Workshops have become a common workplace tool to drive out ideas, solutions and gain clarity. Whether you are running a workshop to understand business requirements, a persons goals, lessons learned or more detailed and in depth analysis of your business strategy, delivery programme, policy or sales funnel and service offering, I have collated a few hints and tips to help structure your session and gain better results. Its based on the 3 R’s - Roles, Rules, Results.
As the facilitator you are there to make people feel at ease. If you are enjoying yourself they will do too. A conversational, friendly tone goes a long way further than a formal and clinical one. At times you will lead, teach and guide, others you will step back and let share speak and lead, let them flow, on occasion you will need to feed in the odd idea or story to get them started. Being assertive on time and managing difficult disputes and debates are all part of the role and this can be managed by the devices and tools to park, capture and inspire in the session itself.
Number of people in the room is key. A workshop should never have ideally more than 9 or 10 participants. In some cases the maximum should be no greater than 15 - 20. (more team based exercises)
If you are using team exercises spilt people up who normally work together.
If you must stretch the group to up to a larger group then make sure you have a note-taker and a SME as well as the person facilitating the session and timekeeping. (nb: in business programmes/ business workshops having a Project manager there can be a useful addition, to capture notes and play the timekeeper)
Set out an understanding of what the group is there and the bejctive of the session - when people understand why they have been invited they will have a clearer view on how they can contribute.
Rules for the session: (write them up as a manifesto on the wall and point to them in the meeting when people break them - hold them accountable)
Egos and phones/ devices to be left at the door - hierarchy and titles are not effective companions in most workshops.
No side conversations unless part of an exercise or activity
No question is a silly question - capture them all and answer a few if you can as you go along
don’t work on an exercise or segment of the session for more than 40-45 mins (based on a 3 hour workshop) If your workshop is an hour then the percentage time should be split the same as for a longer session.
Let people leave the room, stretch, spend a penny, and focus their eyes on a different view or for the gadget junkies a chance to send a quick email or text. (people getting up and leaving the room sporadically can be unbalancing and break momentum so set clear timescales and ask for agreement that people will work until the next break without leaving.
Set a clear agenda and stick to it - immaculate timekeeping is key and drives momentum and a sense of progress.
Park debates and discussion on a visible sheet on the wall so people feel heard and not dismissed.
Everyone’s opinion counts - even the quietest person in the room has something valuable to add, ask them to share their ideas too.
Outline the following as principles of the session:
Avoid individuals’ ‘agendas. People often see workshops as an opportunity to moan and raise FUDs (Fears, Uncertainties and Doubts) - if they are raised then you will capture them on a board and move on. They can provide good insights but you don’t want them to derail the session or bring the engagement or energy down in the room.
The exercises are designed so that are interactive and require participation, brainstorming and movement - getting people on their feet or moving around away from desks is most successful ( clear the room of desks/tables if possible. If you need tables then revert to the team approach - mix people up!)
Everyone ultimately wants to succeed and help create something - whilst some have different objectives or performance goals or targets, they all share a common desire to achieve something, enable a process and drive and build momentum.
This is the format of the session and preparation is key
(based on a 3 hour session)
This should break down in to 5 key sections:
1) Introductions and The icebreaker - a short team building (creative) exercise to build interest and create energy and get the juices flowing and get the group in the mood for sharing. There are some really great exercises online that you can download to get people focused on the subject or even just to get them used to working together and sharing their ideas out loud. If your group of people don’t know each other then get them all to participate in a game that shares something about them – eg the true or false game - ‘a small unknown fact and a fib about themselves’ is a good game. The rest of the group have to try and decide which is which.
Time: Keep this to around 30 mins no more
2) The core exercise - diagrams, process flows, a list of challenges that they face can be the basis of this exercise post-it notes and other tools can be used to capture ideas, requirements and so forth and then placed in to pre-defined categories on the wall that are then reviewed and discussed. Make the aim of this session to get really specific. Fluffy high level statements wont help you, but specific fact based incident driven information will give you real insight. The What /how /why /when!
Keep this to 45 mins (if you are running a full day session have no more than 2 or 3 of these core sessions in total)
3) Prioritization session - agree with the group what the top 3 tasks, ideas, solutions or outcomes are that need to be worked on moving forward
Time : 20-30 mins - for a lot of content 45.
4) Summarise/ feedback - never close the session without gaining feedback what went well and what could have been done differently. What was hard, what was the key take away for each person - everyone should share one thing. It will give you an immediate gauge on the value and time spent from the participants in the session.
5) Wrap up - your next steps and follow up actions with specific timeframes. Workshops are never valuable to the participants unless they can see the value they bring. People are giving you their time to be there so make their attendance valuable to them by feeding back any outcomes or next steps.
The may well be one person who constantly tries to derail the session or raises constant negativity about why the session is a waste of time or pointless. Remember that they may have had bad experiences in the past and this is driving their behavior’s. The best way to deal with this is to chat to them during a break and find out why they are being destructive, negative or actively not participating. Ask them to share their concerns with you so that you can reassure them of your objective. Secondly ask them to share some specific knowledge in the next activity that involves them and shows that you are listening. This will sometimes mean that you have to adjust your agenda, but one way of doing this is to take five minutes from the next session to ask them to share some specific thoughts on a concern or previous workshop and why it is important. Make sure they are specific. Don’t let them just moan or make fluffy unconstructive comments - if they do ask them to provide a specific example.
Once the 5 mins is up, announce that you will be taking the opportunity to gather more of these sorts of inputs from all the group and that you will make the time after the session to follow up with them all.
Lastly - go for Quality not Quantity. Tired people give less constructive or useful information, which only leads to needing more time from them and revisiting the session. They lose rapport with you and their minds go elsewhere. If you find a section waning, break it up or adjust according to the people you are with. The strength of a good facilitator and getting results and collaboration is in being able to be nimble and adjust a schedule to get the best out of those in the room.