Internal facilitators: sign of collaboration maturity?

Many organisations are taking it upon themselves to break down silo mentality and reconfigure workspaces to facilitate communication, aid information flows and even share out some of their decision-making powers.

Organisations that have successfully trialled a collective intelligence approach have even introduced internal facilitators and are seeing the benefits daily:

  • An environment where people are free to speak and are listened to, promoting communication
  • A range of viewpoints are expressed and acknowledged
  • Restriction of egos and power games
  • Original ideas and solutions are developed and challenged
  • Ability to find a point of convergence within a solution that meets the group’s needs

Companies and institutions with internal facilitators are better able to develop their practices, in multiple locations and across various subjects. Regular meetings facilitated by an internal facilitator create new collective working habits. They also help develop a more collaborative and relationship-based culture. It’s incredibly rewarding for the internal facilitator to step in and help with different issues and departments. It’s also really satisfying to help out their own colleagues in lieu of an external consultant.

Ultimately, it’s a really affordable solution compared to using external facilitators.

So, are internal facilitators a good solution for any organisation wanting to make its practices more collaborative? It’s not that simple – there are some issues and situations where the stakes are very high, reducing an internal facilitator’s scope of action.

After all, internal facilitators have their own limits as to what they can do, on account of the fact that they themselves belong to the organisation within which they mediate.

Even when they facilitate workshops for teams other than their own or in cross-divisional projects, their detailed knowledge of the organisation, their colleagues or the topic at hand – which would be an asset for an expert – is more of a pitfall for facilitators.

Internal facilitators are well aware of existing challenges within their own company and it’s often difficult for them – especially when mediating in one of their fields of expertise – not to steer the group based on their own take on the issue, even subconsciously.

Complete neutrality isn’t guaranteed, even when they refrain from speaking. Participants could be biased by their pre-existing positive or negative perceptions of the facilitator.

As such, questions from a facilitator aimed at stimulating or clarifying a topic, or even their suggestions for resolving a situation, as well as their ongoing need to keep the process moving forward, can sometimes be misinterpreted.

Facilitating a workshop, meeting or seminar is inevitably based on the belief that collective intelligence comes from participants. They need to be the right people to deal with the subject at hand and respond in the best possible way to the related issues or challenges. Facilitators can be summoned to assist teams where they may know some people, which may mean they subconsciously filter their judgement of these individuals.

The facilitator must be completely neutral when it comes to ideas, possible solutions and results produced. They must help teams and institutions work together to break out of the working patterns that can sometimes create obstacles. In this case, only an external facilitator can take effective action. Doing so outside the company’s four walls is often an additional guarantee of success for the group.

The power of teamwork and collective commitment is widely recognised nowadays, and companies have high expectations when it comes to developing these practices. Nevertheless, they still need to analyse individual situations and subject areas to determine whether they should work internally using the company’s own facilitators or with external facilitators.