Do you have the right ingredients for a successful workshop?



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.


We need 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 is 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 print out, 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.


Workshops create 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.


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


Nobody ever created the best idea first time round. And it’s important not to mix being creative with being evaluative. So make sure people understand that they need 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 – 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


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.


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!!!”


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.


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.


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.

The Paraffin workshop training will have you ready to design and facilitate workshops in one day. 

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