Successful workshop tips: Part 1 on principles

[Guest post by Diego Kerner, Managing Partner of Latin America] 

Workshops seem to be nowadays at the heart of corporate way of working. Either to align teams and/or make decisions.  But to be effective, the actual workshop itself should be the visible "tip of the iceberg", with a whole work-plan below the surface to plan and prepare the session. 

This is the first of two posts with principles, tips and tricks to maximise the chances of getting a great workshop, delivering great outputs in line with the objectives. It draws on learning from the 500+ workshops  brandgym partners have designed and facilitated around the world in the last 14 years.

1) Get 100% clarity and alignment on workshop objectives

Don't start a workshop without having full clarity of what are the expected outcomes (as concrete and explicit as possible) and having got the buy-in of the final internal client.

For brandgym workshops we place a strong focus on the briefing before we kick off any project, regardless of how big or small it is. As part of this, we don´t just help the client clarify which are the issues and what are the desired outptus, but we ensure all relevant stakeholders (usually, our clients' big bosses) are aligned with this

2) The workshop starts way before people get in the venue

Great facilitators plan workshops very carefully, making sure:

  • All the relevant information to make good decisions will be sent in advance as pre-read and/or presented in a friendly, clear and succint way during the workshop.
  • Participants are the ones that really need to be there, without having on board "strategy tourists". The only two reasons why a person should be invited are: for brain/knowledge power and/or because they will play a critical role on executing the outputs. End of story. If needed, you can always get other peoples' perspective before the workshops and/or debrief them after the workshop
  • Logistics including venue, layout and food are critical levers for workshop success.

We tend to be quite obssesive with these points above (as many of our clients can testify!): what information needs to be presented and how to extract all the power from it, what´s the best team configuration depending on the workshop objectives, what´s the most inviting layout and inspiring venue.  The devil really is in the details, and really paying attention to them really pays off.

3) Ensure active participation: do > see + hear

There is an old Chinese proverb which says: “I hear, I forget. I see, I remember. I do, I learn." Neuro psychology studies show that when you combine hear + see + do you increase your chances of people to learn x3 vs just hear, and x2 vs hear + see.

We always make sure participants have an active role on doing, for example through probed guided workouts to capture and apply learnings from a research or after sharing performance reports or future trends. 

4) Mananging emotions and energy

Emotions are a very important lever of great workshops. Positive emotions like feeling creative, feeling heard and respected, can lead into achievemnts.  On the contrary, negative emotions  like fear, feeling neglected or bullied will prevent you to get the best from participants. Right from the beginning, a good facilitator has the task to expand positive emotions and minimize negative ones.

The other lever is team energy. We know from experience that it is useless to keep going with a tired team. We tend to work with modules of 60-90 mins maximum and then take a short rest to refresh the mind and recharge energies. Also, we split presentations in pieces (of 20-30 mins) to mix both mindset modes: listening and doing (discussing and making decisions)

Though sometimes neglected, the “human side” of participants have an enormous impact on the output.

5) Facilitators = mirror for the team

There is a kind of facilitating karma: the words, actions and attitude of the facilitator has a significant influence on how participants will behave and feel. Do you want a creative and open-minded team? If so, you need to behave like this. If you want a tense and fear driven atmosphere be disrespectful and aggressive and you will get the worst out of participants!

An expert facilitator is always checking  himself scanning his own feelings, behaviours, what is bothering him and why in order to be the best possible model of what he wants to inspire in participants

These five principles are the basis of great facilitation: setting clear objectives, getting the right people in the right place, ensure participants roll there sleeves and get an active role, carefully monitoring team emotional and energy levels.

Look out for the next post that will look at how to structure and plan a successful workshop.