Most of our meetings are frustrating, unproductive and a waste of time, and we can improve them by using some of the principles of effective workshops. Above that, there’s a lot to learn from what happens in workshops around inspiring collaboration, teamwork and creativity that we can take to create a better workplace.

There’s a time and place for a ‘typical meeting’ – one example being to communicate known facts or opinions. With this often comes a power dynamic. The loudest or most senior people in the room dominate, while the rest of the attendees are passive.

In contrast, a workshop is to explore unknowns together and gather ideas. When a workshop is run well, you hear from everyone in the room, and it’s dynamic – people are standing up, moving around, using the walls and getting involved.

We can turn this around too. It’s not just about what a successful workshop looks like, but what a workshop participant should experience. A large part of designing workshops is thinking about how you will engage and motivate people. 

During a great workshop, a participant will feel:

  • Autonomy – as a facilitator, you’ll be clear on the goal and where you want to get to, but participants will have the freedom to get there in the way that works best for them.
  • A sense of purpose – participants understand the bigger picture and why their expertise is needed.
  • Progress – moving forward together as a team.
  • Teamwork – recognising the value of sharing and building ideas with others.

This looks a lot like what many of us want to achieve in our workplace culture too.

So, where to start? First, it’s worth remembering these two rules of workshop facilitation:

  1. Do not participate and facilitate at the same time. If you’re facilitating a workshop, you’re not there to get involved in the discussion. You’re there to guide participants through.
  2. You don’t have all (or any of!) the answers. Your role is not to generate ideas, it’s to draw the ideas out from others. Provide a framework, then get out of the way and let people do their work.

Two more articles to help you get started with using workshops and their principles:

Facilitating your first workshop? Start here.

Four skills that will help you to facilitate effective workshops.

Bring the characteristics of great workshops to your meetings (where it’s appropriate), and with more confidence you can start introducing the principles to the rest of your work.

Summarised from my talk at All About People 2016. Watch the full video.