Brown Bears, Rice Krispie Treats and Co-facilitation!


What has playful brown bears from Alaska, a healthy and yummy rice krispie treat recipe and co-facilitation have to do with each other?   Only I could probably make all three work  🙂 but read this blog to find out the relationship between these three things.  And yes, I do provide you with the Rice Krispie Treat recipe.

I was in Alaska for a great client training and on our half day off at the end of the training, my co-facilitator and I went to explore the outskirts of Anchorage on the look-out for bears and moose specifically. Apparently there are moose wandering the streets of Anchorage but we were not that hopeful we’d see one. Well we came across a very sweet wildlife refuge and saw both!  Look at these photos and video for the amazing shots we got.

I remember thinking as I watched the bears that co-facilitation is like playfully working with each other and with the client group.  We are more relaxed with the client because we have “each others’ back” (i.e., we care and look out for each other). When one of us is struggling, the other can decide how to assist and support without making the other look bad. This is a real art form – the dance of working together without taking over each other… it is true facilitation.. honoring each others’ skills and abilities and knowing when to step in and when to just watch and relax.   The challenge of doing this well is often why we as a profession do NOT co-facilitate. “Too hard” we say. “Don’t trust anyone else with my client group”, “takes too much time to get on the same page with each other”; “my client will not pay for two co-facilitators”… are some of the excuses for not working with a co-facilitator. I want you to forget those excuses. Why?

As you watch this video, pretend the bears are talking to each other as co-facilitators saying the following things: “Oh, I forgot to tell you. One of our participants is really struggling with our process…” (So in a whisper) “Be sure to do a good job this time!” or, “Just to get a little relaxed before the group comes in, can we have a little wrestling match so I can get out my anxiety now??”

Now over to something more serious about co-facilitation…

Let’s look at the five key benefits of co-facilitation vs. solo facilitation

Facilitating Solo – Alone


  • Exhausted at end of day
  • Lose sleep the night before
  • Always relying on your same old designs and tools
  • Pushing yourself to get it all done without support
  • Not able to track individual needs in the group
  • Energized at end of day
  • Relaxed and sleep well the night before
  • Exposed to new tools, processes and perspectives
  • Able to  have some quality time to just “be” before and during the event
  • Able to notice and pay attention to individual needs in the group

Two stories to Illustrate

I have co-facilitated some VERY challenging and complex client situations and events.  Everything that could be going wrong with the client group is pretty well going wrong.

Circumstance #1 and #2:  Client groups are only about 12-14. Why would you want two facilitators?

Luckily both client groups gave us ample notice that the circumstances for the event would be highly charged, emotional and complex.   THESE are the events you want help with – believe me, for your own sanity and for the good of the group. This is absolutely the time to have a co-facilitator to help you think well for this client situation.

Situation #1: Well here is what happened to us for this event that made us co-facilitators say, “We are really glad we had each other!”.  We arrive at the event space. We were only able to get in 1 hour before the event started.  Nothing set up;  the only wall space is in the least ideal spot to put up our visuals.  Key participant is going to call in but the phone does not work.   Facilitator #1 is juggling cell phone, running around to different participants to ensure  calling-in participant can hear each person and relaying  some of the participants’ answers to caller.  Facilitator #2 is yielding marker to capture key comments & scribe, collecting data cards sent up, etc.  It would have been impossible to have done this on our own!  We would have lost the invaluable input of the caller participant, not captured some of the key observations of the in-person group and started off on a panicky, unready note with a group which already was struggling on many dimensions.  Afterwards, we could reflect with each other on the drive back to our offices. “What went well for you? “and “What would have made it go better?” were two questions  we asked each other…

Situation #2: Small group again. Leader is being attacked. Other participants are disgruntled because of the stress of constant change.  Why would you even think of doing this alone? The group is tense. The leader is tense.  You need to have several eyes and ears on the body language and where the break through  points may be. In tense situations, if you are alone, you are flipcharting, setting up, tracking group responses and mood, trying to follow and adjust your agenda, and attend to your own bodily needs. If the group is in a tense situation, having a second  person there to help you stay grounded and be able to notice when someone is ready to share something profound or helpful to release the “valve” that has been building up pressure. It is much harder to notice this moment and allow it to happen if you are on your own.  Right?

The HEALTHY Rice Krispie Treat

Ok where does that fit into co-facilitation and brown bears?? I try to have something good, soul-satisfying, healthy and won’t send my and my co-facilitator’s blood sugar soaring and then dropping.  It tells my co-facilitator I am thinking about them to have a good snack packed for us – like  we are kids and we are going out to play like the bears. Good play makes you hungry. Guess what  –  rice krispie treats makes you feel like a kid again and there is a healthy version which I sometimes make and bring with me to sessions. Or, I make them after a hard session just to make me feel like I have had a treat.  Not too sweet… Yummy and relatively healthy!


Lessons Learned?

So the relationship between all three things – playful brown bears in Alaska, Rice Krispie treats and co-facilitating is that I’ve experienced all three in the last month,  all three remind me of play at its best and they are all soul-satisfying. They make you want to do more. Facilitate more with a good play buddy, eat more healthy treats after hard play and play as hard as the brown bears of Alaska without reserve. 🙂

DON’T WORK ALONE ANYMORE. My good colleague, Nanci Luna Jiménez ( helped me see this as a practice many years ago.  Simply always co-facilitate or at the very least have a supportive colleague to give you moral support before and ideally at the event – whether virtual or in person.  Think of your work as play. It is much easier to do this when you have a good co-facilitator. What would you add to this discussion?

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Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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