One facilitator can make a workshop great. Bringing a co-facilitator can lead to even better engagement, providing participants and facilitators with additional space and focus to reach their desired outcomes.
But how can you make co-facilitation a valuable and effective process that justifies the additional cost? How can you be a better co-facilitator?
In this guide, we’ll explore the different styles of co-facilitation, how to work with a co-facilitator effectively, and how to pitch co-facilitation to clients too!
Workshops, events and training sessions are often complex to design and exhausting to run. Facilitation is a workplace super skill, and while a single facilitator can make all the difference, sometimes they need backup.
Whether it’s designing an agenda or running a workshop, collaborating with a co-facilitator can help a team meet goals and stay engaged – all without asking the Earth of a single facilitator!
Co-facilitation can be one of the most effective ways of improving outcomes, achieving goals, and keeping all your participants engaged. Some of my best facilitation experiences have been when working with a co-facilitator or with a group supported by multiple facilitators.
In this guide, we’ll explore the best practices of an effective co-facilitator, when and how you should co-facilitate, and how to kick off a great co-facilitation partnership. Let’s dive in.
Co-facilitation is when two or more facilitators deliver a session as a team. Co-facilitators share the responsibility of everything from co-designing an agenda to delivering a workshop and following up with clients.
Co-facilitation can come in different shapes and sizes. It might mean sharing the stage throughout a workshop or alternating who is the lead and supporting facilitator.
When training new facilitators, it’s also common to have a mentor and mentee set up. In any case, all facilitators involved in the co-facilitation process work together to help deliver a great session for participants and clients.
Note that there is a distinction between co-facilitation and working with a supporting team. Technical assistants or logistical support can be a massive help – especially with complex sessions – though it’s important to recognize that these people often do not participate in the core task of group facilitation. Nor should they!
Focus is important for everyone on your facilitation team and as we’ll explore in this guide, co-facilitation is a powerful way to give your workshop participants the focus they deserve.
Every meeting and workshop is made better with a facilitator. For most sessions, you can improve outcomes even further by adding a co-facilitator.
Managing energy levels, keeping an eye on group dynamics and ensuring great outcomes is easier when you have multiple facilitators working towards the same goal.
In this section, we’ll explore the many benefits of co-facilitation. Let’s dig in!
Designing effective workshops is all about understanding the group and creating a process that works for them and the goal they wish to achieve. For many facilitators, an agenda comes together through discussions with clients and by leveraging their experience and skills as facilitators.
With a co-facilitator, you have the benefit of two people’s facilitation experience and design skills. At the workshop planning stage, having a partner who can offer ideas and critique can both speed up the process and improve the outcomes. I often find that having a co-designer whose skillset compliments mine also helps the workshop feel balanced and multifaceted.
Facilitation is often an exhausting, all-consuming process. During long complex sessions with large numbers of participants, the attention of a single facilitator is often split around the group. Bringing in a second facilitator means a second pair of eyes in the room ensuring that everyone in the group is attended to. It’s easier to capture learnings, ensure all voices are heard and help those who require extra attention.
Co-facilitation also makes it easier to manage issues or adversity when it arises. For example, one facilitator may handle a technical issue or set up breakout rooms while the other facilitator preps the group. A co-facilitator can help ensure a smooth workshop flow where everything is given the space and attention it deserves.
Energy is a vital ingredient for a successful workshop. For both participants and facilitators, it’s normal that energy levels fluctuate throughout a session. When energy levels are low, that’s usually a sign to take a break or mix things up. But sometimes, even that’s not enough!
Co-facilitation makes it easier to manage both personal and group energy. Swapping facilitators can create variety, increasing engagement and positively affecting the energy in a room. It also provides the opportunity to give one facilitator a break while the other steps in.
Throwing ourselves into delivering a workshop means giving our energy as facilitators. With a co-facilitator, we have more collective energy to give. This alone can have a massive impact on the outcomes of your sessions and how you feel at the end. (Battered, or energized?)
I’ve found my recovery time from delivering a complex session is reduced when working with a co-facilitator! I also tend to have more fun and feel more energized as a result. Win-win!
Good facilitation and flexibility go hand in hand – having two minds working together massively increases your ability to respond to change and serve the group.
In my own practice, having a co-facilitator meant we could ask a group what kinds of activities and discussions would be most useful for them and accommodate them accordingly. We would often split the group based on their preferences and needs on the day – something that would be much more difficult with a single facilitator.
The varying skill sets of two co-facilitators also means that you can add variety and flexibility to your agenda design or respond when things change. More resources and experience mean more options and a greater ability to solve problems creatively should they arise.
There is more than one way to facilitate, participate and ultimately exist in the world. Having two facilitators in the room can be an effective way to model difference for a group.
This might mean having facilitators who occupy opposing views to help model effective conflict management. You may have a subject matter expert and team dynamics facilitator co-lead a session, or bring both a local and visiting facilitator who both have different perspectives to add to a community workshop.
Remember that who you put in front of a group is a choice. This choice can reinforce or destabilize power dynamics, and improve or hinder feelings of trust and equal representation in a group. Having a co-facilitator can create a more balanced dynamic while also being an effective way to ensure representation and equivalence.
A major benefit of co-facilitation is professional development. Learning from a peer on the job can be extremely instructive. Whether you are just starting out or simply learning a new way of doing things, there’s nothing quite like practical experience to kickstart development.
You might explore new methodologies, start facilitating larger groups than you’re used to or incorporate an entirely new facilitation style. I’ve been on both sides of the mentor/mentee relationship while co-facilitating and I’ve learned something every single time. Questioning and exploring your own practice while mentoring can be just as useful as learning as a mentee!
Two facilitators also presents the opportunity to give and receive professional feedback. Seeing behind the curtain of a more experienced facilitator’s process can be transformative, and having a peer give feedback on your facilitation style can be incredibly helpful too.
Ask any teacher or leader and they’ll tell you that at a certain size, groups become very difficult to manage. In my experience, once a group goes over 20 people, it can be hard to be emotionally attuned to everyone in a room. In such cases, a co-facilitator goes from a nice-to-have to a near necessity.
Some large group activities are also difficult to impossible to orchestrate with just a single facilitator leading. Though your agenda design is incredibly important to ensuring a good experience for large groups, there is a point where capacity becomes the main problem you need to solve.
All groups benefit from co-facilitation, though the effects are often more pronounced in a virtual or hybrid setting. Acknowledging that online sessions are more draining and can be hit with technical issues and logistical considerations only heightens the need for a co-facilitator.
Sharing the load of managing a virtual group and all the tools you need can really help with that, “ I really need to lie down” feeling you might have after the end of a day facilitating virtually!
In hybrid workshops, you will likely have a co-located facilitator and an online facilitator. This means that both groups have someone looking out for them, who is especially attuned to their needs. This can be instrumental in avoiding “us and them” dynamics and ensuring equal participation and representation in group discussions. Check out our hybrid facilitation guide for more on this subject.
Every meeting and workshop is made better with a facilitator. For most sessions, you can make things even better by adding a co-facilitator. Managing energy levels, keeping an eye on group dynamics and ensuring great outcomes is made easier when you have multiple facilitators working towards that goal.
According to results of SessionLab’s State of Facilitation in 2023 report, facilitators work mostly alone: 64.8% facilitate alone most of the time. Yet, we hear many professionals advocate for co-facilitation as best practice.
The more lengthy, complex or populated a session, the greater the benefits of co-facilitation become. So what are the tipping points for bringing in a co-facilitator? Here are some best practices to follow when co-facilitating.
- In our experience, a workshop with more than 20 people is a strong candidate for co-facilitation. Responding to the emotional needs of that many people is tiring and splitting this load can ensure everyone in the room is looked after appropriately.
- Hybrid sessions. Running a co-located group in tandem with an online cohort is near-impossible to do well with just one facilitator.
- Virtual sessions. While running an involved online workshop with a single facilitator is possible, it can place a strain on that facilitator, particularly as additional tools, breakouts and participants are added to the mix.
- Sessions longer than 2-3 hours. Facilitation is often an all-consuming practice. By bringing in a co-facilitator, the energy of everyone in the room is better protected. More energy and variety often equal better outcomes for all.
- Working with sensitive, triggering topics. Special attention, care and representation is made more possible with multiple facilitators. Whether you need a subject matter expert on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) or want to create space for breakout groups, consider bringing in a second facilitator when dealing with complex, difficult content.
- Complex workshops and events. As soon as a session enters a certain level of complexity, it is prudent to consider expanding the facilitation team. If at any stage you find yourself thinking, “This is a lot for one person to facilitate”, chances are, it is!
Whether working with a client or collaborating on a workshop internally, we’d advocate for making co-facilitation the norm. So the question is arguably, when should you *not* have a co-facilitator?
- Simple, recurring sessions. Daily stand-ups, short meetings and recurring sessions with a set agenda may not need a second facilitator. In internal meetings, we’d especially advocate using such occasions as an opportunity for learning. Could you invite someone else on the team to facilitate the session and develop their facilitation skills?
- When cost is prohibitive. For some organizations or teams, the cost of a second facilitator is simply too much. In these cases, we’d recommend thinking about how you can use your existing resources to support the facilitator and consider how you might upskill people in your organization for future co-facilitation. Facilitation is a workplace super skill and taking opportunities to learn and practice is encouraged!
In discussions with clients, cost is often the single greatest reason against employing co-facilitation. With tight budgets and high expectations, it can be tough to sell the benefits of adding a co-facilitator to the mix.
Justifying the additional cost can be a challenge, though as with any aspect of session delivery, we recommend coming back to your client’s goals and outcomes and using this as the basis for any suggestions.
If the desired outcomes ask for a complex, multi-day event, you should factor co-facilitation into your design. Just as clients hiring you to run a conference-style event would expect to hire technical assistants, complex workshops call for additional facilitators too.
In the case where funds are simply not available, I’d recommend seeing how you can source facilitation experience from within the team or participant pool. This might mean taking on a mentee who you share some small responsibilities with or asking if anyone with relevant experience might be able to help out.
This approach is highly dependent on your client and their goals for the session, but it can be helpful to position co-facilitation as an opportunity for growth. Spreading the skillset and encouraging others to get involved can not only improve the results of a single session but improve the way a team works together afterward.
When working with a co-facilitator, it’s important that you are aligned on the style of co-facilitation you will be using. It might be that you will divide up the agenda equally and take turns being the lead facilitator. You might share the stage and complement one another throughout or be in a mentor/mentee setup.
All of these approaches are valid, but understanding how both facilitators prefer to work and factoring this into the design of your session is essential.
In this section, we’ll explore the three main styles of co-facilitation and share some tips for each one. We’ll also cover some supporting roles that you might also feature in your facilitation team.
Taking turns and alternating is probably the easiest ways to begin working with a co-facilitator. In this facilitation style, co-facilitators take turns to occupy the lead and supporting facilitator roles.
The lead facilitator operates like a solo facilitator: leading the group process, managing activities and facilitating the flow of the session. The supporting facilitator is an additional presence to support where necessary, often helping with logistics or being available to participants who need additional help.
The supporting facilitator may operate from the back of the room or be an active presence based on the needs of the session. At various points in the session, you and your co-facilitator will alternate roles.
Taking turns is a great way to co-facilitate if you have different areas of expertise, have designed discrete sections of the agenda or are just getting started. I particularly like the way a baton relay approach provides variation for both participants and facilitators.
Taking turns is also one of the best ways to help facilitators manage their energy. Swapping lead facilitators gives each facilitator a chance to recoup, take a break and adjust the agenda as needed.
This style of co-facilitation can be one of the most fun and dynamic for both facilitators and participants. Here, facilitators co-lead the agenda and fluidly complement each other throughout a session.
In this style, there is less of an emphasis on designating a leading and supporting facilitator for each section. Instead, co-facilitators share leading and supporting roles at once, organically transitioning and responding to one another throughout the session.
This style I’ve found especially effective with highly participatory workshops. Sharing the stage is a great way to model the kind of dialogues and collaborative approaches you want to see in your participants.
In my experience, this style works best with facilitators who know each other well. While all co-facilitation setups benefit from an expectation-setting conversation beforehand, the dancing together style especially needs alignment between facilitators. As with any dance, you need to be attuned to your partner to avoid stepping on any toes or tripping over one another!
A common style of co-facilitation is that of an expert and apprentice, or mentor and mentee. In these set-ups, you’ll often have an expert facilitator lead a session and have an apprentice shadowing them as part of their personal development journey. In some training setups, it might be that the apprentice is leading a session with an expert on hand to help out and provide feedback and share best practices.
As with any co-facilitation set-up, making roles and expectations clear beforehand is key to making this style effective. Depending on their experience level, trainees may want to get involved and lead part of a session. For complete newbies, their first co-facilitation role might be purely supporting and observing the expert in action.
I’ve been on both sides of this co-facilitation setup and in both cases, asking what the trainee wants to learn and where they feel less comfortable has been hugely important. Make sure the facilitation setup matches the apprentice’s learning journey and see where you can add value for both the trainee and participants.
Lastly, remember that the group comes first! Delegating activities to the trainee at the expense of the workshop experience is not advised (unless it’s a workshop on training new facilitators!).
While you may occasionally work with another dedicated facilitator, it’s even more common to work with a supporting team who may share some of the responsibilities of running the session. These supporting roles can be very helpful, especially in complex workshops with large numbers of participants.
For large events, you might even bring a whole facilitation team including technical support, setup and a graphic facilitator for visual note-taking. It’s also worth noting that you and your co-facilitator may also take on some of these responsibilities throughout a session.
In any case, ensure that everyone on the facilitation team is aligned on roles and responsibilities before running the workshop.
When it comes to running a session, clearly communicate to participants who is available to them if they need extra support. If you have a whole facilitation team (lucky you!) this means letting the group know who to ask for 1:1s, who is available for tech support, and so on.
With some groups and sessions, it’s even worth enlisting participants to occupy some of these roles. In internal teams, consider it an opportunity to share the load and upskill your group. When working with external clients, consider how occupying these roles might benefit the group. Helping a team take better notes, for example, can have lasting benefits beyond the workshop.
Effective note-taking is an essential part of most workshops. You might take notes for the benefit of people who couldn’t attend or to easily summarize or document decision points. Often, this also means adding items to a whiteboard, creating post-its or taking minutes for later reflection.
At an advanced level, the note-taker can also effectively synthesize learnings and help provide takeaways or insights for the group.
When choosing someone to be a note-taker, it’s important to ask who the notes are for. If it’s to collect feedback and insights for client stakeholders, this might be a task for a co-facilitator. If it’s for the participants, why not get someone from the group to take notes?
As always, remember what the group needs. Taking detailed minutes is different than actively engaging in the session and it’s important that this role serves the needs of the activity and workshop.
Delegating important, non-facilitation tasks is a great way to help you and your co-facilitator focus. Bringing technical support to a session has always been useful, though, with virtual and hybrid sessions, it’s become near essential.
The person in this role will likely perform technical duties such as setting up breakout rooms, checking equipment, sharing links and documents, and facilitating software use.
Logistics are something else this person may handle. Arranging lunch, setting up the room in a live session or distributing handouts takes work and having someone take this responsibility from the core facilitators can help reduce stress.
While it can be tempting to think you can handle this yourself, remember that participants can tell when your attention is split. Bringing in tech support can help facilitators be more present – it’s always worth spending more time on group dynamics and less time wondering if Zoom is working!
In more involved sessions, the lead facilitator might be so absorbed in an activity or discussion that it becomes difficult to keep track of time. In these cases, it can be very helpful for a co-facilitator or dedicated timekeeper to focus on time management.
The person in this role might signal how much time is left, giving the facilitator a cue to wrap things up and move on. They might also handle making any changes to the agenda when things overrun or change.
In SessionLab, you can use Time Tracker to automatically keep track of where you are in your agenda and adjust in real-time. When co-facilitating, Time Tracker also helps keep everyone in sync and up to date with any changes. However you choose to delegate this task, it can really help you focus on facilitation. At the very least, always bring a clock!
In training sessions or design workshops, it can be helpful to bring in a subject matter expert to support the session. This person might be on hand to add context and be a source of knowledge for the team.
In some settings, a subject matter expert can also be the bridge between the facilitator and a community of practice or industry. Bringing in a climate scientist as a co-facilitator when running a workshop for climate action, for example, can be instrumental in its success.
I’ve often found that having a subject expert on hand to fill in gaps in the facilitator’s knowledge or be a sounding board for suggestions can help deliver better outcomes. Having the voice of a user in the room during a design session, for example, can help focus the team and save time when making decisions too!
As we’ve explored, co-facilitation is helpful for facilitators, clients and participants. But making it a smooth, effective experience for everyone takes practice and consideration.
In this section, we’ll share some co-facilitation tips and best practices that can help position you and your co-facilitator for success!
Co-facilitation is a partnership. As with any partnership, finding an arrangement where both parties complement each other and find it mutually gratifying is vital to its success. But how can you find a great co-facilitator?
In internal teams, potential co-facilitators are everywhere. The key is finding space for both partners to be honest about their skills, preferences and personality types.
Ask your team to raise their hands if they’re interested in co-facilitation or have facilitation experience and have a conversation about how you like to work together. We’ve prepared 14 questions to kickstart great co-facilitation to help you set up that talk!
For freelance facilitators, there are many ways of finding a potential co-facilitator. Being a part of a facilitation community or association is a common way to find a partner.
Look for facilitators in your network whose facilitation skills or interests complement your own. Be sure to consider the job at hand too. An event for leaders is a very different gig from a team-building workshop, and the co-facilitation you bring in to help should reflect this.
In my experience, most co-facilitators find one another through their existing networks of facilitators. Be active in your community and ask your network for help. I’ve also seen success with mentoring schemes – you might pair up with someone you want to learn from or invite people who might want to learn from or by enlisting help from within the team they’re working with.
When everyone on your facilitation team is working together in harmony, the workshop can be amazing. If there is any misalignment, friction, or conflict between facilitators, this can negatively impact the workshop.
Before you get started, ensure all your co-facilitators are aligned on their roles in the facilitation process. Using the facilitation styles section above or the 14 questions to kick-start the great co-facilitation handout below can be a great way to begin a successful collaboration.
But even with guidelines and a framework, it can be helpful to clarify expectations of what each role looks like in practice and what kind of input you each want to receive.
For example, when using the expert and apprentice setup, I find delineating a lead facilitator and supporting facilitator for each and every section of the agenda very helpful.
Going further, it was especially useful to define exactly what the lead facilitator would like from the supporting facilitator at any moment. This might mean keeping time during a complex activity, taking charge of technical set-up, or running an activity with a breakout group. By spelling this out explicitly, it meant that both parties knew what was expected of them at any moment.
Conversely, when working with a co-facilitator I knew very well, we decided on a share-the-stage approach where defining our roles was a much more light touch. In any case, it was helpful for everyone to know what was expected before kicking off.
In SessionLab, you can assign different facilitators to separate blocks and activities. This makes it easy to see who is leading each section of your agenda.
You can even include notes to help remind everyone of their roles and responsibilities. This is especially useful if you and your co-facilitators are moving between roles and leading different parts of the session.
For some facilitators, defining each person’s role is almost like creating a script or a theatre run sheet. For others, it’s more of a way to keep track of what each person is keeping on top of.
Alignment also means discussing goals and desired ooutcomes, as well as the needs of the group and any stakeholders. For a headstart, checkout our workshop planning template to see how you might create alignment between all parties.
Having clear roles and a shared understanding of what is expected helps create clarity for your participants and also ensures your workshop runs smoothly.
At it’s best, co-facilitation is a harmonious dance where everyone on the facilitation team is able to give their best. It can also mean dividing up tasks so that each person has a manageable workload of things they are good at and enjoy doing.
Right at the start of any co-facilitation practice, I find it useful to discuss what we’re all good at, what we need help with, and what we most and least enjoy doing.
Often, it can be useful to select a co-facilitator who complements your facilitation style and is good at what you’re not. If you suck at designing and delivering presentations, partner with a co-facilitator who can! If you’re awesome at putting a new group at ease, maybe you should lead the icebreaker.
While this discussion is helpful when dividing up an agenda, it can also be helpful to let your team know when you might need help or would appreciate extra input. For example, letting a co-facilitator during an online session know I wasn’t familiar with managing large breakout groups on Zoom meant they could help out when necessary.
For me, true co-facilitation is a highly collaborative process that means you create a workshop design and facilitation process that is the sum of your ideas, styles, and experience.
In some cases, you might co-create the agenda from start to finish. In another case, a co-facilitator might come on board late in the process to facilitate an already-designed session or workshop template.
In any case, invite your co-facilitator to your draft session in SessionLab to work on the agenda together.
In my experience, co-designing a session and giving each co-facilitator the opportunity to contribute leads to a better outcome for everyone. Even with a near-final agenda, giving your co-facilitator an opportunity to add ideas or simply see behind the scenes is also useful.
At the very least, it helps everyone on the facilitation team understand their role and prepare for the session. Getting a shock on the day of a workshop can be disconcerting, to say the least!
For solo facilitators moving to co-facilitation, the change can be difficult. It can be challenging to change working habits, give up control and share responsibilities or stage time. This can manifest by not allowing your co-facilitator to participate in designing a session or finding it difficult to step back and allow them to lead a section.
If this sounds like you, be sure to have a conversation with your co-facilitator and consider ways to build trust before the session.
You might check out the 14 questions to kick-start great co-facilitation handout below as the basis for an intro conversation. Even finding time for a coffee and getting to know each other more deeply as people can be the first step to building trust.
Without a foundation of trust in place, co-facilitation can become difficult and also change the atmosphere of a session: have you ever been in a room where two speakers or facilitators appear to be fighting one another more than servicing the needs of the group? While any number of interpersonal issues might be responsible, I’ve often found that a lack of trust is at the core of this issue.
Especially when starting out, consider working with a co-facilitator where there is mutual trust or get together and work to develop trust before your session begins.
On a basic level, it’s helpful for participants to understand who everyone in the room is and what their roles are during a session. Knowing who to go to for technical help or for questions about what’s coming up can make it easier for the group to ask the right person for what they need.
Taking a moment to introduce everyone also really helps create an equitable power dynamic between everyone on the facilitation team. It feels good to be acknowledged and making it clear that each co-facilitator is equally valued sets the right tone for the session ahead. Even those people working from the back of the room should be acknowledged here!
It’s also a good idea to introduce your facilitation team to your clients. Making all the work of your facilitation team legible and visible is often an integral part of pitching and getting a client onboard with your proposals. Using the printout of your SessionLab agenda can also support this process!
Working with a co-facilitator after being solo introduces an additional layer of complexity. The kind of internal discussions you might have about how things are going and what you might want to change needs to be extended to your co-facilitator.
You should agree on how you’d like one another to intervene or contribute in front of the group. If done poorly, contributions from a co-facilitator can feel like being undermined or contradicted. Done well, it can make the workshop experience more dynamic and effective.
Have a conversation about what works for each of you and what is also in service of the group. You might welcome open contributions throughout one session, though another one might benefit from a quieter, more considered approach. Clarification before the workshop helps everyone!
A large part of this can also mean choosing how to communicate important items during an activity or session. How would you like to communicate how much time is left during an activity? How best to add supporting information, suggest that a discussion needs a deeper interrogation, or signal that you need an off-stage chat about group dynamics? Making these communication signals clear and aligning on how they work is incredibly helpful.
This goes hand in hand with session design and the needs of the group. What might work for one group in a team-building session might not work for a group debriefing a recent group conflict.
In one co-facilitated workshop series, I learned that by agreeing that we’d ask our co-facilitators if they had anything to add, we made it easy to communicate when we wanted input and make it feel safe to contribute too.
Remember that how you and your co-facilitator work together is made up of all these small interactions. If you have lots of negative interactions where you don’t know if you’re interrupting or have something you need to say but don’t feel able to communicate it, that can break trust and ruin a good dynamic. Conversely, it feels good to know how your co-facilitator will communicate issues if they arise and trust that they have your back!
Check in with your co-facilitator and facilitation team often. Regular breaks to check in on how you both feel things are going are vital. These moments are great spaces to give each other kudos and support, amend the agenda or let each other know about anything to look out for. Often, this will happen organically though it’s worth creating dedicated time and space for checking in too.
Design your agenda to include space to check in, however briefly, and be creative. One of my regular co-facilitators and I found that the first section of a 1,2,4 All exercise is a great moment to have a quick word!
As with any other aspect of co-facilitation, it’s worth clarifying how you’d like this to work in practice. For example, I worked with a co-facilitator who preferred to check in and receive feedback during a session where possible and wanted to leave the breaks for downtime, so we created a system that worked for us. In my case, unless something is going disastrously wrong, I prefer to finish a section and then reflect and correct course during a natural break.
When facilitating in a hybrid or virtual setting, I recommend using a backchannel to communicate too. In one virtual session, my co-facilitator privately messaged me to let me know I was rushing a bit and asked whether everything was okay. This was very valuable feedback that allowed me to slow down and deliver the best possible session for our participants.
At its heart, facilitation is all about collaboration and enabling a group to work together towards a common goal. When trying to encourage collaboration, discussion and co-creation, it’s especially helpful to model this kind of behavior for your participants.
This might ask for a light touch approach: modeling active listening and a collaborative mindset in front of a group can guide a group to emulate the same behaviors. It might also mean demonstrating group activities and engaging actively in discussions and collaborations.
This can be especially effective if two co-facilitators have different skill sets, positions or experience levels. Showing a group how to navigate and collaborate across differences helps set the tone and can also leaven the potential of an “us and them” dynamic.
When facilitators are actively engaged and open to being vulnerable, this places them in a similar position to participants, and this alone can create an energized, collaborative dynamic.
Supporting your co-facilitator means being present during the sections they are leading and being prepared to help out if necessary. You’ll likely have discussed this before the session, but as we all know, things can change in the moment!
Mentally checking out when you’re not the lead facilitator is not a great way to back up your team! Stay present, listen and be attentive, even when you’re not in the leading role.
Respect for your co-facilitator means different things to different people, and it’s worth clarifying this before you get started.
To me, respect during co-facilitation means not interrupting or awkwardly interrupting my co-facilitators flow or stepping out of an agreed-upon role. It also means being aware of power dynamics and positioning everyone on the facilitation team equally. Not introducing a co-facilitator and contradicting them can create a difficult situation for all!
To me, respect also means trusting your co-facilitator. Giving them the floor when leading or allowing them to use their facilitation style without forcing yours upon them is an example of trust. It might also mean allowing them to change up an activity on the fly if it serves the group and the desired outcomes of the session.
As with every item on this list, you should discuss what this looks like for you and your co-facilitator. For a new facilitator who is still learning, they might really appreciate their co-facilitator stepping in if it looks like things are off track. Alternatively, for a more improvisational facilitator, it can feel bad for a co-facilitator to jump in and say that they’re deviating from the plan in front of the group.
Co-facilitation is a joyful experience that can enrich the workshop experience for everyone. It can be a boon for group dynamics and can help the session be memorable, varied and dynamic too. That said, this needs to be balanced with professionalism and the greater goals of the session.
Try to avoid insider jokes and inadvertently creating an “us and them” dynamic. Having two facilitators riff and inhabit a private world separate to that of the group during a workshop can have a negative effect.
It’s important to stay aware of how everything in a room impacts group dynamics – that includes you and your co-facilitator!
As always, remember that facilitation should be in service of the group. Create an inclusive environment that has room for everyone and maintains professionalism: even a fun team-building event has a desired outcome that it is your job to achieve.
Having an open, flexible mindset is key to great co-facilitation. Being open to your co-facilitator’s needs, ideas and facilitation style means that you will truly co-create and co-facilitate, rather than having one person railroad the other. Often, co-facilitation means challenging some of your assumptions and being open to trying new things.
Arguably, good facilitation is all about flexibility – responding to the needs of the group and adapting as necessary. Good co-facilitation is no different. Whether it’s at the design stage or during delivery, prepare to be flexible and move with your co-facilitator, rather than against them.
Communicating with your co-facilitator in the session is a given, but how about before and after the workshop? It can be awful to feel out of the loop or not receive crucial information or feedback.
Practice great communication with your co-facilitator, whatever their level of involvement. If they can’t be at a client meeting, let them know what happened. If something had changed, keep them up to date. This might mean an email, a call or simply logging any updates in SessionLab or Google Docs.
Remember that communication is important even after a workshop. Find a way to give feedback, share resources, and help each other out ahead of any future collaborations too!
Effective co-facilitation comes at the nexus of experience, mutual trust and collaboration. Going back to the metaphor of dancing together: this takes practice, particularly if you’re used to being a solo performer!
With an internal team, we’d recommend creating opportunities for co-facilitation or being part of a facilitation team as often as possible. Remember that almost any session can benefit from co-facilitation in any form and so these can be an opportunity to practice.
It’s also worth looking out for opportunities for co-facilitation. Join a facilitation community or ask your colleagues and fellow facilitators if they want to collaborate on a project.
I’ve found it helpful to consider each co-facilitation partnership as a learning journey. When you first start working together, you may want to play it relatively safe and learn from one another by facilitating sequentially. This way you can learn and observe and participants benefit from your strengths. As your collaboration deepens, you can shift to co-delivering in a dance all the time, as you combine your methods and learn how to bounce off one another.
Debriefing after a session is an important part of the co-facilitation cycle. Learning from what went well and what could be improved can improve your working relationship and also help you both improve as facilitators.
The debrief is also an important part of the process for clients and participants. You might collect learnings or agree on materials to present to your client. You might also raise any concerns or opportunities too. Even with the most straightforward sessions, I’d recommend taking the opportunity to check in and debrief.
Remember to ask how each of you would like to receive feedback. It might be that you find receiving feedback mid-session destabilizing. It might be that you prefer instant feedback or want a structured approach. Good feedback delivered at the right time can be transformational – make sure you create space and set expectations to get this right.
Working with a new co-facilitator can bring with it a multitude of questions. How do they like to collaborate? Am I going to cramp their style? What if I step on their toes? Set the stage for a great collaboration by taking the time to meet and get to know each other. You might even be asking, how can I be a good co-facilitator?
While some aspects of a co-facilitation partnership can be done asynchronously over email, it’s imperative that you get together before the session where possible.
Discussing and aligning on the session is one thing, but getting to know each other’s quirks, preferences, and communication styles can be the difference between an effective or painful partnership.
If you’re partnered up on the day of an event, (yes, this has happened!) be sure to take some time together before co-facilitating. Even a quick coffee and chat can do wonders for your ensuing collaboration.
Below, we’ve prepared a list of questions you can use to build trust and discuss how you want to co-facilitate. You’ll find a long and short version that we’ve used as the basis for starting many projects and collaborations. Feel free to tinker and adjust for what feels right for you and your co-facilitator!
This list is divided into three sections. The first section is about getting to know each other more broadly as people. The second section is about understanding how to support each other more generally while working as a team. The third section is about collaboratively defining how you’d like to work together on this project.
Start by asking each another the questions in the first and second sections of the list. Feel free to amend or omit some of these based on your needs and the time you have together. Next, agree on the final three questions together – this will form the basis of your collaboration.
While this process can take a couple of hours, it’s absolutely worth it. Go for coffee or bring a snack to an online meeting and spend some time together – this can help form the bonds of a lasting friendship and working relationship.
- What do you love? What brings you alive?
- What are you grateful for today?
- Who is enabling you to do your best work today (e.g. by taking care of home, kids, cats, while you are here)?
- What is your home and/or family like?
- Who are your mentors and teachers? Who do you look up to?
- If you were to dedicate your work to someone or something, who or what would it be?
- What are your energy levels like during the day? What are your best and worst times?
- What is hard for you? What do you find difficult to handle?
- What are you like when things are not going well for you?
- How can I tell?
- What do you need from me at those times?
- How do we want our collaboration to be, in a few key words?
- What will we do if things go wrong? What will support us?
- How will we celebrate wins?
If you’re looking for a more succinct list or working with a co-facilitator for the second time, you might find a short expectation-setting process more effective.
The list below is an effective way to get aligned and surface any worries quickly. This list can also be used more generally with a facilitation team, and I’ve even found it useful to circulate with participants too!
- Expectations: What do you expect from this collaboration?
- Anxieties: What you are you worried about?
- Gifts: What are you bringing to this collaboration?
- Agreements: How should we work together?
Facilitation is a collaborative profession and working with a co-facilitator is a natural extension of this. Whether it’s co-creating an agenda and sharing ideas or complementing each other’s instructions to participants, co-facilitation can improve outcomes and make for an engaging experience for participants too.
In her commentary on the State of Facilitation in 2023 report, Myriam Hadnes points to the fact that “experienced facilitators are more likely to collaborate with a colleague than their less experienced peers. Early-stage facilitators miss out on an important learning opportunity by not pairing up with more experienced colleagues.”
We hope this guide has helped you consider how to improve your co-facilitation practice or given you the confidence to try it out in the future. Got any tips and have some questions? Let us know in the comments below or get involved in the SessionLab community!