How to Overcome Your Fear of Co-Facilitation
Just back from Osaka, Japan (Typhoon occurred just before I arrived shutting the Osaka airport down for a week+ and knocking out electricity at our Bed and Breakfast for a day!) and Hong Kong (Super Typhoon while I was there delaying my flight home by a day). I share this because I was jointly facilitating 6 events over 11 days in the midst of two highest level typhoons in two different countries. Photos are all from my 2 trips. And yet, I had several amazing “team-building” co-facilitation experiences which I imagine will stay etched in my mind forever. I’d like to share the conditions and criteria for making co-facilitation work extremely well for you and your client group.
Many of us fear co-facilitating. Our thoughts might go like this:
- “Too much work.”
- “I cannot trust my co-facilitator to do a good job”
- “I will disappoint my co-facilitator.”
- “Too risky for the client.”
- “Too expensive and time-consuming to have more than one facilitator.”
- “I will lose control.”
I cover some of these points and “the why” of co-facilitating in an earlier blog – see resources below. This blog is more about “the how”. How do you ensure success? How do you set it up so it goes so well you never want to solo facilitate again? What are the criteria for success before, during and after the facilitated event? (Note: I focus much more on the “before” part!) My intention is to make it easier for you to embrace the practice of co-facilitation. For those of you contemplating IAF professional facilitator certification, it is one of the required sub-competencies. Note I often facilitate with 1-5 other people simultaneously. This blog assumes generally one other co-facilitator which is what I recommend for starting out.
My gratitude especially goes to Lilian Wang (RFOUR Limited) and Yvonne Yam (Meaning at Work) of Hong Kong, an incredibly powerful team of facilitators, executive coaches and trainers for inviting me to co-facilitate several projects in Hong Kong, trusting me with their clients. Also to Loh Teck Kwang (Pareto Solutions) for inviting me to co-facilitate a pre-conference IAF session in Osaka with Peter Seah and Lyn Wong (who did all the planning work but could not get into Osaka dues to typhoon) and Lilian again with Jorie Wu (typhoon kept her at home also but she came in virtually) for a concurrent session at the same conference. Several of my colleagues shared their wisdom on this topic and tis is included. You can reach Lilian here: firstname.lastname@example.org or +852 90868762; Yvonne here: email@example.com or +852-9856-4245; and Loh Teck Kwang (Singapore) here: firstname.lastname@example.org or +65 9062 8024. I trust all three with any group, any topic and complexity!
BEFORE THE EVENT
What you do together before the event makes all the difference. You may not be able to do all of these steps for every co-facilitator but for your longer term co-facilitators, this will make your work very joyful and easeful.
- Prepare your mindset for co-facilitating: Visualize a joyful, relaxed “passing the baton” feeling to your work with someone else. Imagine you will each trust each other to do exactly what is needed, that you will figure out any timing changes as needed, and that the client will be immensely pleased and amazed at your seamless teamwork.
- Share what is most important to you with each other: Before you accept to co-facilitate together, share your hopes and fears for the event; share what you know about the client and group; share what mood and product you are aiming for; ask for what you need from the other person to be at your best. Be sure to repeat back to each other what you heard as the primary need. It is too easy to not really listen and instead fall back into your usual pattern. For me, my usual pattern might be to over accommodate, continually ask how I can help; worry too much about the other person. This is sometimes called “care-taking”, often when it is not wanted or needed. For others, your pattern might be to rescue your co-facilitator too early. You may assume they need help when they do not yet need it and it can end up conveying your lack of confidence in your co-facilitator.
- Establish a secret code sign or phrase: This means you jointly know when someone e.g., pulls on their ear or has a phrase that it really means “please help me out here – I don’t know what to do with this emerging situation”.
- Co-design the entire event: I have often made the mistake of designing an event and then just asking my co-facilitator to lead a few pieces only I have thought through in detail. This is dangerous for two reasons. The way you designed an activity may not be conducive to your co-facilitator’s strength areas; she/he will not have a sense of the overall flow, intent, and movement of the workshop. Therefore they cannot pace and deliver in the style that is needed to compliment the preceding and follow-on activity. The result is it feels jarring and disjointed for the client group, and disappointing for both of you.
- Talk about how you each like to set up space. I am incredibly oriented towards creating beauty in the room. If my co-facilitator is not, it can be very jarring for me to work with someone who does not have a good visual eye or who does not share the value of creating a pleasing, uncluttered, colorful, fun and artful look to the space. This includes my virtual rooms!
- Jointly decide who does what: Discuss the overall design together and try to have a balance of voices. Some teams prefer to take longer chunks – e.g.,”You take the morning and I will take the afternoon and we will support each other throughout.” I prefer to go back and forth so I can stay engaged. If I am NOT the lead facilitator for too long time, I can find myself disengaging especially if I am tired. Also, I think we each have a better feeling for how things are going if we go back and forth every 30-60 minutes. Some long term co-facilitation teams literally are both upfront “playing off” of each other.
- Practice pieces you have never done: If one of you is less experienced at doing a particular activity, be sure to do a complete dress rehearsal together of that activity so you both see how it will be conducted. Ensure you have the props and visuals ready for it so you are not stressing with last minute preparation.
- Both take training in the core methods you will be using. You both should know the underlying methods as deeply as possible. If one person is trained in Technology of Participation (ToP) for example, and the other is not but is more conversant with Appreciative Inquiry (AI), talk about the underlying values each one holds. I have found my co-facilitation works best when each co-facilitator deeply knows and practices at least one core methodology in common. If one is just learning a specific method, be sure to facilitate the pieces that you feel most confident doing. I typically only co-facilitate when all of us have ToP training because that is my core method. It is much more challenging and time-consuming to work with someone who has a completely different foundation. Nonetheless, it can be very rewarding and grow you as a facilitator. The key is not to confuse the group with very different stances or value sets.
- Be clear on payment terms. If this is a paying job, discuss how much each person will get paid and when payment will occur. This can be as informal as putting it in writing in a text or email. Verbal agreement alone is not a good idea since it is easy to forget what you agreed to if the client does not pay for a long time.
- Take some time to really know your co-facilitator on a personal basis: Hang out casually with them; play with them; eat with them; go walking with them; visit each other’s homes; get to know their family members; travel together; work out together. Listen deeply to each other. You might practice constructivist listening many times before the event. You could each take five minutes of uninterrupted confidential listening time to talk about what is really important to you about this client job. See resources below for the how to of Constructivist Listening. This will allow you to know their triggers and stressors and you will be able to support them in a way that empowers versus shames them or undermines their confidence.
DURING THE EVENT
- Plan to both arrive extra early and at same time: This will ensure you are both relaxed when the group arrives and all your room set-up is complete. Review the facilitator guide one more time. Agree to make changes if something unusual has occurred. Sometimes one of you has had a bad night’s sleep or is not feeling well and you need to adjust your roles accordingly. Let each other know your physical and emotional state so you can cover for each other if needed.
- Decide who will connect most with primary client: It can be confusing to have two or more facilitators check in with client separately. Ideally you will both meet with client together so you both hear the same thing and then decide what to adapt accordingly.
- Check in with each other frequently: My most common questions are: How is it going? What do we need to change? Who will do what? What do we need from each other now?
- Encourage each other to take mini breaks: To keep your energy high, it is helpful to take some time away from the group a few times especially if it is a multi-day event. For example, you might go for a short walk outside alone or together to get off-site during the lunch time break. Or, if the day is very packed, you might agree one person can leave the room for ten minutes during small group work.
- Allow time to pack up methodically. If you can pack up all the materials at the end of the event at a leisurely pace and have time to visit with participants afterwards, this creates a good feeling for all. Ensure you take photos of all products plus save the originals. Decide who will do the documentation if not already decided. Do not plan to attend another event after facilitating. You need time to check in with each other and not “abandon” your co-facilitator (unless you have shared a prior commitment you have and have agreement this is Ok). You also need to not exhaust yourself, as a day of facilitating is intense and needs recovery time just like a physical workout.
AFTER THE EVENT
- Be sure to have time to debrief: Review what your assessment of strengths and weaknesses in execution of your design; your ability to flex in the moment; what you would do differently; what you learned and gained from each other, etc. Two things to practice here: Be extraordinarily generous and kind with one another (our egos are fragile – our internal negative self-images may need a reality check towards the positive; AND be direct and truthful about what you would need the other person to do differently.)
- Ensure you are clear on the follow-up plan with the client. Decide if both of you will attend the follow-up meeting and find a calendar time to share with client.
- Revisit payment terms if needed. I often discover my co-facilitator has done much more than originally expected. I try to check in with the person to see if it still feels fair and also try to offer a larger % of the payment if the work load had been more uneven than originally expected. If you are not the primary contractor, raise any discomfort you have with your co-facilitator and try to reach a fair renegotiation of payment terms.
Blog: Brown Bears, Rice Krispie Treats and Co-Facilitation (“the why” of co-facilitation)
Here are a few photos – the first is a beautiful castle in Osaka and the rest are photos before, during and after the typhoon in Hong Kong: