The Role of a Co-facilitator

I like to start my day with positive visualization. In this form of meditation, I enjoy picturing what success looks like. That success may be how my day will go, how a client meeting will go, reactions to my work, or any other permutation of a successful day. When I am facilitating a session, I like to visualize and think through the ways I can support my participants, to help them be successful. Recently, I started thinking about how this may change when I am co-facilitating.

Co-facilitators hold an important role. They give each other a break from talking, they are a familiar face when you are faced with a hard training situation, and it is an excellent way to help new trainers get their feet wet without throwing them in too fast. Really, the nicest part about co-facilitation is when I can tune out and check Twitter once my co-facilitator walks to the front of the room, right?

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For the rest of you, I have bad news.  A co-facilitator is not a person who sits in the back of the room checking email when it isn’t their turn to present. A good instructional designer should build breaks into the lesson plan because your participants will need as many breaks as you do.

Co-facilitators are teammates!

We should think of co-facilitators as a team. In my opinion, a team is a group of two or more people who contribute their strengths and balance their roles.  Co-facilitators are a part of a whole and when one sits down at the back of the room, only half of the team is participating. Co-facilitators need to be a part of the team. Let’s look at a few ways we can support each other as we co-facilitate sessions.

Flip Chart Attendee

Many activities involve participants answering questions or brainstorming ideas. The main facilitator is typically working to draw that information out of participants. The co-facilitators should automatically jump up and take notes whenever it is helpful.

Idea Contributor

When an activity falls flat, or participants become challenging, the facilitator can panic. A panicked facilitator misses important information, and things can go south. Co-facilitators likely have different strengths than their counterparts and should try to jump in with ideas to steer the training in the right direction. This is not to say that we should talk over or correct each other to a point of embarrassment. Once again, we are a team.

Constant Supporter

We expect participants to be present in all ways during our sessions. What message does it send when that rule doesn’t hold up for the people leading the session? As a facilitator, you are in front of the room when your participants are engaged, and you break when your participants break. No exceptions.

What is your experience with co-facilitation? Let’s keep this conversation going in the comments below!

3 thoughts on “The Role of a Co-facilitator

  1. Great article! Balancing of roles is important! How many of us have had the experience of one co-facilitator trying to do more than their fair share of the presenting?

    • Good point, JayDubb. Co-facilitators really need to sit down and break down the work and agree to roles much before their session. If not, it can be a confusing dance up there.

  2. Great article and topic! I appreciate how you articulate three distinct roles for facilitators. My most successful workshops with a co-facilitator happen when we have a well-oiled machine: when we have invested significant time into planning and timing, and in clearly communicating with each other about when and how each of us will contribute while the other is in the lead facilitator role. Will we turn to each other and offer the opportunity to add to what was said or answer a participant question, or will we rely on each other to signal when we want to jump in and add or answer something? This is an important conversation to have prior to co-facilitating.

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