10 ways to a wonderful workshop

Facilitation is an integral part of my consultancy role and recent workshops have ranged from problem-solving, to idea generation and team capability. Agendas vary but they all share an expectation of a great collaborative experience that delivers excellent results.

Here’s 10 tips for wonderful workshop results ‘facilitated’ by my recent experience:

1. Start with an achievable plan

Planning and preparation is the key to success. Workshop aims and scope need to be clearly defined and time needed to brief, run and review activities carefully considered. Planning will help you increase productivity on the day- for example dividing tasks/exercises into smaller teams or requiring homework from attendees.

The final plan needs to be stretching but achievable. Achieving progress on three objectives will not be a success if the agenda included five – even with a Herculean team effort.

2. Remove the boring bits

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Too many workshops seem to lose their entire morning to setting the scene and clarifying objectives. Use homework and briefings to ensure scene setting on the day is succinct and that morning (caffeine stimulated) energy can be devoted to productive tasks.

3. Sell the benefits before the day

Participants may not be looking forward to another workshop or long meeting! It will probably be competing with other urgent deadlines or projects.

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Those attending need to see gains that exceed their opportunity cost.  A message or briefing from the team or a senior sponsor will help ensure those in the invited appreciate the importance of their contribution and ensure they focus on your agenda when in the room.

4. Motivate with a fantastic first impression

An inspiring location / venue will support a great first impression. A recent event at the Bond in Motion exhibition certainly achieved this but there are also low budget ways to motivate before the agenda begins.

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A great example is the sequence of posters I walked past for an ideation workshop. Each highlighted quotes on the project’s strategic importance. Outside the room on a flip chart was a colourful message, signed by the sponsor thanking me in advance for my “generous donation of expertise and ideas.” Before seeing the first slide I was motivated to make a difference.

5. Get everyone talking 

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The first contribution is the hardest and for some will be difficult. Plan to create an atmosphere and activity for everyone to express their views early in the day. A minority of people controlling conversation will constrain contributions and ultimately lead to disappointment for those less vocal.

6.  Build a wider ownership of outputs

Presenting of draft material enables collaborative shaping and building with focus. By identifying what is missing and wrong participants are taking ownership of the improved answer. This is important as we tend to value more what we have personally created or own.

sharing2A recent example of this was identifying opportunities to improve team productivity. Small teams developed draft recommendations on related topics and pitched these to other attendees. Feedback and ideas were then incorporated by new ‘build’ teams who shared refined output for final feedback. Four topics were addressed in parallel with everyone able to influence the outcome.

7. Be flexible and responsive

New issues and learning in a workshop are inevitable and some of these will necessitate a change of focus.  In these circumstances flexibility is needed and highly valued.

I often extend a coffee break or use lunch to revise the agenda and then propose this as an alternative for attendees. In a recent workshop helping an executive team on their project sponsorship we identified new organisational barriers. Over an early lunch new case-study scenarios were created for teams to solve on their return.

8. End the session on a high

ThankYouForAwesomeThing4Our ‘peak-end bias’ means perceptions are greatly shaped by how things conclude. Given a positive experience will increase enthusiasm for results and next steps ending on a positive and memorable high must be the aim.

A final fun team activity, summing up of  what has been achieved and recognition of contributions before and in the workshop can all help.

A great example, was a conclusion with a montage of recent project successes  – acknowledging contributions and showing success was achievable.

9. Secure a stronger commitment for actions

It has been shown that commitments become stronger when the costs or consequences of no action increases or if publicly shared. Seeking verbal commitments from individuals to documented next steps and emphasising losses associated with slow or no action will increase the likelihood of post-workshop delivery.

10. Learn to continuously improve

Inviting feedback will help you identify improvements for future events and understand the barriers to post-workshop results.  When things go well it should also be a source of helpful testimonials!

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