Co-facilitation: Mutual support or power struggle?

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Sharing responsibility for the facilitation of a complex meeting or a large event such as a workshop or conference presents challenges and opportunities that are different from those we face when facilitating alone.

Benefits of co-facilitation

Diversity. Collaboration between facilitators of different gender, ethnicity, nationality, age, etc. sends a positive message about the value of diversity in leadership and brings a broader perspective to the group’s process.

Stress management. Long meetings can be truly exhausting for one facilitator. Rotating the facilitation duties is a good way to care for yourself and the group.

Letting go. If you tend to believe that “I have to do it all myself, or it doesn’t get done right,” practicing co-facilitation may help you break this pattern of control.

Backup. If one facilitator becomes overwhelmed, ill, injured or is called away for an emergency, the meeting can continue with the other facilitator(s).

Build confidence and capacity. Working with a more experienced facilitator, watching how they work and anticipating what you can do to make her job easier is a good way to gain confidence, especially in potentially intimidating situations, such as large or conflictive meetings.

Joy. Working in a team can be a delight!

Tips for successful co-facilitation

One leader. To simplify communication with the client or organizing committee, designate one person as the contact person and leader of the co-facilitation team.

Clarify roles/tasks. Co-facilitators should meet before the meeting to plan how they will work together. Who will facilitate first? What tasks will the others perform when not facilitating? How often will we exchange roles? What unobtrusive signals will we use to communicate our needs to each other during the meeting? If the facilitators are being paid, how will the money be divided?

Post-meeting evaluation. Get together after the meeting to discuss what went well and what could be improved in the future.

Spirit of service. Be humble. Pay attention. Serve the group well.

Warnings

Do not co-facilitate with a stranger. If you do not know a proposed co-facilitator, try to observe him facilitate and establish a collegial relationship before agreeing to co-facilitate. At a minimum, meet with the person in advance to get to know more about his experience and facilitation style. Discussing roles and mutual expectations can avoid unpleasant surprises for both the two of you and the group.

Recognize rank issues. If you are a very experienced facilitator working with a relative newcomer, resist the temptation to jump in and take over. Simply serve as the assistant. If you coach the person during the meeting, do so sparingly and discretely. If you are an inexperienced facilitator, spend time as an apprentice before you try co-facilitating. Trying to learn in the heat of a large meeting will not help you or the group.

Never publicly criticize or argue with your co-facilitator during the meeting. This behavior will only serve to damage your relationship and lose the trust of the group. If necessary, talk to the facilitator at a break or quietly ask the group to take a break so you can discuss an issue.

Do not change roles too often. It is important that the group have a sense of stability and continuity during the meeting. Changing facilitators too often can be confusing, especially if their styles are very different.

This article is adapted from “The Joys and Perils of Co-Facilitation,” published in the Bonfire Collection: a complete reference guide to facilitation and change.

Need help in developing collaborative relationships with a co-facilitator? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching needs.

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