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Co-Facilitation: A Two-Header

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I Shared Leadership

Support, self-help, and mutual aid groups can get stuck. Sometimes a
group's original organizers depart, leaving fewer members to handle the
facilitation. If members are accustomed to someone else leading their
group, they may be reluctant to take on the task because they lack
experience or are afraid of doing a terrible job. Members may
mistakenly think of facilitation as a traditional leadership role,
i.e., taking charge, making all the decisions, or public speaking.
Wherever possible, groups should plan for the evolution of leadership
to ensure that their support group will continue to function in a
healthy manner. Co-facilitation is one approach that offers some
stability during that transition.

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II Benefits of Co-Facilitation

If it is true that "two heads are better than one," then
co-facilitation applies that idea by creating a team of two or more
people to facilitate a group. While requiring an investment of time,
co-facilitation nonetheless offers numerous benefits, by providing

    * more ideas during the preparation for group;
    * more practical experience for a beginner, while being supported by a more experienced facilitator;
    * more energy during tense or conflict-laden moments;
    * more support for a lead facilitator in the event
they become too personally involved in the discussion; and,
    * most importantly, more than one head to make the
prospect of facilitation less intimidating and exhausting (Lakey, 1982,

Initially, members can begin by adding two broad sets of skill to their repertoire -- vibes watching and process observing.

The task of a vibes watcher is to be aware of the emotional climate in
the room, to check for body language (yawning, dozing off, sagging,
fidgeting, leaving suddenly), to observe facial expressions (actively
present or "zoned out") and to bring attention to the need for a break
when energy flags (Lakey, 1982, p7).

The task of process observer is to pay attention to side conversations
and interruptions, how decisions are made, the quality of listening and
participation, how conflict is handled, and the manner in which a group
operates, be it relaxed or tense. As an observer, a co-facilitator
disengages from the group's agenda and instead looks for patterns of
participation -- who speaks to whom, whose leadership predominates,
etc. With the group's understanding and agreement, a process observer
may then offer feedback but only if done sensitively and with tact
(Lakey, 1982, p9).

In taking on these differing roles, the co-facilitator begins to learn
the art, as well as the science, of facilitation. Over the weeks and
months, co-facilitators can switch roles -- from being the lead
facilitator for half a meeting to being the only facilitator during a
scheduled vacation or because of a sudden crisis. With a combination of
support and lived experience, a co-facilitator can become more
confident, more willing to give feedback and handle conflict, and
eventually, to support new members eager to try what they have seen
modeled so successfully.

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III The Co-Facilitator's Profile

Think about, record and share your answers with your co-facilitators
and coordinate your styles before beginning a group; it will make your
joint efforts more successful (1).

   1. When starting the group, I usually...
   2. I feel most comfortable in group when...
   3. When someone talks too much, I usually...
   4. I feel uneasy when...
   5. When the group is silent I usually...
   6. When someone cries, I usually...
   7. When someone comes late, I usually...
   8. When there is conflict in the group, I usually...
   9. My favourite intervention in group is...
  10. If I forget something or you have a great idea to share while I'm talking, please...
  11. If someone storms out of group, I would want ...
  12. Because I am right- (or left-) handed, I tend to...
  13. I would like some feedback from my co-facilitator on...
  14. I feel well prepared when...
  15. I enjoy and feel competent in ...
  16. I would like to learn more about ...
  17. One skill I plan to practice is ...
  18. My intervention rhythm is fast/slow, because I ...
  19. My signal to ask for my co-facilitator's help is ...
  20. I like to do evaluations regularly because ...

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IV Preparing to Co-Facilitate - What to do at the initial meeting (2)

A Discuss Your Background

   1. Review the profile answers with your co-facilitator.
   2. Discuss your past experience as a group member and co-facilitator.
   3. Explain some of your behaviour patterns in group and
what part of your style you would like to work on in this group.
   4. Together, define your goals and expectations for the group and review the group's current guidelines.

B How to operate in group

   1. Decide who will do what in advance: who will be the
"main facilitator" and who will vibes watch and observe group process.
   2. Begin with announcements and group guidelines.
   3. Have clear predetermined signals when one person is
handing over responsibility for the facilitation to the other.
   4. Have a plan if your co-facilitator doesn't show or is late.
   5. Summarize when a member speaks for too long.

C Co-facilitation agreements

   1. Where, when, and how will we deal with conflicts between us?
   2. What is non-negotiable for each of us as
co-facilitators? (e.g., don't leave the room without warning; don't
insist on having the final word; don't interrupt, disagree, or take
   3. Make sure that, combined, you are saying very little
   4. Always talk afterwards about what you felt went well and could be improved.
   5. Provide honest but gentle feedback to your co-facilitator when asked.

D Ethics

   1. How do we handle the expression of strong emotions?
   2. How do we respond when someone abruptly leaves the room in anger or tears?
   3. How do we handle breaches of confidentiality?
   4. What do we do if a group member is having psychological difficulty and we are concerned about them?
   5. How do we maintain our boundaries in group?
   6. What is our responsibility after the group meeting is over? 

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V Conclusion 

The co-facilitation approach can also be a successful method of
transitioning from a professionally-led to a member-led group. As we
are all expected to do more with less, professionals may want to try
this approach with members who wish to continue past agreed-upon
timelines or in preparation for situations when the professional is
unavailable. It is also good contingency planning after a specific
project has concluded but participants see the benefits of ongoing
support and wish to continue the group themselves.

Regardless of the circumstance, using co-facilitation can be an
excellent way of empowering members while modeling an essential element
of self-help: mutual support through shared leadership.

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VI  Notes

(1) Some questions in this section are adapted or derived from the Art
of Group Dynamics, p17-18 (2, 4, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17), and the 1975
Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators, p225 (1, 2, 5-9, 18).

(2) Some content in this section is adapted or derived from the 1975
Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators, p227-8 (A 2-4, B1, C1-2, D 4
& 6), and Starting/Running Support Groups, (B 2 & 5, C3).

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VII References

Self-Help Resource Association of BC. (nd). Art of Group Dynamics.

Pfeiffer, J.W., Jones, J.E.  1975. 1975 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators.
San Diego: University Associates, Inc.

Parent to Parent of Pa. 2000. Starting/Running Support Groups. Accessed April 28, 2006.

Lakey, B. 1982.  Meeting Facilitation: The No Magic Method. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers.

Ontario Self-Help Network/Self-Help Resource Centre. 2000. The Shared Leadership Workbook. Toronto: Ontario Self-Help Network.

Self-Help Resource Centre. nd.  Shared Leadership Handbook. Toronto: Ontario Self-Help Network.