7 Ideas for running better workshops

Posted on 25/10/2015


People running an ideas or planning workshop

Somehow, the end of the year is always saturated with workshops.

I’ve been running a few of late, and between the ones that went well (and the sessions that could have been better), I’ve noticed a few patterns.

1. Setting your workshop aims

Good workshops do things you couldn’t possibly achieve any other way. Very often this means loose, and quick thinking instead of in-depth, structured thinking which is best done separately.

Putting this another way, your workshop should be more focused on achieving this:

and less about this:

2. Collaboration for all the right reasons

Another great use of collaboration, is as a path to consent. When you approach a problem from different directions, you’re unlikely to see it the same way. But if you deconstruct a problem together and go through the same steps, you’re more likely to find a shared solution. It’s also harder to disagree face to face.

The important thing in this case is to achieve consent, not consensus. There are several ways to understand the difference, but think of consent as “no reasoned objections” and consensus as all group members involved in making each decision.

3. Generating ideas

The exercises you give people need to stoke their imagination. This is a key way to get everyone involved in writing and collaborating. Exercises that work particularly well allow people to think in different directions. Then, during review sessions you can connect and refine these ideas further.

Sessions that work less well tend to be too formulaic (A+B=C, as opposed to working out the different ways A, B and C can be calculated).

As long as you don’t force people down a too linear path, you’ll be impressed and surprised with what they come up with.

4. Inputs

All workshops need inputs: the information and structure that drive teams’ work. But two words of advice:

  1. Make sure these are in a form you can use during the meeting. They should be easy to digest / or shared early so people can refer back to them.
  2. Everyone needs to understand the fundamentals about the business and the product. If not, the person in the room with the most knowledge will end up leading everything.

5. Creating (and maintaining) the right atmosphere

This is probably the hardest part of running workshops: staying on top of the exercises, the agenda and the mood in the room. Play to the room, but it helps to:

  • Be lively and encouraging.
  • Have some ideas to throw in.
  • Set a rhythm you can maintain.
  • If you want fast paced decisions, shorten the time available, stay strict with timings.

6. Be prepared

Plan for scenario B (non attendees or delayed starts). This kind of thing always happens, so know what to drop and what to prioritise before the day.

7. If all else fails

Try to enjoy it. This is as much for yourself as for each and every person. “Having fun” might be pushing it too far, but at the very least it should be pleasant. And if you’re lucky, it’ll be outstanding.