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How to get the most out of your workshops

Mikael Vemmenby 
23 feb 2017

To perform efficient workshops, make sure to have a goal with the workshop and to define the roles of the team members from start. You should always have an idea of what knowledge you want the members to leave the session with when you are planning the workshop.

A workshop is a great method to use when you want the team to find new solutions, explore new opportunities, fix problems, or maybe just give the project a push by trying a new method. But, there must be a goal! Otherwise you risk ending up, way off from where you originally intended.

To have a productive session everybody needs to know their role in advance before coming to the session. And you need to have set the purpose of your workshop, so people know what to expect of it. Thereafter, I try to find the right people to invite.

 
Let people express their expectations

Before starting the workshop, there are a few practical issues that you need to inform people about – information about location of restrooms and where people can smoke if needed. How and when we eat lunch and what is most essential for a Swede, when FIKA is! Some people can become more at ease if they know how the day is going to be structured.

As a starter, before the workshop begins – let everybody introduce themselves and share what they do and what their expectations are. If there are any unclarities in the group of why they are there, you can pick that up at the beginning and focus everybody on the agenda of the day.

Your role as a facilitator:

  1. It’s your job to lead the workshop forward and keep the participants to the agenda and the subjects. A good way to do this is to write the agenda on a whiteboard and have it visible during the workshop. When people divert, you can just refer to the agenda and get the conversation back on track.
  2. Another issue, that may need some practice, is to give everybody the chance to speak. In some groups, a few individuals take up more space and talk way more than others. As the facilitator of the workshop, it’s your job to give everybody the opportunity to express their thoughts. One way to do this, is to start with the talkative person and let him or her vent his or her thoughts completely until he or she is done. Then give the more introvert person space to say what’s on his or her mind. Another way is to use an item, that people need to hold while speaking. Simple, and it works.
  3. The next thing I find helpful is to take on the part as the “interviewer” or “neutral part”. Asking questions to the participants and getting the discussion going. Hopefully, you make people express their thoughts with other words. By posing questions, you make people think, rethink, and hopefully they will come up with their own questions and follow-up thoughts. By continuously asking questions and getting people to further explain their thoughts, you keep the discussion going and you might find new angles to ideas and thoughts that might help solve your problems and issues.
  4. I write down a couple of rules which have improved and helped my workshops to be more focused. And often, they are more effective when people can see and read them during the session.

The rules are:

  • We have one conversation at a time.
  • We strive for consensus and unity.
  • We respect the time
  • Be creative, and yes, everybody can!
  • Everybody in the room is responsible for the results.
  • The last one is the most important one. By giving responsibility to people, it will make them participate more and make them get the most of the workshop.

Finally, when it’s time to wrap the workshop up, I find it useful to briefly summarize the findings of day. Make sure you all have the same view of the results and how you should best proceed. Will there be a follow-up workshop? And, in that case, when?

End the session by giving the participants short feedback on their performance and thank them for taking their time to participate.

Recap


Firstly: Set the purpose of the workshop, before you set the date. And what type of workshop will fit that occasion. No clear goal, no point for the workshop.

Secondly: Think about who you want to attend your workshop, and make it clear that they are invited to attend because of their expertise. You do this to let them know what you are expecting of them.

Thirdly: Set an agenda for the day, so people know how the day will proceed.

Fourthly: Prepare how you want to facilitate the workshop. Set your own role, and make it clear to people what you expect of them during the session.

Lastly: Summaries the day and give feedback to the participant’s involvement.

And with this, I hope you’ll remember some of it during your next workshop and hope you’ll find value from my experience, like I have from others.

And so, I wish you all a happy day!

/Mikael Vemmenby UX-designer