Co-facilitating: how hard can it be?


April 19th, 2011

Can you pick the co-facilitators in this pic? A few recent incidents have thrown co-facilitating into sharp relief and helped clarify some of my own experiences and expectations of working closely with others. Co-facilitating can be a joy with the right person and a nightmare with someone else, simply creating even more work and stress in an already potentially stressful situation.

Recently a client refused my choice of co-facilitator for budget reasons and offered one of his own staff (whom I had never met) to help out. I declined. And at another workshop, two of the participants who had done facilitation training with me in the past wanted an opportunity to co-facilitate. I agreed, with conditions.

Here’s what works for me when co-facilitating (and most importantly, if it works for me it’s also better for the client):

Full-time facilitation

Part-time co-facilitation just doesn’t work. Just when you need your partner to discuss something, they are off with their mates (read work colleagues) doing something else. So I have a rule for co-facilitators, especially if they are from within the client’s organisation: either full-time facilitator or full-time participant.

Someone to hang out with, brainstorm ideas, rant occasionally

This is really important to me (it may not be so important to facilitators who are extroverts) – even when we’re not facilitating we’re talking about stuff (a technical term that covers everything from ‘what time is lunch?’ to ‘what can we do to really break down some of the inherent behaviours we’re noticing that could be preventing the group from moving forward?’ to ‘who’s going to lead the next bit?’). This is the role of friend, ally, confidante, someone with whom I can share my fears and insecurities (therefore, not a good idea to be the client!) and someone to be with without having to make an effort. And someone with whom I can winge and get things off my chest, knowing it’s not going to go any further.

A mentor and co-learner

We need to be partners, we need to learn from each other, we need to mentor each other, we need complementary and different skills, we need to push each other, we need to restrain each other. We need to enjoy working together, have fun even.

Similar world view

We don’t need to be clones but we need to share some values about facilitating groups and have some common understandings of our approaches. And we need to be comfortable with each other’s idiosyncrasies, be able to let go and trust each other.

Co-facilitating is more than just sharing the responsibility for facilitating a workshop. It’s a partnership. With the best co-facilitators, we seemlessly tag off each other, anticipate what the other needs before they have asked for it, hand over with complete trust to the other that they will do whatever is needed (even if we haven’t discussed what that might be) and can step in when the other needs us without being seen as taking over. In short, we make each other look good – and ultimately everyone benefits, most especially the client and the workshop participants.

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