Change - Strategic Facilitation

by Tony Mann

Contracting with the organisation and client

Some 80 per cent of the core issues and the key elements of strategic implementation take place at the level of strategic focus and structure/high-level processes. Therefore the strategic facilitator needs to have an effective contract at these two levels in order to be successful in designing, developing and managing the strategic process to support projects and change.

The ‘client’ is the person sponsoring the change and who has taken responsibility for involving the strategic facilitator. The strategic facilitator should guide the client through the process of understanding the strategic focus and goals and the strategic facilitator’s role. This involves a step-by-step agreement of the balance between the role the strategic facilitator will play and the responsibility of the organisation for the strategic focus, structure, high-level processes, systems and procedures, roles, skills, attributes and knowledge and emotions and the degree of intervention in each of the levels of the Process Iceberg®; Organisation model.

The nature of the task (certainty/complexity/uncertainty)

The strategic facilitator guides the client through a diagnosis of the nature of the key drivers and the strategic focus, the aim being to determine whether the situation is one of certainty, complexity or uncertainty (for more, see here). This does not necessitate an analysis and discussion of the goals. The strategic facilitator uses questions from the left-hand side (see diagram below), to help the client recognise just how certain or uncertain the task is. The strategic facilitator then gives a short explanation of the consequences of this in terms of handling the task.

The direct application of this depends on whether the change leader requires the strategic facilitator to be a key interventionist, a coach to the organisation in terms of the strategic focus or a responder, which means the strategic facilitator holds back and does not make interventions unless asked to by the organisation

It is perhaps obvious, but important to say, that the strategic facilitator should ‘negotiate high’. By this, we mean that the strategic facilitator needs the highest level of contract to enable them to do their job effectively. Empowerment of the group, letting them take all the responsibility in uncertainty (particularly if they are dysfunctional or just transitional) would be akin to letting a five-year-old walk across a main road unaided!

The strategic facilitator must be prepared to take responsibility for leading/telling in terms of the objectives, and this entails working together with the task leader to identify the degree of uncertainty of the objective and tasks. This does not mean that the strategic facilitator gets involved in the task. They do not voice their opinion neither do they do ask questions about the task (such as ‘Have we enough resources to do this new product launch’). In any workshop/event the strategic facilitator will simply use feedback with the task leader and group about what it is saying to itself and what the strategic facilitator is hearing. This said, although the strategic facilitator does not get directly involved in discussions about the task, they should draw strands of conversation together.


Managing – uncertainty = 4 ½ x the time

Nature of the change


The key drivers are not easy to define. The strategic focus needs to be redefined. Finding answers depends on creating new ways of managing change. The organisation needs to spend time identifying the key drivers. There needs to be an emphasis on the strategic process. Bias and groupthink will need to be addressed.
The external environment is more complex. The change agenda needs a combination of creativity and effective processes to deliver results. The key issues need to be understood. There needs to be attention to the strategic process. People need to interact effectively.

Complexity - addressing known issues = 2½ x the time


The key drivers are well understood. Defining the strategic focus is within the experience and expertise of the organisation. The strategic process is easily defined and the organisation is capable of delivering an outcome through the use of the strategic process

Certainty - business as usual time = time

Process response


Increasing need for strategic process

The role of the strategic facilitator in terms of the process

Setting the ‘style’ in which the strategic facilitator will operate follows on from the analysis of the nature of the task. It will be based on the combination of

  • The degree of uncertainty of the change
  • The level of process awareness of the organisation
  • The time available to embed the change.

Process responsibilities

When it comes to process responsibilities, the strategic facilitator should ensure that the contract is explicit and agreed, because the success of the change will depend on the effective interaction between the strategic facilitator and the organisation. The strategic facilitator should

  • Propose the most appropriate level of intervention if the organisation is dysfunctional
  • Suggest the appropriate level of interventionist if the organisation is transitional
  • Ask the senior management team/change leader to suggest the level of responsibility and intervention if the SMT/organisation is process aware.

The strategic facilitator is inviting the organisation/SMT to decide how much responsibility it feels that it can take for the process. The strategic facilitator must be careful to ensure that the organisation does not

  • Abdicate all responsibility for process
  • Take on more responsibility than it can handle.

You can demonstrate the dynamic by asking two people to hold each other by one hand and lean back. Both must take the strain (as they do in a tug-of-war). If one lets go, the other will fall over. It is the same when managing the process: both the strategic facilitator and the group must trust each other to take responsibility, while at the same time taking as much responsibility as they can handle (and no more).

Systems and procedures

The next level of contracting is ensuring how much support is needed at the systems and procedures level. The involvement of the strategic facilitator will certainly be of benefit to any group working at the systems level. This involves

  • Identifying user requirements
  • Examining business systems
  • Working with systems teams to define the user specification
  • Supporting process-re-engineering at a tactical level
  • Helping groups to develop effective procedures.

Roles, skills, attributes and knowledge

At the next level of the contract is the deployment of people’s expertise, skills and person attributes (for example, technical competence, presenting skills and MBTI®) to achieve the goals. The organisation, probably led by HR and the strategic facilitator, should use whatever they consider to be the most appropriate profiling and competency mapping to help them to understand the needs of different roles and departments.


Finally, the strategic facilitator needs to get the agreement from any group with which they are working as to how to handle the emotions that the change reveals.


Once, when I was with a group, one of the members expressed how hard he was finding the discussion. He asked to be excused for a few minutes whilst he went outside to clear his mind. He saw it as his personal responsibility to explain the problem to the group and furthermore his responsibility to manage his own emotions.

On another occasion, at the end of a long day, with a group coming out of being dysfunctional in the throes of examining the strategy, the managing director, who had been with the business since it began, suddenly got very angry. His outburst shocked everyone, causing them all to doubt if the strategic process could continue. I rang him afterwards and he assured me he was all right – often the person themselves is more upset about what they have done than the ‘victims’. At the next meeting, he laid a large bag on the table and asked everyone to look inside – there they found huge water guns filled to the brim! The invitation was obvious: everyone drenched him, the whole incident was laughed off, and he went and changed into dry clothes! This is an example of a team truly coming into a transitional state, even if it was a bit of a bumpy ride.

There is one key point to note here: if the objective is clear and well defined, or at least there is a process for identifying it; if the format and models have been aligned with the goals and the organisation’s capabilities; if the feedback is being handled and if people are using their roles effectively, then emotions can be ‘neutralised’. People should be able to face the future and, although the change may be difficult, the organisation should feel confident. So contracting who handles instances of emotion should hopefully be academic. However, there is always the potential for different departments/teams/individuals to find themselves struggling to handle their emotions, particularly if the change touches aspects of their value system.

If a group is dysfunctional, it will ask the strategic facilitator to manage any outbursts or any lapses in emotional intelligence. If the group is transitional, it may be able to share that responsibility with the strategic facilitator. If, however, the group is process aware, then individuals will certainly manage their own emotions in an emotionally-intelligent way.

Therefore, the strategic facilitator’s role is to agree with the group exactly who will handle incidents of emotion, though how these will be handled can only be determined if and when something happens.

Difficult people

In my many years of experience facilitating in a wide range of organisations with numerous groups and in a wide variety of contexts, I have encountered very few difficult/impossible people. These people had no intention of conforming to the group norm and indeed were out to sabotage the efforts of the group for whatever reason. The point, however, is that I have only come across nine such people.

Most of the time, when emotional incidents occur, it is because people’s emotions have been intensified due to an ill-defined goal/objective or a bad or inappropriate process: the wrong format, a failure to ensure understanding through effective feedback or the team roles being ignored or misdirected. People usually try to do their best. Strategic facilitators who revel in emotions fail to understand the investment that people make in trying to tackle uncertain tasks, often with great courage and application. A good strategic facilitator does not set out to enjoy facilitating emotional issues, rather they aim to manage the levels above that: team roles, inter-personal interactions, process (format and tool) and, of course, the objectives. If they do this, it can be surprising how effective they can become.

Why does the strategic facilitator need a contract?

Previously, we examined the difference between the functions of the trainer, the consultant and the strategic facilitator (see here). The first two have an implied contract. Indeed the consultant will often have a legal contract specifying the work they will do and the intended outcomes. The trainer publishes the content course and the learning objectives. Occasionally, you will see information on just how they intend to deliver the course in terms of learning style.

The strategic facilitator has no such implied contract and their role is often shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. Some strategic facilitators get involved in the task. Some specialise in managing the ‘group dynamics’. If people are to comprehend fully what the role of the strategic facilitator is and the style in which they are going to do it, then they need a contract. This contract is binding on both parties in the sense that both should endeavour to live out their agreed responsibilities. The advantage of the contract is that the organisation and any groups and the change leader (who also has a contract with the group or groups) know how they can expect the strategic facilitator to operate. This should clarify any confusion and should give them assurance as to what the strategic facilitator will do.

If the strategic facilitator negotiates high – that is aims for the highest level of contract that they think they will need to manage the degree of uncertainty, the level of process awareness and the time constraints – then they can release responsibility if it turns out that the organisation/group accept and can handle more responsibility than the strategic facilitator had expected. This is the ideal scenario. The group begins to recognise the power of process and starts to think green. In this case, a good strategic facilitator lets them take more of the role, just so long as the task does not suffer.

Confirming the contract

As each position on the matrix is agreed (see diagram below), the strategic facilitator describes their responsibility and that of the group. To make this clear, the strategic facilitator should give an SPO (see here) on every selection. The group may decide to change the level when they hear the consequences of the choice (F = Facilitator, O = Organisation).

Creating a contract between the strategic facilitator and the organisation

Key interventionist



F leads O through analysis of the change agenda, clarifying scope and identifying goals.

F participates in helping O clarify the nature of the goals and assists in setting its objectives.

F encourages O to explore the goals to determine how to define it; comments if required to.

O takes responsibility for defining goals; F watches O and comments when asked.

F directs O in how it should tackle the goals, determines format and selects the models to use.

F suggests to O ways to handle the goals and invites them to share responsibility by selecting best format.

O chooses the most appropriate way to handle the goals with advice from F.

O takes responsibility for determining the format. F comments if asked to.

F helps O by managing the interactions and ensuring that they manage feedback.

O shares responsibility for quality of interactions. F monitors to ensure that nothing is missed by Org.

O takes most of the responsibility for managing interactions. Org gives feedback to everyone.

Individuals in O take personal responsibility for their own interactions. Everyone gives feedback.

F leads in helping O to make the most of the different strengths and compensates gaps in RSAK.

F helps O to use their strengths to best effect and guides them in overcoming gaps in RSAK.

O agrees how best to compensate for gaps in RSAK.

The individuals in O know how best to utilise each other’s strengths and to cover gaps in RSAK.

F handles instances of emotion, manages conflict and ensures O takes responsibility.

F works with O in handling feelings and managing any conflict in the change agenda.

O handles emotional issues and begins to manage conflict. F interjects when asked to.

Individuals take personal responsibility for their own feelings and manage their own emotions.

In the example of the contract above, the task leader and the group have agreed that the strategic facilitator should ‘lead’ them in identifying the objective (which suggests that the Task is in Uncertainty and probably critical). It also indicates that the group might need some help defining the objective, analysing it and breaking it down into its key parts. They have agreed that the strategic facilitator will take the lead in designing the strategic process and suggest ways of ensuring the quality of inter-actions (during any change process). In addition, they will participate in ensuring that people’s strengths are utilised and will also monitor the emotional impact of the changes and recommend how to tackle and deal with this and any subsequent resistance to change.

The strategic facilitator should then summarise the proposed contract and the responsibility of both parties. The strategic facilitator should agree with the client how the strategic facilitator’s role will be introduced to the group. The strategic facilitator will want to ensure that the organisation/group understands the role. It is imperative that the group is in agreement with the contract. Ideally, this will mirror the one agreed with the client. If not, the differences will need to be resolved. Then the strategic facilitator summarises the selected options, explains what that will mean with real/pragmatic examples and then summarises the relationship – all the time looking at the group members to see if they are in agreement and have ‘owned’ the contract and understood the strategic facilitator’s role in this situation.

Hard copies of the tactical strategic facilitator’s contracting tool™ can be found at Resource Productions.