The Ultimate Guide to Co-Facilitation: What It Is, the Pros & Cons, Plus 8 Best Practices

What is co-facilitation, and what are some best practices to follow when co-facilitating a workshop? This guide by AJ&Smart has got you covered.

They say teamwork makes the dream work—but what happens when you have more than one facilitator running a workshop?

In the biz, we call it co-facilitation, and it can be a hugely beneficial approach to workshops…if it’s done well. 

If you’re new to co-facilitation (or just want to get better at it), look no further. This is your ultimate guide, and it covers everything you need to know:

Follow our 8 co-facilitation best practices and you’ll never have to dread sharing your workshop stage again. Let’s go!

What is co-facilitation, and what is the role of a co-facilitator?

Co-facilitation is when you have more than one person facilitating a workshop. Co-facilitators may also work together to design and plan the workshop. 

The role of a co-facilitator depends on how you choose to share the workload and balance out responsibilities. You and your co-facilitator may play an equal role in leading the workshop—bouncing off each other, complementing each other’s strengths, and taking it in turns to run certain exercises and activities. 

Alternatively, the co-facilitator may play a supporting role, helping the main facilitator by taking notes, keeping an eye on group dynamics, and stepping in if an extra pair of hands is needed.

Two workshop facilitators writing with whiteboard markers on a whiteboard

When should you work with a co-facilitator?

Co-facilitation isn’t always necessary, but there are certain scenarios where having more than one facilitator can really enrich the workshop experience for your participants—and make your role as facilitator more enjoyable, too. 

Consider working with a co-facilitator if:

  • You’re planning a workshop with a large group (say, 10 or more participants)
  • You’re navigating a complex topic and potentially tricky group dynamics
  • You’re looking to cover a bigger, more action-packed agenda than you’re accustomed to

In such scenarios, a co-facilitator can help to ensure that everything runs smoothly from a logistical perspective, share the load of a heavy agenda, and help you to keep a check on the mood in the room.

Two workshop facilitators sitting a front of their laptops during a remote, online workshop.

The benefits and drawbacks of co-facilitation

Before you enlist the support of a co-facilitator, it’s important to be aware of both the pros of co-facilitation and the potential drawbacks. This will help you to avoid common co-facilitation pitfalls and ensure the best possible experience—for yourself, your co-host, and your workshop participants. 

The pros of co-facilitation

When done well, co-facilitated workshops benefit from:

  • A mix of strengths and skill sets 
  • Increased energy levels and momentum 
  • More one-on-one attention and support for participants
  • Additional eyes and ears to quickly spot problematic dynamics and issues
  • Extra support if things go wrong

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The potential cons of co-facilitation 

If co-facilitators work against rather than with each other, things can go horribly wrong. 

Consider a scenario where you have two facilitators who are constantly interrupting each other, providing contradicting instructions or information, or sitting at the back of the room, completely disengaged, while the other is presenting. 

You can imagine the impact that would have on the energy in the room and on the overall success of the workshop. If your participants sense that you and your co-facilitator aren’t working as a team (and trust me, they’ll pick up on it pretty quickly), they’ll not only feel uneasy. You’ll also lose credibility as a facilitator. 

The goal of co-facilitation is to leverage the energy and skills of two facilitators, and to provide a clear model of what good teamwork looks like in action. 

So how do you ensure your co-facilitation gig is a success? Follow these best practices and you’ll be well on your way. 

8 best practices for co-facilitating a workshop

Whatever your co-facilitation setup, it’s essential that you work in harmony with your co-facilitator. Here are 8 tried-and-tested best practices for successful co-facilitation. 

1. Clearly define each facilitator’s role

The only way you and your co-facilitator can work seamlessly together is if you’re both absolutely, undeniably clear on your roles. 

Before you do anything else, discuss the role that each facilitator will play and assign areas of responsibility. 

Will you equally co-facilitate the workshop, taking it in turns to lead activities, present to the group, and work the room? Or is one person leading and the other supporting?

Go through the agenda and note who will be responsible for each item. If one person is leading an exercise, what will the other person be doing?

It’s a bit like a theater play, where all the actors have clear instructions for what they should be doing and where they should be positioned throughout. 

A group of people sitting around a table during a workshop

2. Align on expectations & communication signals

With clear roles and responsibilities assigned, you and your co-facilitator should align on expectations. 

Consider and discuss the following:

  • How would you like your co-facilitator to support you throughout the workshop, and how can you support them? 
  • Are there certain points on the agenda where you’d like them to jump in with their thoughts and contributions?
  • Are there specific moments where you want to lead completely alone?
  • How will you let each other know if something’s off, without saying it out loud for the whole group to hear?

It’s a good idea to establish some non-verbal communication signals that you both understand. For example, you might agree on a certain hand gesture if there’s an issue, or to signal to your co-facilitator that they’re running out of time on an exercise or discussion. 

3. Have a practice run

Remember when we compared co-facilitation to putting on a theater play? Well, we recommend having a dress rehearsal before the real thing.

Co-facilitating a workshop isn’t the same as doing it by yourself. You’ve got to be in tune with your co-facilitator and work seamlessly with and around them. Schedule in a practice run, getting it as close to the real thing as you can (for example, practicing in the room where you’re holding the workshop, or via video call if you’re running the session remotely). 

The practice run is a great opportunity to resolve any lingering confusion regarding your respective roles, to check that your communication signals actually work, and to get a feel for how the other person facilitates (especially important if this is your first time working together). 

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4. Introduce your co-facilitator to the group

The day has arrived, and you’re ready to ace this whole co-facilitation thing. Get the workshop off to a strong start by introducing your co-facilitator. 

Just as you and your co-facilitator took the time to define and understand each other’s roles, it’s important to offer your workshop participants the same clarity. There’s nothing more confusing (and detrimental to your workshop) than your participants wondering why there are two people leading the workshop, or trying to figure out who’s doing what.

Lead with a clear introduction to each facilitator, an explanation of the setup, and give your participants the chance to ask any questions. From there, everyone will know exactly what’s going on and you can focus on the workshop at hand. 

5. Support and respect each other

It goes without saying, but it’s SO important that we have to include it. Co-facilitation can only work if you truly support and respect each other—and this should be seen and felt throughout the workshop.

Remember: You’re a team. Keep an eye out for signs your co-facilitator might need a hand, and be alert to those non-verbal communication cues you agreed on before the workshop. 

If you notice a discussion getting a bit heated, consider if you can step in to support your co-facilitator (without undermining them or making it seem like they’re incapable of handling it on their own). 

You want your workshop participants to respect you as a duo, so it’s essential that you lead by showing each other that same support and respect. 

People brainstorming in a workshop

6. Don’t interrupt or disagree with your co-facilitator

Interrupting each other is a no-go for obvious reasons. You’re working as a team, not competing for airtime. 

The disagreement aspect is perhaps less obvious. We’re not saying you have to pretend to agree with your co-facilitator at all times, or just go along with whatever they say for the sake of putting on a united front. 

However, it’s essential to approach any differences in opinion constructively and supportively. Don’t undermine your co-facilitator by outright disagreeing with them or pointing out that they’re wrong about something. Instead, turn it into a productive, respectful discussion by asking questions or wondering out loud about alternative perspectives. 

Think about how you encourage your workshop participants to engage in constructive discussions, and apply the same rules to how you interact with your fellow facilitator. 

7. Check in with each other throughout the workshop

No matter how carefully you plan the workshop—or how smoothly your practice run goes—there will inevitably be some hiccups on the day. Hiccups you might not even notice!

Check in with your co-facilitator periodically throughout the workshop to check how things are going. If needed, work together to adapt the agenda or devise a contingency plan. Whatever you do: don’t make changes to the workshop without consulting your co-facilitator first. This will only lead to confusion and undermine your teamwork. 

You should have plenty of breaks scheduled into your workshop agenda, and these provide the perfect opportunity to check in with your co-facilitator and make sure everything’s running as it should. 

Two workshop facilitators discussing workshop outcomes.

8. Debrief together & assign clear action points

After the workshop, get together with your co-facilitator to debrief on how things went. Do they have any feedback for you? Do you have any feedback for them?

What aspects of the workshop went well, and what could have been better? What could you each do differently next time you’re co-facilitating? 

In addition to reviewing your own collaboration, discuss the outcomes of the workshop and assign clear action points to each facilitator. Who will send the follow up email to participants? Did one facilitator take photos or capture ideas that they need to upload and share?

You’ve worked as a team throughout, and it’s essential to wrap things up as such. 

With these 8 best practices, you’ve got everything you need to successfully co-facilitate a productive, memorable workshop. Woohoo! 

For more facilitation tips, check out these guides:

Emily Stevens