We often receive inquiries about how best to co-facilitate – the truth is there are no shortcuts. As with all new skills, co-facilitation requires preparation, practice and a touch of patience as we get into the groove of working closely with another presenter in front of a group.
Approaching the task with clarity about roles is essential. It can be hard enough to manage ourselves when facilitating; the thought of having to co-manage with someone else can be daunting. Building trust by being clear about the purpose of each activity and what is required of the lead and support facilitator will help lay a strong foundation.
Benefits for us and the group
Done well, co-facilitation can lift the energy in the room. It’s fun for us as facilitators bouncing off each other and adds value for the group, which receives double the attention.
Good facilitation honours each participant as a whole person, working with their aspirations, challenges, feelings and experience. With a large group, you need more than one of you to succeed with this approach, so you can work at a deeper level.
A support facilitator can catch dynamics that might have been missed and ensure everyone is getting a say.
When there is a big agenda, co-facilitation gives the lead facilitator a break and helps maintain momentum upfront. The two of you can also model activities for the group to prepare them for practice sessions or small group work.
Another big plus is scribing. If you’re brainstorming or capturing a lot of material quickly, having your co-facilitator scribe helps you to keep your attention on the group.
When is co-facilitation needed?
A large group of more than 12 will always benefit from two facilitators, whatever its purpose.
If a big group is grappling with complex issues – as most are, at some stage – it can be a minefield with only one facilitator.
It’s difficult to deal with the tricky dynamics or multiple needs in such a group with just one of you upfront. The emotional resilience required to reach successful outcomes can be highly demanding. It’s so much easier – for everyone in the room – if this load can be shared.
How to do co-facilitation well
The overarching aim of co-facilitation is to model solid teamwork and provide seamless collaboration to help the group get to where it needs to be. If we make each other look and feel good, the group will have confidence in us.
We often hear stories about co-facilitation gone wrong: co-facilitators who didn’t know each other; didn’t prepare enough together; weren’t able to support each other when things got tricky; got into conflict; or didn’t trust each other.
People feel or see this dysfunction, and the goal of a safely held space where people are free to speak up and share authentically is out the window.
The following checklist will ensure you work well together.
Select your co-facilitator wisely
- They don’t need to be equal in experience, but they do need to fully understand their role
- In most mixed groups, a mixed-gender combo works well
- Be clear about remuneration and reimbursement for your support facilitator
- Before you start preparing, ensure the support facilitator is aware of any arrangements made with your client
Prepare well together
- Don’t wing it, plan everything. Never assume it’ll just come together on the day
- Discuss each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to make these work in your favour
- Discuss your respective rank and how that affects your work together
- Have clearly defined roles, with specific roles for the support facilitator:
- welcoming late arrivals
- standing by someone in the heat of the action
- catching things missed
- role plays with lead facilitator
- Ensure you dress compatibly on the day
- Encourage each other to take risks
At the gig
- Introduce the support facilitator at the start of your session. Don’t apologise for any lack of experience individually, or as a team.
- Know who is lead and support facilitator at all times
- If you swap lead and support roles, do so transparently, so the group is always clear who is leading
- Support facilitator can chip in their contribution, but not so much that it undermines the work of the lead
- If the support facilitator is delivering input, ensure they are capable of doing it well. Never assume.
- Check in with each other at breaks – adjust the agenda together as you go
- Play off each other – have fun!
After the gig
- Debrief within 24 hours – straight after the session if possible
- In your debrief, affirm what went well and exchange points of improvement
How to demonstrate great collaboration in co-facilitation
- Always reinforce each other’s facilitation, never undermine. Try to avoid disagreeing publicly – sort it out later
- Transparency with the group is good – you can negotiate/discuss/wonder together with your co-facilitator out loud
- If you do disagree publicly – do it as a ‘wondering’ after thinking about it carefully
- Be supportive of each other’s input
- Cover for each other – for example, when the lead facilitator has their buttons pushed
- Avoid ‘in’ jokes
- Don’t whisper – it makes people feel uneasy