[IMGCAP(1)]Outside facilitators play a large role in the development and improvement of public accounting firms.

They can facilitate partner retreats, coach on firm growth, provide guidance through M&A, and facilitate process and technology change. Outside facilitators are abundantly available to public accounting firms and firm leaders place a lot of value in the traits of a good facilitator. But not all facilitators are the same.

Just like accountants, there are good, insightful, and effective facilitators, and there are some who are simply there to earn a paycheck and move on to the next engagement.

So how do you find the best facilitators? If you’re looking to bring outside facilitators to your firm in the near future, here are the top five traits you should be looking for:

1) Trust – If a facilitator doesn’t have the ability to make everyone in the room feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas, they haven’t adequately established trust. It’s essential to have the vulnerability and transparency that makes others feel comfortable.

2) Innovative thinker – Many well-known industry conferences and consultants still spend more time focused on yesterday’s ideas instead of tomorrow’s solutions. The focus should not be on what worked at another firm without first understanding what is needed at your own firm. A good facilitator will challenge your team to innovate, not copy what worked someplace else. There’s a delicate balance between what worked somewhere else and what is needed to be successful tomorrow.

3) Doesn’t dominate yet speaks the truth - “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Your facilitators should be listening more than talking. It doesn’t bode well for success if they dominate the conversation and idea generation. They should be asking the right questions to lead your team to innovative ideas. And lastly, they should be open, transparent and direct when the team is not holding up their end of the bargain.

4) Generates enthusiasm for action - The facilitator isn’t always going to be there to drive the implementation and results over a given period of time. They need to successfully motivate and guide the team through implementation to achieve the desired results. A good facilitator must also help the team develop an appropriate strategy for action and results. Without a game plan and a motivated team to pull it off, the facilitation won’t work to its potential.

5) Understands it’s not about them, it’s about the firm – A good facilitator understands all credit for the success of a facilitated retreat or project starts and ends with the participants, not the facilitator.

So how do you know if a facilitator meets these criteria? Do your research before engaging a facilitator. Ask some pointed questions of peers regarding the skills and effectiveness of the facilitator. You should quickly be able to identify the facilitators who elicit creative, client-centered solutions and eliminate those who rigidly stay on a program that stifles innovation.

Dustin Hostetler is the founder of Flowtivity. He manages the Lean4CPAs practice and works closely with CPA firms on process improvement initiatives. As a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with extensive experience working inside a large regional CPA firm, he has taken proven Lean techniques and tailored them to bring value to public accounting firms.