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Organize effective workshops

How to quit chit chat about something and take action to achieve concrete results.

 

How many times did you speak about a problem and you would have planned a new strategy but the meeting with your team or your clients were ineffective? It happened to me to attend several meetings full of ideas, inspirations, discussions, but often not so productive. Those meetings seldom drove to the fulfillment of concrete goals. Sometimes a traditional meeting is not enough.

 

If you are working on a new business model or a client has asked you for new creative ideas, and you need to clarify needs, goals, and strategies, this is the right moment to transform boring meetings into dynamic and collaborative workshops.

Why is a workshop a valuable solution?

 

There’s a substantial difference between traditional meetings and workshops. In a collaborative meeting, you can put people together, make them thinking together and in a shorter space of time time, with their different disciplines, roles, and experiences they can produce more than what they could make in their offices. People are focused on a topic and the discussion is not passive, but collaborative.

Don’t misuse or overuse workshops

 

I see frequently creatives and consultant agencies which in every type of project offers their clients a workshop. This is not always the right solution. When does it worth to invest time and energies in a workshop? If:

  • You want to deeply explore a theme
  • You want to work together in a collaborative way
  • You have something concrete that you need to do in a group
  • You need to put together different disciplines in a short amount of time to generate ideas

 

To make the right choice is very important to define clear needs and results that you want to obtain in this workshop.

Which error to avoid in workshop’s organization

 

Don’t underestimate the importance of preparation. It is fundamental to dedicate time before the meeting to prepare the tools, the room, and much more important to identify the facilitator’s figure. This is the person that will help the group to make the job done, remaining neutral in the discussion, assuring to stay focused and checking the time. Without this role, the debate can be not fair or people can abandon the thematic path and in the end, the risk is to not have any follow up to bring the ideas forward.

The role of the facilitator

 

Which characteristic may have a facilitator? This may be a person that, without being influenced by the discussion, ensures that everybody in the room is getting involved. A good facilitator is also brilliant asking good questions to animate the discussion, for this reason, must be really curious, because his role is about bringing out what are people thinking, also from the shiniest participant.

How to work in the group

 

Dividing people into small groups of 5-6 person, mixing between introvert and extrovert equally but also the type of skills, are all tricks to have a good impact on the quality of the discussion. Sometimes understanding internal dynamic and differences that may block the discussion can also help to avoid critical situations.

Which instruments are useful to conduct a workshop?

 

Visualization tools are very effective because graphics, schemes, and canvas are elements that make methods and themes visible and are easily understandable as well as they facilitate the interaction. Metaphors, graphics, sketches, maps, there are a lot of methodologies that can help.

 

Interaction and participation: speaking about a workshop, everybody is automatically thinking about post-its. This is not only a trend, but sticky notes are also something that makes ideas tangible and allows people to think and make visible their ideas preventing blocking problems.

Tips to avoid the “bla-bla-bla”

 

Also in a collaborative workshop, the risk to loose the planned path is high. To avoid the “blah-blah-blah” the facilitator, especially in a diverging phase, can help people to express them self without criticism in order to collect many ideas. On the other side in a converging phase, where ideas are collected, people can objectively criticize concepts separating them from the persons, for example by voting them. In any case, starting the workshop by giving the participants some rules, can help to make it clear which is the right approach.

When is a workshop successful?

 

A workshop can be defined successful when you have generated many qualitative ideas, and the people have made a really good job working together that they couldn’t have done if they were alone in an office. Besides that, people creating new connections, learning something new or feeling more involved in a team or in the company, can be also considered successful outputs.

What’s happens after a workshop?

 

At the end of a team’s job it isn’t all done, it always must be a follow-up. The facilitator can produce a document or organize a second workshop, maybe with a small group of people, to define how this meeting can move forward. This is a phase where you still need to apply all the ideas arose from the previous session and you must put all of them in actions. Including a prototyping phase can also be a strategic decision to start early on with implementing the ideas generated.

To prepare, explore the unknown with curiosity and to stay focused on the main topics and goals are some important elements to organize an effective meeting.

If you need some more advice for your next meeting, I suggest some useful links to understand instruments and advice from the main experts in the field.

 

mindtools.com: Running Effective Meetings

training.350.org: Tools and methods for facilitators

The Grove Consultants: Visual Meetings Workshop

Image credits: Cover photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash; Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

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