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The Dance of Co-Facilitation:
Transparency for Full Engagement

By Martha Lasley
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The beauty of co-facilitation is that we can model heart connection, shared leadership, openness, and receptivity to feedback. To paraphrase Gandhi, we get to be the love we want to see in the world. Every facilitator makes hundreds of mistakes, but as co-facilitators, we help each other recover from any missteps, not by covering things up or smoothing things over, but by creating an opportunity for learning.

Nobody models the heart of co-facilitation the way Campbell Plowden does. He balances both leadership and shared power by embodying a deep trust in the process and his co-facilitators. He leads 3- day workshops for the Alternatives to Violence Project where he takes risks, shows up authentically, and supports co-facilitators and participants as they step into their power. Here’s how he describes a transformational experience in a maximum security prison:

If they’re not revealing themselves, as the facilitator, I take risks. I reveal more personal information, so that they take risks. I check in with myself and ask, “What’s something personal for me, what’s a story I haven’t shared ever before?” so that when I share it, it has that ring of authentic risk-taking. I’m not talking about one of my top five personal stories. It gets harder and harder to do that because there aren’t a lot of stories left that I haven’t told. When it gets scary, and there’s no magic, no spark, what do I do? I try to love or jolt the group back into synch. How? By being extra attentive, emanating compassion for everybody, and listening very carefully to people.

In one workshop, the flavor and mood changed on day two because some people felt scared pushing up against their discomfort, low energy, or apathy, while others were deepening their trust. When Shaun, my inside (inmate) co-facilitator struggled with an activity, I intervened. A participant said, “You have a problem with control.” Afterwards, privately, another co-facilitator, Derek, reamed me out. I took a step back and listened fully and thought about the feedback. I acknowledged his concerns. As an inmate, Derek took a huge personal risk to share negative feedback with me, an outside lead facilitator. Then I shared my perception: that it was not my intention to undermine Shaun, but I felt we were losing ground, losing their attention. As lead facilitator, I felt a deep responsibility for the entire group. I wanted Derek to understand the emotional weight I carried as lead facilitator, and that sometimes I make decisions to act on my own even if it may not be popular.

As a result, Derek and I connected in a person-to-person way that hadn’t happened before. The next day we were in synch and worked as partners, resolving what was happening in a natural, effective way, both feeling very good about each other. It was a breakthrough for him that both of us really understood each other. If I’d only listened, he may have felt patronized; however, because I willingly accepted his feedback and offered a heartfelt explanation of my emotional state, we deepened our mutual respect.

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