1. Invite different people Collective intelligence research has proven that diverse teams create more successful ideas. Invite people from different backgrounds, roles, gender and ethnicities to maximise workshop success. Make sure that the people who are coming will fully participate in the session and agree to all the ground rules.
Interrogate the invite list – does everyone need to be there, or can some be caught up afterwards?
Invite new people with fresh perspectives to the session – these could be from a different department, from one of your partner agencies, or an interesting expert on a parallel topic.
Think about how to bring in the voice of the customer or consumer – can you have them there?
Are the people coming likely to agree to the workshop behaviours and to put away phones and laptops – if not, perhaps don’t invite them?
Resist the “floaters and poppers” – don’t let people come and “float” (not participating but watching everyone else work – this is intimidating and a waste of brain power – make them join a team or not come at all). Same with “poppers” – people who say they will pop in later, or pop in and out during the session. If they can’t commit to fully participating, explain they will be interrupting and catch them up instead afterwards.
2. Prepare Inspiration We need the inspiration to be creative! People won’t think any differently if they walk into the same room with the same people and the same information they’ve always had. If you want people to think creatively or differently, you need to bring in different information and stimulus that inspires them to do this. Think about how to bring the topic to life in interesting, new and different ways so that people don’t just work with what they already know. Preserving people’s individual opinions, ideas and viewpoints are crucial, as each individual brings their own inspiration to share. For every workshop, ask each participant to do something in advance of the topic and bring that inspiration with them as a printout, a story to tell, a mini case study or some photos to show. This means they come ready to contribute, have thought about the topic in advance, and probably already have ideas already. It also makes a great introductions exercise.
Consider a prep work task that each participant can do in advance of the session to bring in inspiration – send this out a week in advance and make sure everyone knows they will be asked to present this in the session
In addition to prep work, consider creating multi-sensory boxes, min case studies, short films, collages, pen portraits, or inviting interesting speakers to bring inspiration to the topic and consider how to show this in the workshop
Prepare beautiful stimulus and multi-sensorial inspiration from the outside world and other categories i.e. create case studies, posters, multisensory experiences or organize videos of speakers that will inspire, and consumers who are willing to share – to bring outside voices in and co-creation to the workshop.
3. Curate an experience Workshops create an emotional impact to provoke belief and behaviour change. One easy way to do this is to bring inspiration to life in multi-sensorial ways to truly make people feel different, which will help inspire them to think differently too. Decorate the room, make it smell different, have music playing, provide products to eat, drink, wear or try. Anything that makes the room not feel like your average business meeting as soon as people walk in.
Book a room or venue that has space for cabaret-style seating, walls to put posters and pictures on (and permission to do so), natural light and preferably a separate space for food and drink.
Consider how to decorate or design the room to make it feel different as soon as people walk in to create immediate impact and make sure people don’t feel they are coming into a boring business meeting.
Allow enough time to set up the room in advance, so that when people walk in everything is ready and feels calm. Make sure all slides, materials, AV and other set up is done and complete before the first participant walks in, so you can welcome them and introduce yourself. For a small workshop this is at least an hour, for a big workshop, a few hours will be needed.
Take lots of photos of how you set up the room, and the whole workshop including working teams and speakers – these can be used later to re-create the experience in the outputs.
4. Design your own templates Design and print A2 paper templates to help people structure their thinking and ideas. This helps cut down on the amount of instructions you give (because the templates help people follow a particular order), and helps to make sure that each team’s ideas are roughly structured in the same way. Workshops should never involve writing on a blank flipchart, for the facilitator or the break out groups. Templates can be fun, colourful, friendly and bespoke to the topic – the little effort you put into these will be useful on so many levels during the session and afterwards for the output
Design your own templates in advance, giving structured boxes for different parts. Have these graphic designed if you can.
Set up A2 printing (normally has to be done externally, so set this up in advance) and always print a few too many templates just in case people need more than one to work on or want to start again
5. Set up workshop behaviours with Diverge and converge Nobody ever created the best idea first time around. And it’s important not to mix being creative with being evaluative. So make sure people understand that they need to create lots and lots of ideas first, without evaluating them at all. They can then Then evaluate and prioritise the ideas later. No matter how often a team workshop together, they always need to be reminded of the right behaviours at the beginning of a workshop, including: Create lots and lots of ideas first. Say “yes and” or “to build on that”. Use consumer language. Write it down first then improve it. Every idea is a good idea because it leads somewhere new. No need to agree with each other: Write both versions if there are two options. Be positive and optimistic. Be present. Anything is possible. No mobile phones or laptops
Plan to go through the workshop behaviours at the beginning of the session, either on a slide, or using a game or device that helps people remember to behave properly. Providing a hat, word or toy for people to hold if they break the rules can be an informal way of reinforcing them.
Making sure the workshop has been designed in a way that diverges then converges, get inspiration from the diagram.
6. Encourage constructive conflict Research shows that constructive conflict helps teams to get to better ideas. Set up times when people are asked to disagree with each other, do exercises when people are asked to switch sides or be the devil’s advocate or ask what’s the worst that can happen. Conflict that is positive, structured and encouraged early will make the ideas stronger from the start.
Think about how to encourage constructive conflict in the workshop. For some topic,s this could be encouraging people to get their disagreements out at the beginning, so that you can move on together. For others it may be about encouraging constructive criticism of the ideas at the end.
Create templates, stimulus, games and written instructions to help you facilitate this section to encourage constructive conflict
7. Give people space and time to think Resist the urge to interrupt groups as they are working, either with instructions, questions or to hurry them up. The more time and space you can give people to feel that they are truly working through the issue, able to think and discuss, and not feel pressured or put on the spot, the better. Never ever shout, ring bells, rush people or make them feel they are being told off. Prepare to give time updates to each individual table, not shouting them to a big group. Go to each table and say “there are 5 mins left, is that going to be ok?” is far better and less intrusive than shouting “5 minutes to go!!!”
Get a playlist ready that you can play in the background to help people feel relaxed and in the zone. When you stop the music, they will look up and realise that time is up, without you having to shout out
Think about how to make sure everyone’s clear on what they are doing – if you are facilitating as a pair, agree which tables you will check on and which the other person will, so you are not both interrupting each table to check in on them
8. Keep people moving Instead of energisers, one easy way to keep the energy in the room up is to change the working groups every round. Start with groups of 4-5 at the beginning of the day, then go down to groups of 3 then pairs by the end of the day. Change the members of the group each time so they are always working with new people. Because people are moving around, you will need to keep the room free of bags, coats on the back of chairs and clutter. Explain to people at the beginning of the session that coats, bags etc will be kept in a cloakroom or separate space, and during the session tidy up cups, papers and clutter as people move tables.
Set up the venue to be cabaret style seating (small tables with 3-5 people per table) rather than boardroom style or lecture theatre
Arrange a separate space for coats, bags and stuff so that they main room is kept empty and uncluttered
Arrange a separate room nearby for food and refreshments to be served, so that when people go for lunch you can tidy the main space and reset it
9. Ban the breakout room To prevent energy and momentum from being lost, ban the breakout room. It is better to keep people in one big space than to lose time, attention and focus by sending them off to different break out rooms where they will check their phones on the way and get lost on the way back, and lose valuable thinking and working time together. The energy of working in the same room is far more valuable than giving teams space in a quiet room alone.
Make sure the venue has enough space for people to work in the same room without disturbing each other
Set up different stations or parts of the room for people to use in break out sessions
Have all the stationery that each team needs already set up on the tables, and get rid of any clutter like venue note books, sweet jars or bottles of water to allow the whole table to be used for the working sessions. You can put drinks and snacks on the side
If you have a big team or space, consider AV support to be able to use microphones to give instructions rather than shouting, as it becomes very hard to hear when there are lots of people in a room
10. Find focus People are overwhelmed by information and find paying attention hard. Help people to focus with really clear instructions, one instruction at a time, using clear, visual flipcharts or slides so they can read what you say as well as listen. Keep people in groups focusing on one topic for a longer time and deeper understanding, rather than getting everyone to do every topic at a shallow level.
In advance of the session, explain to people that they will be asked to put away their mobiles and laptops except in breaks. Make sure you reinforce this in the session – ask them to put devices out of sight and off the tables to maximise their focus and attention on the topic and discussions
In preparing for the session, produce written instructions for each part, with one instruction per page (no lists of instructions on 1 page!). Whether it’s on flipcharts or on a slide deck, you must prepare the written instructions as people will want to refer to them. It’s a lot easier to facilitate when you don’t have to repeat yourself or when people struggle to listen and understand, for language reasons, for example.
Split up the information or workshop issue into smaller parts and keep small teams working on these smaller parts, rather than everyone working on everything broadly.
Pre group people into working groups who can work together on a topic, choosing the best mix of people and personalities for that topic.
End the session by discussing next steps and considering how the learnings from the workshop can be applied for the future. Add a deadline for committing to this action.