You can't fire me - I don't work here

Need somebody to tell it to you straight? Suspect that one of your execs is just along for the ride? Looking for untapped potential within your business? Want to push yourself and your team this year?

For these types of goals, consider seeking outside help. There are people who specialize in providing impartial guidance as your team searches for clarity and pushes for alignment. Think of it as an insurance policy for a great year.

Consultants with experience in guiding executive teams are an invaluable resource because they specialize in identifying untapped potential and recognizing and highlighting signs of trouble before they become substantial problems. And they are the only people who will be truly honest with you because, unlike your management team and other staff, they are not afraid of being fired for asking questions that employees don’t like to ask, raising uncomfortable issues or criticizing your business approach.

So what can you expect from hiring such a consultant? Here are three common training approaches:

1. Day-long facilitations: brainstorming and “ideation”

Day-long sessions can focus on any topic, but for one-offs it’s good to stick to “brainstorming and ideation.” It’s easy for everyone at a company to play along with the status quo, believing that all ideas have been examined and that everyone is aware of what the rest of the team is thinking. This is rarely true.

Lunchtime conversations and hallway meetings can be valuable, but there’s no substitute for leaving your usual headspace (and the office, if possible) and working with someone who will provide a fresh look at your company. Because a third-party facilitator has limited knowledge of your company, they have the freedom to ask the “dumb” questions. A guided discussion of fundamental company principles is guaranteed to hold a few surprises for you and your executive team.

2. Two-day workshops: skill training and goal setting

Here’s a chance to clarify specific mandates from your business or strategic plan. Is there a company goal that relies on support from the entire team? Is everyone aware of their role in achieving success? Facilitators should be carefully chosen for these workshops. It’s vital to isolate your company’s need or want and then do your research to find the best person and system to lead your team. This type of session can include your entire executive team or be divided into sub-groups as appropriate.

3. Full-week immersion: alignment and year-long focus

Many companies do this yearly. It’s the big one, so carefully consider the session’s size, scope, duration and location. The goal is alignment. For example, if you have one person controlling 300 staff you want to be confident that their vision corresponds exactly with that of the company.

Before this session it is often worthwhile to warm up your team with a visioning and goal-setting process designed to get them into the appropriate mindset. Immersion sessions are no small event, so be sure to plan well in advance. Team members are taking time out of their lives and devoting large amounts of headspace to the project.

Are you considering seeking outside help? Here are three questions to ask:

Is this an alignment problem? How would I know if it is?
Do I need to shake up my team a little bit?
Is this an important year? Would some extra insight be valuable for our annual plan?

Finding the right consultant is not a task to be taken lightly. Workshops and retreats are an intimate process and it’s imperative to find a facilitator with the appropriate skills and background to meet your company’s needs. Research carefully. Do they have video testimonials from recognizable clients? Or just a collection of written statements from unidentifiable sources? Ask for references – and contact them. Speaking to past clients can give valuable insights into a facilitator’s compatibility with your executive team. And don’t be afraid to ask about their past projects – any good consultant will be happy to share success stories with you.