How to run a productive team workshop

Throughout May and June, I’ve been focussing on “Doing, not talking” –  practical tools that can be introduced to teams, to actively help them work better together. For the last post in this series, I’ll address the team workshop.

Workshops are a great time to experiment and explore. But whilst they can be fun and energising, it can be difficult for teams to stay focussed, and also to keep the momentum going after the session.

Here’s an overview of how I plan project team workshops for productive results.

Standard workshop kit

I always take the following items to workshops: sticky notes, coloured pens, plain paper, flip chart and pens, blu-tack (for sticking the flip chart notes around the room).

The purpose of this kit is to capture as much of the workshop discussion as possible, in a way that makes it easy to write up, review and analyse for the overall project.

Step one: clarify the outcomes (but think beyond the end of the workshop)

Start by brainstorming the aims of the workshop. What is the reason that you’re running it? What do you need to find out? What are the problems to be solved? What do you want to achieve by the end of the workshop?

Then, think about what needs to happen after the workshop, to take your team into the next stage of the project. For example, do you want to: prototype your ideas, develop a manifesto or other document which outlines a shared understanding, create a list of tasks or the start of a project plan? You can then design exercises that will generate content to make this happen.

Step two: design your exercises

Think creatively about the best questions and tasks that will guide your participants towards generating usable content – your workshop will be made up of a series of these exercises. Consider how you’ll make use of the workshop kit and the room, and when there needs to be individual work, breakout groups (which we recommend when you have four or more participants) and feedback sessions.

Unless you have a lot of separate topics to cover, most exercises will lead into the next, making use of the material that has been developed along the way. It’s like your workshop is an upside-down triangle, starting with broader thinking, and gradually focussing into the more tangible elements that your project needs.

Gamestorming has lots of ideas for workshop exercises. A couple that I’ve designed and used in the past:

  • A day in the life of (to understand more about a target audience): map out their morning, afternoon and evening activities, using sticky notes
  • Speed-ideas-mentoring (to evaluate concepts): after breakout groups have generated ideas, subject experts rotate around the room in 10-minute slots to provide their feedback on how to improve them

Be aware of cramming too much in, and give your participants one main thing to do per exercise. You’ll be surprised how much useful content you can generate in a short space of time.

Step three: structuring and running your workshop

After you’ve developed your exercises, think about the practical aspects of the session, such as: how long each exercise will last, time allocated for group feedback and who will work together in the breakout groups (much like a meeting agenda, but with more detail and more creative!). Use this as a guide on the day to stay on track and focussed.  But you’ll also need to stay flexible – your facilitation techniques at the session are just as important as the structure you’ve developed.

During the workshop, write your flip chart notes in all caps, using different colours for different topics/exercises. This will ensure your participants can understand and refer to it during the workshop, and you can easily write it up afterwards.

Step four: after the workshop

I usually write up two versions of the session: 1) the basic notes, and 2) analysis of the notes developed into a more workable document for the team. This second version is based on what has been identified in step one (e.g. set of ideas for prototyping, manifesto, task list etc.), so that it’s easy to take the next step of the project.

Related posts:

Get your meetings, moving

Principles for a good kick-off workshop

The first meeting: getting your creative project off to a good start

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