Gov Comp: Strategic Plan: Selecting a Committee and Facilitator

Selecting a Committee and Facilitator

Selecting a Committee                                     

A strategic planning committee should be created to develop and manage the strategic plan. The committee may not be the same people as the executive committee or board. The individuals selected should each contribute a valuable skillset to the process. Participates may range from a general member to a non-member to an organizational leader. The committee size should be approximately six to eight individuals.  
Consider creating a strategic planning committee description that defines the objective of the committee, frequency of meetings, term of positions, and roles and expectations of the members

It is important to place the right people on the committee. Below items to consider when selecting committee members.
  • Willingness to spend time in meetings, participate in email discussion, conduct interviews, perform research, or group exercises, etc. The total commitment of time and effort should be determined and communicated in advance. 
  • Strategic orientation. Committee members should be naturally suited or capable of big-picture thinking and taking a long term approach to discussion. The committee’s primary task is to formulate strategy, not define operations. It is important to not get distracted by the small details.
  • Committee members should be able and willing to contribute or entertain new and different ideas for advancing the organization. The organization’s future may look different than it does currently or in the past. A demonstrated intolerance of new or challenging ideas should disqualify a prospective committee member from serving.
  • Each member must demonstrate trust and respect toward other members of the committee. This does not mean that everyone has to like each other - spirited debate can be helpful when it is respectful.
  • DPG/MIG/Affiliate-first mentality. Committee members must put the best interests of the organization as the priority, as opposed to being driven primarily by personal gain.
  • No blatant personal agenda. Sometimes a “single issue” committee member will try to use the planning process to achieve a particular (usually predictable) result. 
  • Ability to listen as well as talk. Avoid dominate personalities that will overtake discussion as well as those who listen well but are not likely to speak up and contribute.
  • Willingness to discuss “brutal facts.”  An open discussion of the organization’s capabilities, opportunities and weaknesses could potentially lead to an unpleasant look at the organization. Committee members must be able to receive and deal with criticism and make hard choices in a constructive way.

Selecting a Facilitator                                         

The most effective strategic planning sessions occur when they are facilitated by one individual. The facilitator keeps the committee focused on strategy and growth. Facilitation involves helping participants discover for themselves the answers rather than being told. An effective facilitator can read not only the individuals, but the interactions between individuals and the subtleties of group dynamics. A good facilitator will observe what is NOT being said as well as what is said and communicate it to the group.

There are advantages and disadvantages to assigning a facilitator within the organization or someone outside of the organization.
Internal Facilitator
  • Familiar with organization and success/challenges.
  • May inspire higher level of comfort with discussion of sensitive issues.
  • Cost effective.
  • May lack objectivity.
  • May lack ability to realign the group if discussion digresses or implodes.
  • May have limited time to keep the process on course.
Outside Facilitator
  • Leverage a strategic planning expert.
  • Broad wealth of experience working with other organizations.
  • Ability to work with the executive committee or board throughout the planning process and preparation of the final plan.
  • Perceived as being objective.
  • Limited knowledge of the group and its successes/challenges
  • Financial costs.

Basic Competencies of a Facilitator
Whether a facilitator is selected internally or externally, there are basic competencies and characteristics that are required.
  • Skillful in evoking participation and creativity.
  • Capable of maneuvering differences of opinions.
  • Manages time efficiently by allowing adequate time for discussion.
  • Assist the committee in understanding the aspects of strategic planning.
  • Capable of maintaining objectivity.
  • Demonstrates professionalism, self-confidence, and authenticity.
  • "Asks" rather than "tells".
  • Negotiates rather than dictates decision-making.
  • Able to create a learning environment, posing problems, questions, and tools to stimulate discussion and willingness to learn.
  • Able to pace discussions and change the level of discussion at appropriate times

The strategic planning committee must be aware of common concerns that may arise. A good facilitator will recognize these issues and be prepared to deal with them as they occur. Common concerns include:
  • Conflicting agendas. Some of the participants may wear two hats during the discussion and self-interest may emerge. A good facilitator will keep the group focused on what is best for the organization.
  • Discomfort with ambiguity. Typically, participants in any strategic planning session display various levels of tolerance for ambiguity. Some individuals are very uncomfortable when ambiguity arises.  Recognizing that some ambiguity is inevitable due to the uncertainties of the future, a good facilitator will assist the group in working through the need to force structure and prevent closure from occurring too quickly.
  • Style difference and need for data. Some of the participants will be very data driven and hesitant to address issues without all the data while others may be comfortable with making decisions using the "gut check" method. A good facilitator will anticipate data that may be needed prior to the meeting and work with the group in obtainable of required information.
  • Role of the leader. A good facilitator will be able to gauge the tone of the organization and the anticipated involvement by the group based on the leadership style of the current elected volunteer.  The leader of the organization sets the tone of the session.
  • Strategic planning vs annual planning. This is a common misunderstanding that occurs as each participant has their own expectations about what the results of a "strategic planning" session should be. A good facilitator will identify initially the anticipated outcomes of the session (based on discussion with the organization’s leadership) and seek to resolve any conflicting expectations prior to the discussions beginning.