Picture this — you’re planning a large training workshop. You will be working with a co-facilitator. In theory, this partner will make your life a little easier. You’ll be able to share the work, get extra support, and have help answering tough questions. In reality, you realize soon into the engagement that those expectations constitute a pipe dream.
Working with a co-facilitator can be a struggle – unless you plan accordingly.
An ideal scenario is one where co-facilitators play to each other’s strengths. They communicate, collaborate, and keep the workshop running smoothly. They support each other and adapt as the event moves along. If everything is planned out, the sum of your strengths makes for an easy day. When things don’t go well, co-facilitators compete for control, step on each other’s toes, and create negative energy. From the participants’ perspectives, it can be uncomfortable, confusing, and frustrating when the co-facilitators are out of step.
We can all learn from the best practices and the mistakes. The most important thing about every one of the 12 tips compiled here is this – plan ahead. We’ve grouped the co-facilitation approaches into before, during, and after phases to give you a clear plan of attack.
Before You Co-Facilitate a Workshop
- Clearly define each facilitator’s role.
Is one facilitator the lead, or are you are equal co-leads? Decide who will facilitate each section and what support is needed by the co-facilitator throughout the process.
- Decide on a few feedback signals.
Create signals that work for you. I typically move my hands down for “slow down,” point at my wrist for “watch your time,” and raise my hand to signal that “I have something I want to add.”
During the Workshop – Lead Facilitator
- Watch for your co-facilitator’s signal.
On top of looking around at participants, keep an eye on your co-facilitator. Watch his expressions and signals so you can adjust on the spot. Notice if they seem to want to jump in and say something.
- Signal before calling on your co-facilitator.
The last thing you want to do is embarrass your co-facilitator by catching her unprepared to answer an unexpected question. Before you call on them, be sure to catch their eye or call their name.
- Enlist your co-facilitator to help.
If someone asks you a question and you don’t have a solid response, look at your co-facilitator to see if he looks ready to answer. In the event that the session includes small group activities, both facilitators should walk around the room to check for questions.
- Watch your time.
It’s not fair for you to take more time than planned and put your co-facilitator in the position to have to make up the lost time. Work together to manage the schedule by asking your co-facilitator to give time warnings from the back of the room. For example, ask them to hold up 10 fingers for “10 minutes left.” I prefer time warnings at ten, five, and two minutes.
- Check in with the co-facilitator during breaks.
During the breaks, discuss timing, challenges, and new ideas so you can align on any adjustments that need to be made. We all know that workshops rarely go exactly as planned. Proactively work together to solve unforeseen challenges during breaks.
During the Workshop – Secondary Facilitator
- Actively engage — observe and listen.
Even when you are not front and center, you still play a significant role. You are an acting role model for the other participants. If you are checking your phone, they will too. Pay attention so you can provide continuity when you are facilitating again. The facilitator will probably miss some non-verbal behaviors or dysfunctions. You are their extra set of eyes and to see how the group is responding and identify when something is amiss.
- Sit off to the side or in the back of the room.
Find a non-distracting place to sit where you can monitor the room.
- Resist the urge to interrupt the other facilitator.
Nothing is more aggravating than a co-facilitator who jumps in and takes over. Unless the co-facilitator for help, don’t fight them for control of the room. Richard Smith (Certified Master Facilitator) recommends that if the co-facilitator seems to have missed a key point, the best time to share it is during a transition into the next topic.
After the Workshop
- Debrief the workshop.
Discuss the results of the workshop, your process, and how you worked together. Identify what went well, and how you could work together better next time. Be sure to acknowledge your co-facilitator for how they helped.
- Establish ownership of follow up actions or next steps.
Determine who will write up notes, take action steps, etc., and work together to reset the room if needed.
Co-facilitation is not always easy. It is critical to spend time planning how you will work together. Once you work out any kinks, the benefits of co-facilitation outweigh the negatives. If you have other ideas to improve the co-facilitation experience or want to share an experience, tell us in the comment section below.
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