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How Do Co-Facilitators Support Each Other

By Martha Lasley
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Originally Published in Facilitating with Heart

Co-facilitators can support each other by co-designing learning objectives, creating pre-session time for mutual connection, and sharing what each facilitator wants to get from the experience personally. We can set agreements about the support we want to address our personal challenges. Some requests I’ve heard co-facilitators ask:

  • To help me track time, will you set a timer for 15 minutes and say, “You have about 2 more minutes”?
  • Will you remind me during the debrief to celebrate disappointment and capture the learning?
  • To increase alive engagement, can you support me in asking dissatisfied participants for their feedback live in the moment?
  • If you see any discomfort in me, will you ask me to share with the group so that I learn to be more vulnerable?

Sometimes I envy solo facilitators because they can do whatever they want. But they don’t get the support or learning opportunities that co-facilitators offer each other. They have a lot of autonomy, but at what cost? Whether we work solo or in a team, self-care is crucial to our well being, so asking for and creating what we want is vital. We rely on our co-facilitators or our support network for brainstorming, designing, capturing the learning, holding our feet to the fire if we’re procrastinating or getting us to take better care of ourselves. Without a support team I’d be lost.

Whenever we co-facilitate, there’s a danger that we will rely too heavily on our partner or team and diminish our own value. Sometimes we don’t prepare as rigorously, or we simply take a back seat. Brian Reddy says, “Curiously, the de-skilling phenomenon is most obvious and pronounced among Human Resource Development practitioners. As group members – talented as they might be when in the role of consultant—they resist using their skills for group effectiveness. When later queried, members offer explanations such as, ‘I didn’t want to look like the consultant…’ or ‘I didn’t think of it; I wanted to be a regular member.’ Often, just making the de-skilling observation can loosen up members and legitimize their using their skills.”1

I’ve been in a few situations where I’ve de-skilled myself, and I don’t find it that easy to shake it off. It’s a curious phenomenon. I’ve tried to uncover the needs that would lead to this behavior, but the best I can come up with is that I want to belong, create a sense of harmony as we become one voice, and I want it to be easy. There’s a reason we call it facilitation – the root word facile means flowing, moving effortlessly, easy to do. Up-front agreements about how we’ll co-facilitate help us address tough issues when they arise. In my early days of co-facilitation, I almost always worked with people who had a similar skill set – we’d been to the same training programs, so we had a shared context, language, and understanding of ways to process. Later I would choose co-facilitators who had a different style and fresh ways of doing things so that I could learn. Today I want a balance – I want the ease that comes from shared understanding, and I want to enjoy learning new approaches to facilitation.

1.  Brian Reddy 1994. Intervention Skills: Process Consultation for Small Groups and Teams. Pfeiffer

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