(You’re not welcome) On the dark side of co-facilitation

Facilitation (Credits - VisualPunch / FlickR)

Facilitation (Credits – VisualPunch / FlickR)

Meanwhile, another excellent KM4Dev conversation is raging, on the topic of defining ‘what a facilitator is‘.

Among other contributions, my fellow facilitator, KM4Dev mate and friend Nancy White shared a list of issues related to the dark side of facilitation…

The real life and dark sides of a facilitator below. I’m sure there are a few people here who can add to this list. 😉


  • called in after everything is really messed up (tip: build relationships before client lists)
  • is not briefed on the deeper, real and often problematic issues (“Oh, this is a fantastic group.” Right! Tip: develop a good set of questions to help discern the issues)
  • is asked to facilitate, but not included in design of a (really bad) agenda (tip: refuse to do this unless the designer was brilliant!)
  • runs into very interesting gender issues that are often unspoken, unrecognized (tip: pay attention to and make gender issues discussable)
  • has to facilitate in really BAD rooms in large international organizations (chairs nailed to floor. tip: go outside.)
  • sometimes is given great trust w/ sponsors and groups and all have a transformative experience. LIVES for these moments (tip: debrief: why was this so good? How can we do this again?)
  • mistakes conflict as something that must be shut down (tip: conflict is often the flag that you hit a core issue. Use it generatively)
  • sometimes crazy arrogant and drives to their own agenda (tip: self awareness is a facilitators best friend)
  • does not build capacity in others (tip: co facilitate, mentor, give up control)
  • actually facipulates  (tip: be honest when your approach has any manipulative elements. Use that in your favor, transparently)
  • leaves after the meeting so does not live the consequences (good, bad or otherwise) (tip: what about simple follow up… how are things going? What did we learn?)
  • is not an integral part of the organization (tip: when hiring, hire at least SOME people with facilitation skills and talents. This should not always be an outside job! Let’s co-source, not outsource)
  • is serving the sponsor, not the group (tip: power is always in play. Discuss and use it generatively. It is OK to challenge your client, and essential as a consultant.)
  • works hard to facilitate listening but sometimes fails (tip: learn how you listen and always work hard. There are lots of ways to improve)
  • doesn’t speak the local language and mistakes happen through interpretation (tip: first choice, hire facilitator who speaks the language. Second choice, have a more spacious agenda to really deal with meaning making across multiple languages.
  • takes him/herself too seriously (tip: use fun. seriously!)
  • has no repertoire or gets stuck in one approach/or is flip flopping all over the place (find the balance) (tip: always be learning. Invite your facilitees into that learning process. Build capacity all around)”

A very good and inspiring list!

But another inspiring topic that Nancy once raised in a video shared with me was about the dark side of co-facilitation.

The dark side - more like two sides dancing in the dark in the middle of change (Credits - Ryan Dury/FlickR)

The dark side – more like two sides dancing in the dark in the middle of change (Credits – Ryan Dury/FlickR)

Every facilitator would usually agree that having a co-facilitator is great.


Because, among others: it’s richer to design an event with another pair of eyes and another brain; it’s more fun and less work for everyone; it allows one to facilitate and the other to think about the next session or to ‘read the audience’; it provides different dynamics (due to the different styles) which potentially liberates more energy for participants in the room – not more of the same; you learn a lot from working with one another, from the big questions at the design stage to the micro details at the facilitation stage; it makes the reporting and documentation a lot easier…

You get the idea? Try and get two facilitators to work together on a gig, instead of one!

So what about that dark side?

Although luckily it doesn’t often happen (perhaps because having two simultaneous facilitators doesn’t happen often), having two (or more) facilitators on the same job can also be real trouble when:

  • You don’t know each other well and can’t capitalise on each other’s strong and weak points;
  • The more experienced facilitator actually leaves very little space for the less experienced one to find their space and dominates the planning/reflection process;
  • Or either of you feels that they are not valued in the design/thinking process (i.e. the strategic aspects of facilitation, not the ‘operational facilitation on the spot’);
  • You disagree with each other’s way to design a workshop (e.g. well planned and structured vs. open-ended);
  • You both read a situation differently (e.g. close a nascent conflict because it would be really detrimental to the spirit or use it in a constructive way?) and accordingly have behaviours that might contradict each other in the spur of the moment, potentially leaving your participants -very- confused;
  • You disagree openly and create a really bad impression on the participants, not least because you’re causing the focus of attention to shift to you rather than to the conversation at hand;
  • You are both strong-headed and find it difficult to accept each other’s views, leading the workshop to no good conversation or clear output… that’s the worst that can happen.
  • Either of you draws the praise to themselves or blames the other person for the problems that arise, rather than focus on ‘so how do we crawl out of this hole?’ together…

I have never experienced some of the situations above, like leading an event to a complete failure because of conflicting duo dynamics, but definitely have gone through moments of disagreement with each other’s design or way to handle things, or feeling not heard enough (whether for good or bad reasons) but each time me and my co-facilitator found a solution. Better be prepared for those moments anyway, as they are not enjoyable, so here are some ideas to avoid the dark side of co-facilitation:

What does it take to overcome that dark side?

Shared experience: Knowing each other definitely helps – the more of a common history you have built with one another, the better it is as you know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can co-design around this. Talk about it together and explore what you both enjoy doing (or not).

Co-creation and exploratory design: Grapple with the big picture together, toy around with objectives and translating them in work forms in an exploratory conversation, and when it comes to the details of who does what, fear not asking very practical, very silly-looking questions (“do I speak before or after you for the participant’s introduction?”, “After your summary comments do you want me to transition to the next session and announce coffee break?”).

Curiosity and openness: Embracing change and the unknown with an open mind is the key to joint facilitation, particularly if the latter involves dual improvisation (as it works on the principle of ‘yes AND’, not ‘yes BUT’…)

Generosity: Rather than play the card of keeping to one’s sessions and ideas, bring the other person along in your reflection, and show them you are interested in their ideas, in finding good ideas together. Who gets the credit doesn’t really matter, developing strong relationships by working hard on a joint initiative is a lot more important.

Joint reflection and an open heart, to discuss frankly what went well or not, much beyond blaming each other or uncritically praising each other or both (even though some sense of achievement can be really helpful in boosting the duo’s morale). In cases when you disagree on how the other ran a session, discuss it as soon as possible and reflect together. And if, at the end of the gig, there’s a consensus that the two facilitators can’t work each other, being conscious of that is also helpful for the future 😉 though in most cases facilitators should be able to negotiate an amicable solution together, as that’s also our job isn’t it?

Focus on the task at hand. At the end of the day, keeping in mind that you have to do a fine job at getting the best out of the participants and achieving objectives set (or whatever better pursuit was identified along the way).

Humour and talking in self-derision… this really talks to the examples that Nancy mentioned above. It releases tension, builds a rapport, makes the whole thing more enjoyable and last but not least, it helps focus on what really matters, i.e. not you as facilitators.

Once again, fun, focus and feedback seems like a winning formula!

What are your experiences and tips on getting out of these difficult situations?

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Also check all posts in the category ‘facilitation‘.


From ego-tripping to ego-rippling: the knowledge ego-logy paradigm

When I was putting together the materials for the web 2.0 session as part of the strategic communication workshop in Ethiopia (see a couple of presentations from that workshop in this recent blog post), I stumbled across various sayings that seem to epitomise the web 2.0 (r)evolution – I call it the web 2.0 approach here just for the sake of simplicity: ‘share the love, pay it forward, tweet unto others as you would have them tweet unto you’ etc.

Weaving networks to catch ideas... (photo credits: Pandiyan)

I realised then just how much some aspects of the web 2.0 movement are significantly affecting the networks we are part of, the way we co-create and weave these networks together and the ideals and inspiration we bring to them. This is all quite in line with the ‘knowledge ecology’ (1) approach I guess, although I’m not working with this concept (consciously anyway).


At the core of this significant change through the web 2.0 is a powerful thrust of self interest, built and used in a novel way, however. For a few years we have been focusing (rightly) a lot on the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) factor, putting due attention to what others expect from you. Push comes to pull, me comes to you, egocentrism comes to empathy and attention for others.

Oh, ego-tripping is far from having disappeared. In fact, it is even boosted because in the world 2.0, social networks rule, connections (relations) are central, but they link nodes (persons) and emphasize those crucial nodes that lead to more connections. With Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Slideshare and other social web apps, we are becoming central to information flows and we are flattered by this as well as by the following that we create, the influence that we span.

A simple piece of evidence of this renewed ego-tripping is the amount of tools that assess, calculate, calibrate your popularity, fame, recognition, trust in your networks… and help you become more popular (check this useful and funny post from Alex Wilhelm [hello Alex, are you reading this post from the trackback link, lol?] and this social media metrics superlist. Oh, and just as I’m posting this, Robin Good tweeted about John Cottone’s post on tips for improving your social media presence and Brian Solis blogged about ‘There’s an I in Twitter and a ME in social media‘).

The significant change is that ego-tripping is no longer an end in itself. In fact it is becoming the engine for a wider enterprise that in turn fuels or suffocates recognition which our ego-tripping is feeding on: we cannot just be full of ourselves, our following, our ideas… Instead we have to focus on the what’s in it for me but in the network knowledge ecology, WIIFM also means WIIFY, because YOU is the other ME. And it is the other YOUs that make ME famous, popular and cool. In other words, forget about the old ‘Knowledge is power’ (oh, it’s still practiced in many occasions though) and move on to ‘Sharing knowledge is (yielding) power’.

So we have to dig deep to bring the best of ourselves to the front and to share as widely as possible. Sure, we perhaps do that to boost our own morale and popularity, consciously or not, to a large extent or not. But this might even be irrelevant: many excellent humanitarian efforts were also built on the sense of self-appreciation and self-achievement of humanitarian workers. Yet the end result is a positive achievement and ultimately, that is what matters.

What are the consequences of this new knowledge ego-logy?

We cannot afford to serve useless content to our networks because they won’t buy it (and will punish our ego-tripping thirst for popularity with their feet), so that means:

  • We try to be relevant, dynamic, fast-spreading, helpful, creative and funny;
  • We remain authentic, genuine, off-show, as opposed to our tendency to show off with the corporate facade that may require us to act differently to ourselves;
  • We try to be inclusive in our approach (that makes more people follow you by the way);
  • We nurture relationships, we listen to others (we have to), we take their ideas into account;
  • We try to pay due references to authors we are quoting (as social media have also transformed gossip into a super effective weapon);
  • We indeed ‘pay it forward’ by doing things for others, hoping that they will pick up the same red thread – leading by example as it were;
  • We ripple up to develop the true networked brain that human beings together represent.

All in all, we strive for greater personal mastery (a pursuit of effectiveness) and aspire to be more relevant to others. Hence, the knowledge ecology that is becoming so fashionable may be based on a knowledge ego-logy…

The knowledge egology thrives in the social media ecosystem (graph credits: debs)

If I look at all these developments, I would say they’re rather more positive than negative. However, I can already hear some (Calvinists?) moan that it is not a right thing to contribute to the good with a self-serving purpose but hey! To hell with it! I totally believe in people’s personal transformation in a positive way by doing good things, even based on (originally) egoistic motives… We change! We improve! We get driven by our passion! We get carried in the game! Just give us a chance to do some good (oh, and give us some moments of popularity to keep the energy level – but it’s all about feedback really)!


What do you think about this: does it reflect your observations too? If so, does it matter? Is it good or bad? What does it lead to?

All interesting questions to be answered, but I’ll leave it at that (and check my blog stats in the meantime lol ;D )


(1) “Knowledge ecology” is an interdisciplinary field of management theory and practice, focused on the relational and social aspects of knowledge creation and utilization. Its primary study and domain of action is the design and support of self-organizing knowledge ecosystems, providing the infrastructure in which information, ideas, and inspiration can travel freely to cross-fertilize and feed on each other. (Source: http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/kd/index.shtml)

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