by Gwyn Williams and Bruce Milroy

When to get an external consultant

Within this topic, we’ve painted a picture of the essential basics of teambuilding and how every team goes through the same stages of development. In most cases, team leaders can and do lead and encourage the team successfully through these stages to a point where the team is effective and productive. However, it is undeniable that there can be sticky moments, when it feels as though the individual personalities within the team are clashing or there is something unmentionable that is holding the team back and when, no matter what the leader does, it seems the team cannot align itself behind a common goal.

More often than not these issues are invisible to the leader or, if they are visible, there is little commitment from the team members to face up to the issues and deal with them. When a team is dysfunctional, it’s not always easy to know what to do or even to know if you are the right person to do it. Often, the answer is to introduce a third party – an objective ‘outsider’ who can facilitate discussions within the team and create an environment whereby the issues can be placed on the table for all to see.

The benefit of having outside help or an external facilitator is that you, as the team leader, can participate fully in the team development process. This is crucial, since you are a vital part of the team. Facilitators focus on the ‘process’ aspects of team functioning; they contribute to the team’s effectiveness through the use of a variety of facilitation techniques, from the light-touch to a directive style.

Typical engagements where a facilitator may be appropriate include

  • Establishing a team vision and setting goals
  • Team and organisation objective setting
  • Effective team meetings and team problem solving
  • Dispute resolution and mediation
  • Root cause analysis
  • Breakthrough thinking
  • Establishing a change strategy and change management
  • Business planning
  • Team review and feedback sessions.
Key point

A dysfunctional team is an expense no organisation should be prepared to carry.

We would argue that the key to choosing when to employ an external facilitator is first to recognise the hidden costs involved in allowing a dysfunctional team to continue.

Quite apart from the costs involved in duplicated effort, revisiting decisions and rework, when a team disintegrates there may be redundancy and recruitment costs and costs due to time delays in production. There may also be wider consequences for the organisation as a whole if the team is not functioning correctly – this is especially true when the team is the executive or most senior team.

There is a separate topic on Hiring a consultant.