Short answer: Yes. Someone with the right training AND a level of independence from the outcome of the workshop being facilitated.
Long answer: The role of independent workshop facilitator is becoming more and more central to project and programme teams. Workshops are now the go-to technique for teams to use to get results. Workshops focus on getting the right people in the right room at the right time to talk about the right things (and if it’s part of the objectives for the workshop, to get to the right decision).
Workshops are successfully being used instead of hijacking using project progress meetings to endlessly discuss project issues that more than half of the team either don’t care about or don’t know anything to contribute. Facilitated workshops are allowing teams to have focused discussions with the right audience(s) – all of whom can contribute and collaborate on the right resolution.
However, if you’ve ever had a workshop facilitated by someone who is intrinsically involved in the subject (e.g., manager of the team, subject matter expert responsible for the area being discussed, end-user, team member working on the topic, etc), you already know the result of that workshop. You knew it before you even entered that room! On more than one occasion I’ve spent up to 8 hours contributing, collaborating, discussing, brainstorming, voting, explaining my point, fighting for what I believed in all for nought. The decision had already been made… by the ‘facilitator’ of the workshop no less! By the way, I wasn’t the only one in the room. That officially equates to 8 hours of time for 20 people, wasted!
So not only are workshops a becoming more and more popular as a good practise to use to get teams to build understanding and consensus, but the idea that the facilitator needs to be independent of the outcome is also being seen as essential!
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hire independent contractors to come in and facilitate your workshops. You can use internal staff who are skilled at facilitation and independent of the results. I commonly see Project Managers and Business Analysts being trained in facilitation skills so that they can facilitate workshops for other projects (definitely not their own!). This saves on expenses as well as provides a growth opportunity. Another almost hidden but extremely beneficial side-effect of doing this is the cross-fertilisation this practise offers. PMs from one project get first-hand insight to how other projects are progressing, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it (good or bad), etc, which helps them in their approaches to managing their projects and teams. The learning is enormous!
Are you using workshops? Are your facilitators ‘independent of the outcome’?