A very interesting post was published recently in a blog dealing with the point of confluence of marketing and neuroscience. It shows that bringing an outsider in any team endeavor actually improves the performance of the team effort. The post focuses particularly on decisions made in team contexts and on problem solving. This is very much in line with the kind of experience I have with workshops organized for customers on specific issues they want to deal with. In most cases we end-up achieving significant progress in an amazingly short time and with work that feel effortless although it's actually very demanding. The following are the top factors of success in my opinion:
- focus on a specific issue: each workshop has a very specific focus area and my job as facilitator is to make sure everybody remains focused on the issue at hand or jointly agree to tackle another issue, but the point is to guarantee everybody is on the same page and all decisions about the topic to handle are made explicitly not by the usual "agenda drift" many meetings have
- supporting process: during a workshop there is always a "backbone" in the form of a process that we follow and that process comprises specific sequences of work involving techniques borrowed from The Fifth Discipline, IDEO's method cards, NLP or Edward De Bono's Six Thinking Hats
- external facilitation: as an outsider I have considerable freedom to ask stupid questions and approach the issues under discussion from original angles something perhaps an insider might not dare do or think doing as it's not easy to escape from established ways of doing inside an organization
So the effect of external facilitation seems to be visible in scientifically controlled experiments, something I find really interesting. The article clearly states that you don't need to bring in expensive consultants to get the "outsider effect" and that's rather good news because it's a great argument for enlightened entrepreneurs and managers who want to mix people from different functional areas. Now I believe there is much more to it than "just" importing an outsider in a team process if we want maximum impact. The effect is most likely much greater if the outsider has developed an expertise in this type of services.
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