Who should facilitate the company’s planning session?

One of the most important things a management team needs to do is take time offsite to undertake strategic planning and execution thinking. In Stephen Coveys Time Management Matrix, this is quadrant 2, the work we do which is both important and not urgent. The results that stem from quadrant 2 activities include vision, perspective, balance, discipline and control.

Within the Gazelles framework we recommend a meeting rhythm consisting of daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual planning. Whilst the daily, weekly and monthly are generally operational and tactical updates, the 5 days you spend with the management team each year undertaking quarterly and annual planning days are the most important activities your business performs and can be incredibly expensive, or provide amazing growth across the business. So who should facilitate the most important activities your business undertakes each year?

If your business has less than $5m in revenues or is a start up you may have no choice but to facilitate your own planning days. But often for larger growth businesses the cost of an external workshop facilitator may actually be much less than the opportunity you are leaving behind trying to operate your own planning sessions. With such a great cost to bring the management team together and with this being the most important activity the business undertakes, there are three main reasons to consider before selecting the CEO to run your company planning session or annual retreat.

1. Complicity

For many in the management team, the CEO provides direction and whilst they may appear to engage in debate, can often at a subconscious level be looking to please and agree with their leader. This is especially reinforced if the CEO has traits of a diminisher as defined by Liz Wiseman in her book Multipliers – How the best leaders make everyone smarter. During these planning days, the more the CEO writes and talks in front of the group, the more the management team understands what the CEO wants them to agree to. Then they comply with the CEO’s wishes and the plan could have been written solely by the CEO – thus losing the significant value and input of the team.

2. You can’t facilitate and participate simultaneously

Like it or not, the CEO is often one of the smartest and most experienced people in the room. Much the same as you can’t be half pregnant, it is not possible to both facilitate and participate in the process. When you consider the cost and importance of planning days, its a bit like asking the CEO to phone in for half the day – the team member with the greatest value to add will be only partially valuable – caught up instead in the logistics of the day.

3. It’s difficult to debate when you are the one standing at the front of the room

Great decisions are developed by a group when team members will fiercely argue a point, knowing that they are doing it for the good of the organization and that they are confident enough to not damage their relationships in the process. Sometimes, the CEO might not be correct and great ideas or counter-arguments come from others. You can’t ask the question and then answer it a moment later and expect fair and equitable debate in the group.


For many company’s bringing in an outside facilitator appears to be an expense which is not necessary to incur.  When you consider the real cost to the business for not coming away with an optimal outcome, and what this could do to your company in the future, the cost of an external facilitator quickly appears a smart investment.

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