The Role and Value of an Outside Facilitator in Helping Well-Established Companies Successfully Deal with Disruptive Innovations

As I have discussed in earlier blogs, the Evolution of Enterprise IT from Systems of Record to Systems of Engagement is the kind of transformative shift (disruptive innovation) that has already started to rearrange the competitive hierarchy across multiple industries from advertising to financial services to health care to retail. In fact, from my vantage point, I cannot see any industry that will not be significantly impacted by this game-changing shift.

That said, there are a large number of companies whose senior leadership teams and Board of Directors still think they are not in harm’s way from this change. What they are missing is the opportunity to figure out how they can get ahead of this transformative shift, and thereby, gain the competitive advantage of that head start.

I think there are a number of reasons why it is so hard for successful, well-established companies to act earlier rather than later to address a change of this magnitude and why the role and value of an outside facilitator can help expedite this process:

1. Most successful, well-established companies have developed very strong and well- defined functional/operating silos. These “working silos” also cause the people within them to develop “thinking silos” as to the company’s priorities and how they can best be achieved. In times of major market flux, these individual silos can create a significant barrier to the breakthrough thinking that is required for cross-enterprise success. An outside facilitator can be of great help in breaking down those disparate silos and in enabling cross functional teams to “co-construct a new way of thinking” about what they want to do together.


a. High performing management teams often have a hard time facilitating their own discussions as extreme politeness and other interpersonal dynamics prevent participants from structuring discussions that focus on the right issues and allow them to make the tough prioritization decisions that favor one idea/business over another. Simply put, companies suck at being Darwinian.

2. When confronting a major change like “The Consumerization of Enterprise IT”, many companies take an “inside out” approach to figuring out how best to deal with it. In this case, early evidence of success suggests that an “outside-in” approach is much more effective. This requires subject matter experts from IT, Marketing and Business units to let go of their current beliefs and perceptions and utilize well-developed frameworks, models and tools to help them start thinking differently about how employees and customers want to change how they engage with the company. An outside facilitator who is not burdened by existing beliefs and perceptions can help internal leadership teams “let go” of their current mindsets and thereby utilize the new frameworks to re-conceptualize opportunities/problems and generate a diversity of ideas to address them.

a. With Systems of Engagement, you actually start with the user experience and ask the fundamental question: What is the user trying to accomplish in the moment? Then you ask yourself: How could IT systems (typically communication and collaboration systems) intervene in that moment to make the transaction or interaction more valuable and enduring?

3. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, says that “left to business as usual, people tend to come up with incremental ideas.” In order to achieve exponential growth, “people need to adjust their aspirations so they can focus on bigger ideas.” An outside facilitator can be the catalyst to help drive these bigger idea discussions by raising key questions such as:

a. What are we willing to give up in order to get better?
b. What core elements of our business must be preserved in order to create sustainable competitive advantage?
c. What new skills, resources and capabilities do we need that we don’t have now?

4. Many companies in their haste to address emerging opportunities and threats that they’ve delayed confronting deploy a ready, fire, aim approach. An outside facilitator can play a strong role in making sure that the decision making process is designed in this order – “right view, right intention, right action.”


5. Finally, the ability to have an outside resource present and socialize a major transformative shift of this magnitude along with the models and tools to address it, provides a broad strategic framework in which to organize a series of discussions and projects that will help expedite the company’s ability to get out in front of this shift sooner than its competitors and thereby gain the competitive advantage of that head start.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspective on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at