How to run impactful workshopsEmma Johnson
In a hybrid working world, the size and shape of workshops has had to change rapidly. Virtual workshops are becoming the norm, but online meetings do present their challenges. For example, a lack of visual cues mean that more than one discussion can be taking place at any one time, attendees can tend to feel less engaged, and participants have more freedom to “vote with their feet” and join what they feel they can contribute to the most.
Expectations for in-person workshops have rightly become more demanding over time. When hybrid teams travel in to be together in person, the session has to justify how it is different to what can be achieved whilst looking at screens remotely. These sessions must be facilitated expertly - facilitators are now expected to turn up with “Mary Poppins” bags full of post it notes, pens, and other paraphernalia and use them in a session that is “practically perfect in every way”.
One of the most challenging meeting formats to facilitate are those that combine both in-person and virtual attendees. When a workshop has both in-person and remote participants, organisers must find ways to ensure that remote attendees can actively contribute, have their voices heard, and be represented in the physical workshop environment.
Effective facilitation, planning, and clear communication channels are essential. What we are seeing is that collaboration through workshops must become more intentional.
At Credera, we regularly run in-person, remote, and hybrid sessions. Across our UK Business Transformation & Change Management team, we have crowd-sourced our techniques for running effective workshops, whatever the format. In this blog, we’ll run through our seven top tips for running impactful workshops.1. Gain strong sponsorship and get clear objectives
Speak to the sponsor for your workshop and understand what they want to learn, achieve, or produce from the workshop. Seek to understand the tone they would like for the session:
- Do they want an emphasis on team building, full of ice breakers?
- Is the work under significant time pressure, requiring more focus on the content?
- Is the aim to explore or build consensus around new solutions, with more time required for discussion or capturing ideas?
Work with your sponsor to prepare the introduction for your workshop and encourage them to present this to the group on the day.2. Write a press release
Frame your sponsor’s objectives as the ‘press release’ and confirm it with them:
- What would you want share with your stakeholders after the workshop if all goes to plan? For example: the team have created their 2023 roadmap and objectives for the year.
Use this “press release” when creating your agenda and include it in communications to workshop attendees in advance of the session, reinforcing the content throughout the workshop on the day.3. Plan and storyboard your workshop end-to-end
Structure your workshop with a well thought out agenda, including a mixture of “generating” and “focusing” activities:
- Generating Activities, with the purpose of generating ideas, suggestions, and questions.
- Focusing Activities, with the purpose of encouraging the group to narrow-down ideas, suggestions, and questions into agreements, consensus, or actions to take out of the workshop.
With a storyboard, map out the “thread” that connects each session to the last:
- Does one session produce something you work on in the next?
- Do you draft something that you refine within the next?
Ensure that the sessions lead towards the objectives agreed with your sponsor.4. Make arrangements for everyone to contribute effectively
For mixed workshops with in-person and remote attendance, ensure that remote attendees can participate effectively too:
- Allocate a role for someone to support remote participants, ensuring they can hear and see the session content and that they can access any tools used during the session.
- Consider groupings for any breakout activities based on how participants are attending – in-person and remote attendees are more likely to contribute to discussions held with others who are participating in the same format.
- Plan for how you will capture input from remote attendees if this is different to in-person attendees. For virtual sessions, chat messages can be collated as similarly to post-it notes from in-person sessions.
For workshops of any format, be sure to understand participants accessibility requirements and plan accordingly to accommodate them.5. Provide clear instructions during your introduction
At the start, provide clear instructions on how the group will interact during the workshop.
Within the introduction, include:
- Your press release
- Your agenda & timings
- How individuals are expected to contribute throughout the session:
-Are you using a virtual whiteboard tool?
-What are your rules of the road?
Is there a Parking Lot (a space to capture questions and actions outside of the immediate workshop scope – e.g. a flip chart) to capture important but off-topic discussion points?
For an in-person workshop, provide details on refreshments, bathrooms, and fire exits/meeting points – otherwise known as “loos, brews and rendezvous”!6. Foster interaction through your activities
Design your activities to encourage collaboration and interaction between attendees. Some examples include:
- One, four, all: An example format where individuals first address a topic individually, then in a small group, and then by presenting back to the group.
- Tradeshow: Stations are set up throughout the room (or virtual whiteboard) and participants rotate around, adding their thoughts to each of the topic boards.
- Rapid listing: Attendees are split into teams tackling problems and they are asked to rapidly list solutions without any critiques. Potential solutions are then mapped against a complexity vs value matrix. For remote workshops, use a collaborative tool such as Miro to host these formats with virtual post it notes.
For groups that are unfamiliar with each other, or to fit with the tone set by your sponsor, incorporate ice breakers or energiser activities.7. Reduce Groupthink bias when getting to a consensus
Towards the end of your session, move the group to as fair and unbiased consensus as possible.
Aim to reduce bias such as groupthink (the tendency to agree or confirm with the views of the group) within your method.
Examples of activities to get to a consensus whilst reducing Groupthink bias include:
Plot all of your ideas on a four-quadrant matrix to help you collectively rate your solutions against shared criteria. An example could be effort vs value
To further reduce Groupthink bias, Planning Poker allows attendees to present their votes at the same time.
In a nutshell
Workshops, whether in-person or remote, need to be inclusive, interactive, and intentional in creating space for collaboration. At Credera, we are passionate about helping organisations better collaborate to drive valuable business outcomes. Whether your workshop needs to be in-person, remote, or a combination of both, our expertise in workshop design and facilitation ensures that participants engage effectively, enabling them to maximise their potential and achieve targeted results.
Get in touch if you are interested in starting a conversation.
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