How to get better value by hiring the right professional for the right project

A consultant, a facilitator, and a coach walk into a team meeting . . . 

There is no well-known other half to this sentence which, I’ll admit, sounds a little bit like the start of a joke. Or, at least, there is no well-known other half to this sentence that surfaced from my research for this article. 

My research also did not surface standard descriptions for a consultant, a facilitator, and a coach. Even in narrowing my focus down to how those professions tend to be understood within the charitable / non-profit sector in Canada, I did not find consistency. 

A consultant, a facilitator, and a coach walk into a team meeting . . .

So, then, how will I share insights on how to get better value by hiring the right professional for the right project? I will attempt to finish this sentence by drawing on the research I did coupled with my own experience as someone who wears all three hats with different clients. (And, with some clients, more than one of those hats throughout the duration of their project.) 

A consultant walks into a team meeting

  • To share expertise. 
  • You likely chose them because they have knowledge and experience related to the subject of your meeting, or the agenda item that you invited them to be involved in. They may or may not (depending on how important this is to the subject) specialize in your sector. 
  • They might provide:
    • Advice on the subject.
    • A deliverable related to the subject.
    • A tool or framework related to the subject.
  • Caveat: Have you invited them to educate or train you rather than advise you or provide you with a deliverable? Then, ideally, they also have some experience as an educator or trainer. Otherwise, as much of an expert as they may be, it is a coin toss as to whether they will be any good at effective knowledge and / or skill transfer. 

A facilitator walks into a team meeting 

  • To guide your group through a process.
  • You likely chose them because they have knowledge and experience on how to design and deliver participatory processes. They may also have a background in the subject of your meeting, the agenda item that you invited them to be involved in, and / or the sector your organization exists within, but this is not necessarily required. 
  • They might provide:
    • Design of your agenda / agenda item. 
    • A variety of approaches to support group engagement towards desired outcomes.
    • Facilitation of all / part of your meeting.  
  • Caveat: Have you invited them to facilitate a session that feeds into the development of a deliverable, such as a strategic plan? Then, ideally, they also have some experience as a strategic planning consultant able to take away the outcomes of the facilitated process and generate such a product. (And, vice versa if you hire a consultant to lead the development of a strategic plan that will include facilitated sessions!)

A coach walks into a team meeting

  • To lead a group or individual coaching session.  
  • You likely chose them because they have experience (and possibly a certification) as a coach. They may specialize in working with people focused on the subject of your meeting, or who are part of the sector your group / organization exists within, but this is not necessarily required.
  • They might provide:
    • Thought-provoking questions related to your goals.
    • Listening, more than talking or telling.
    • Accountability support. 
  • Caveat: Of all three professions, I found it most challenging to find a standard definition for this one. Broadly speaking, there are two contrasting perspectives on what coaching is: indirect, and direct. The above points are aligned with indirect approaches which align with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) competencies.
    • Indirect: the coachee does most of the thinking (and usually talking) in order to identify their own goals, actions, and accountability needs through thought partnership guided by their coach.
    • Direct: the coach does most of the thinking (and usually talking) in order to share their expertise with the coachee and support success within a coach-defined solution and set of actions and accountability mechanisms. 
A racially diverse group of people sit around a conference table. Several of them are smiling.

This is not a strict binary. Some coaches will use a blend of the two approaches. 

For example, in my career and leadership coaching I communicate that my approach aligns within the ICF competencies and code of ethics, and is mostly indirect. If ever I am going to briefly shift to a more direct approach, I will clearly say so. 

If your prospective coach is unable to share information around their approach, or the competencies and code of ethics they work within if they are certified, it’s worth taking the time to probe further. Otherwise, expectations may end up being mismatched.  

Resources to dive more deeply into the sentence, “A consultant, a facilitator, and a coach walk into a team meeting . . .”

Interested in going deeper on the difference between a consultant, facilitator, and coach, and which one you need for your next challenge or opportunity? 

Here are some links to help you. I’d love to hear from you if you have thoughts on what I’ve shared. And, of course, please reach out if you are in curious about my services in one or more of these areas.

How Nonprofits Can Use Facilitators!

Nonprofit Fundraising Strategy: What is the difference between a coach and a consultant?

Key Differences Between Coaching And Consulting (And How To Decide What Your Business Needs)

Coaching Methods in The Workplace for Leaders

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Valery catalyzes people and organizations dedicated to social change to make better decisions, have greater impact, and co-create deeper connection.

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