps do I take my clients through when we develop a strategic plan? Today I’ll be answering another question I’ve been asked before: does a strategic plan facilitator have to be a subject expert in order to facilitate a process well? The answer is no! Here’s why.

Trust in the Experts in the Room

I firmly believe that a group already possesses the knowledge it needs to develop a strategic plan. Often, many volunteers and staff have years, if not decades, of experience. They often fill multiple roles – they participate in the sport, they coach, they referee or officiate, and they sit on the board. They’ve been around a long time – sometimes longer than I’ve been alive! Suffice to say, they know everything they need to know about the sport, the organization, or the community. I trust in that expertise.

Generalists Bring the Best from Everywhere

A facilitator works with many different clients, with different challenges and strengths, from different industries and backgrounds. I hear many things. Generalists can bring ideas from outside the room – they can borrow the best ideas from everywhere. This is my favourite. I can say, “Another client I worked with had a similar problem. They tried X and it worked really well for them. How about that?” This breeds creativity and innovative thinking by drawing from other places.

Independent Facilitators Offer Neutrality

When an independent facilitator is not a subject expert, they are neutral to the outcome of the process. They are there to guide the discussion where it needs to go. They’re able to ask the tough questions and challenge negative group dynamics. An independent facilitator will be able to solicit engagement from all group members because they remain objective.

Teal words that say: Should we develop new vision and mission statements?

Minimize Influence on the Outcome

If facilitators are subject experts, they likely have opinions about the subject matter, which may be different from those in the room. This may lead people to not feel comfortable to share their opinions. Or, the facilitator may feel strongly about a given topic and may attempt to influence the group to head in a certain direction. The conversation will be swayed by what the facilitator says and believes, which will ultimately influence the outcome. To minimize the facilitator’s influence on the outcome of the process, it’s best if they reserve their opinions and focus on guiding the group where they need to go.

Guide the Group Where It Needs to Go

A strategic plan facilitator must understand the group’s goals and objectives, the purpose of the process, its scope and its deliverables. They must select the methods, tools, and techniques that will help the group achieve its goals. The facilitator must understand the subject matter and the language used, but the facilitator does not have to be a subject expert. A facilitator should be a process expert, with the curiosity, neutrality, and willingness to guide the process.

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