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Interactive Co-Facilitation:
Training Programs that Rock

By Martha Lasley
Coaching for Transformation
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Originally Published in Facilitating with Heart

Most people who call themselves co-facilitators actually practice a tag-team approach where one facilitator works with the group at a time. Using a more collaborative, interactive approach where both facilitators work together simultaneously, almost like improv theatre, we demonstrate deep trust in each other and in the flow. With some practice, we learn to:

  • Blend facilitation by building on each other’s ideas
  • Make changes in direction without refuting each other
  • Model trust without checking excessively with each other
  • Interrupt each other with grace
  • Jointly hold the needs of the group and the needs of individuals as a gift
  • Track time while giving each other space
  • Stay aware of natural openings
  • Share feedback openly and support each other’s growth
  • Empathize and celebrate success

I especially enjoy co-facilitating with Mary Kuentz for her playfulness and directness and because we both value alignment. Here she explores what makes co-facilitation work and what happens when it doesn’t:

I like having a common language and common understanding with my co-facilitator, finding what we’re both passionate about and committing to alignment. Beforehand, we have a conversation about why we’re here, what scares us, and what’s important to us. We also talk about what we hope people walk away with, how they will be changed, and how we will be changed.

If we’re not aligned, if we’re going in different directions, it feels harder, and the joy and ease of co-facilitation is gone. We can either find the joy and ease or release ourselves into nonalignment and process the difficulty. Either way, there’s plenty of learning available.

I once worked with a co-facilitator where we got along really well personally. He teased me, which was his way of connecting. That worked for me until he teased me about not knowing the material, which triggered me. During the break I said, “I would appreciate if you have some feedback that you tell me directly. The teasing isn’t working because you’re trying to tell me something without telling me.” It felt rough. A participant came up during the break and said, “You’re not in synch and it shows.”

I wanted to speak to it in the group, and let them know what was happening between us, so they could see how we work it out. But he didn’t want to take us off the timeline. We needed to clean it up ourselves. So we did something half-way. By sticking to the time line, the workshop became generic – we lost the magic, lost the intimacy. Without self-disclosure and transparency, a lot of learning was lost. From that experience, I learned to stand my ground and trust what I know. Now I trust that we can stay on the time line, process what’s happening in the group, and make sure that everyone gets more learning. Transparency works!

Mary's story shows the complexity of holding time for learning and for process. When two facilitators are quarreling behind the scene, the participants easily pick up on it, just like children do when their parents are fighting.

If only all parents and facilitators had the confidence and the skills to work out their disagreements transparently and publicly. When great role models work through a real live conflict, that gives participants some hope that they can do the same.


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