Full disclosure. I make part of my living running meetings, but since I just finished a couple of days as an outside facilitator, I thought we should challenge the convention.
For centuries, Niccolo Machiavelli’s name has stood for the concept of amassing power, often by nefarious means. He once wrote, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” His world was that of Florentine politics in the era of the Renaissance. It may have been easier for Machiavelli to create change in Florence than it is for any C-level executive to shift the direction of a business today. Machiavelli could put his enemies on the rack or even get them excommunicated, and he didn’t have to run his decisions past the head of human resources (HR). All CEOs have are stock options and the threat of ﬁring people. Machiavelli wouldn’t have lasted ninety days in modern corporate America.
It’s typically more powerful and more productive for companies to bring in outsiders to facilitate this process. Companies that don’t engage an outsider have no one there to challenge positional power. In larger, more established companies, a pecking order may restrict who can say what in an all-hands meeting. Sacred cows, land mines, turf wars, or whatever expression applies may inhibit a company’s progress. An outsider can come in, eat the cows, step on the land mines, and conduct the discussion unencumbered by the ghosts of the past. An outsider can also introduce ideas learned from working with different companies. The process will go much more smoothly if you bring in an individual or team of people who can offer a fresh perspective and a point of view that is not inﬂuenced by existing company dynamics.
For years I ran my own meetings and I know a few CEO’s that can do a better job than any outsider. But first take an honest look at your skills and your ability to get the best out of your team while at the same time uncovering all those areas of challenge to ultimately find the direction that will help you best build your business value.