Workshops are becoming a more and more popular forum for brainstorming, planning and learning, whether it’s a new business idea, project or program.
When done well, they are super productive and a great way to get people engaged, maybe in a way they haven’t before. They also can be very fun, however, it's important to organise them well to save you from getting caught out at the last minute. Here are our 6 simple tips on organising a successful workshop.
1. Define and communicate the goals
Ahead of the workshop, make sure the project lead and facilitator set out clearly the goals for the workshop. This should be shared ahead of time, and on the day of the workshop, it’s a good idea to write up the goal clearly so others can see. An idea to kickstart participation is to encourage participants to add and feedback their comments on it.
2. Decide and know the attendees
If your workshop is to discuss or brainstorm a more complex problem, you may want to keep your workshop limited to smaller numbers, i.e. 6-8 participants. If it's a more general, widespread topic, or an interactive workshop, you would want to consider more participants e.g. 8-15. However, it’s important to limit the number so you can keep control of the agenda and timekeeping.
3. Prepare and share the agenda
At least 48 hours before the workshop you should share the agenda to all attendees, and if you want, ask for comments/feedback, giving you enough time to make any last-minute edits. Allowing for early feedback on the agenda demonstrates that you are willing for attendees to participate and sets the tone for the workshop. A clear agenda and participation are key!
4. Pick a perfect location
The location of your workshop is very important. Ideally, depending on the nature and topic, they are best held off site, as this physically removes you and the team from distractions. If you are choosing an off-site location make sure you visit the space ahead of time to check for size, AV equipment, catering etc and that it will cater to all your needs.
5. Plan your tools and props
This is an incredibly important step for preparing a successful workshop, having enough tools and props to allow for successful engagement and participation! Make sure you have plenty of Sharpies, markers, sticky notes, whiteboards, paper etc. Or check out the pre-made workshop kits from Myndflo.com which takes the hassle out of planning tools and props!
6. Vary engagement methods to encourage participation
Finally, as already mentioned, you want to set the tone for participation. Remind participants before and during the workshop that you want their opinions, feedback and ideas. A good way to get input from everyone is to vary the engagement methods. I.e., ask for feedback open-forum where you invite the room to make suggestions, or set time limits i.e. 5 mins and ask everyone to write down independently their thoughts and ideas before sharing with all.
What is the purpose of a workshop?
Workshops are a great way to get all the stakeholders involved in a project, i.e. key client members, team members and management etc. A workshop allows for participants to add their two cents on a project and is particularly good at generating ideas, feedback and solutions to problems.
Sessions addressing multiple questions can stimulate creative thinking and set the ground for an innovation-friendly work environment that creates as many ideas as possible to overcome complex problems in one conversation. It's a really good creative problem-solving technique that encourages group work and imagination.
How can you measure outputs from workshop sessions?
The first step is to agree on the desired outcome or goal of your workshop. It‘s important to set this out clearly with the complete group of participants at the beginning. You can then more easily measure your progress towards achieving it through, e.g., compiling all ideas for change/improvement on flip charts, recording them in a shared document or presenting them orally i.e. “we achieved x and y”. It’s all about being able to measure your workshop's progress towards a successful outcome, and the tools you use should allow for this throughout.
What makes a successful workshop?
A successful workshop is one where all participants generate ideas, add meaningful input and feedback that is actionable and can be used in the project. To ensure this you want to keep the participants engaged and allow them to contribute at their own pace.
What does a facilitator do?
Check out our article on What is a Workshop Facilitator?
What are the benefits of brainstorming sessions for participants?
Participants get a chance to add their own ideas and suggestions for change, which can be really powerful. It also encourages participation from everyone in the room, creating a more open work environment.
When should I have a group brainstorming session?
Brainstorming sessions are a great way to generate ideas and solutions for problems or challenges within a project, as well as build consensus. These sessions allow the group to come up with innovative ideas which you can then analyse and process later on.
Offering participants an opportunity to get creative is also likely to increase their engagement in the project overall, which can only be a good thing.
How long should a workshop be?
Workshops are typically held over a day, or half-day and longer workshops can be effective if they’re broken up with short breaks to keep energy levels high.
How do I kick off a workshop?
When you have the right preparation your workshop will flow smoothly from start to finish. Having an agenda is a clear sign that you’re prepared and it also provides a structure for the flow of the event. Your agenda should include all aspects of your workshop from start/finish times, meeting venues to who is attending and who needs to be there.
How do I prepare for an ideation workshop?
The first step is to decide on the desired outcome. This will give you a clear perspective on what you need out of your workshop session, which can then guide your preparation and planning in order to achieve it. Ultimately though, the desired outcome is to get an overwhelming amount of input. The more ideas, feedback and suggestions for change you can gather, the better!
What are the top tips for facilitators?
In this article, we look at some of our top tips from experienced facilitators.
Who should attend an ideation workshop?
Ideation workshops are best conducted by the stakeholders of a project. This is because they have the most insight into what’s currently being worked on, as well as their role in overcoming problems or challenges within it.
What should participants bring to an ideation workshop?
What participants should bring will depend on the goals of the workshop, what type of session it is and the size of the group. However, we recommend that you advise attendees to bring a notebook and pen or pencil rather than printouts for taking down suggestions or ideas.
How can I encourage participation in an ideation workshop?
Encouraging attendees to participate is crucial when it comes to ideation workshops. This doesn’t mean you should expect 100% participation from all participants, but rather make your attendees aware of why they are there and give them the chance to add their own input where needed.
How do you keep a brainstorming session on track?
There are a number of ways to ensure your session stays on track. The best way is to timebox it, which means setting a target for the duration of the activity and sticking to it. You can set a timer or use visual aids such as a stopwatch or egg-timer. You can also give everyone a set amount of time to brainstorm ideas, for example, 5-10 minutes.
What is the best way to build consensus in an ideation workshop?
Building consensus means getting everyone to agree on a single direction or solution as a group. There are many ways of achieving this, such as having an anonymous feedback tool where participants can mark their preferences out of three. This is particularly useful if you have conflicting views between groups within the session.
For example, you might want to mark your preference out of three for colours or flavours in a new product. You can then add up the votes to get their preferences and determine what would be best for the group overall.
What are the benefits of using innovation games in workshops?
The creative power of gamification is an amazing way to get your team working together. Games can be utilised specifically to encourage the flow of ideas, stimulate collaboration and improve communication. By playing games that are targeted towards your particular objectives, you’ll end up with more ideas than if you hadn’t!
How do I ensure that all ideas are captured at the end of the ideation workshop?
Using post its to capture everyone's ideas reduces this issue as everyone can stick their post-it to the wall. This way, everyone's ideas are visible and can be easily read by the rest of the group and can be quickly collated at the end.
What tools should I use to manage an ideation workshop?
The best tools to use will depend on the exact situation and objective of your ideation workshop. Typically, a face-to-face brainstorming session will need pens, post-it notes, a large space such as a whiteboard or easel pad and a timer. Something as simple as a stopwatch can serve this purpose.
If you are hosting an online session, you may want to use something like Miro or Mural so that everyone can collaborate on ideas in real time.
Introduce tools that work best for the scenario at hand and then use them consistently to maintain a certain level of formality throughout your ideation sessions. You want to provide an environment where people collaborate freely with one another, but you also need to make sure their ideas are recorded accurately and that everyone gets a chance to be heard.
How can I measure the output from my ideation workshop?
Once you have considered the objectives of your ideation session, use that knowledge to measure its effectiveness. The simplest form of measurement is just to ask if the session met its objectives!
What is a good facilitator supposed to do in an ideation workshop session?
We wrote about this in a separate article.
Who will act on my ideas after the ideation workshop?
Ideas from a successful ideation session can be divided into three categories: ideas identified for further investigation, ideas where the implementation will come from other parts of the project team and ones that need to go in a backlog or product development pipeline.
Remember that workshops can generate unusual ideas and you shouldn’t be afraid to capture them and ask for more information. Encourage all participants to add their own ideas wherever possible and avoid singling out individuals for criticism or praise. You don't want to stifle creativity.
Can I run an ideation workshop alone?
Ideation workshops are designed to get input from a larger group of people in a short space of time. You can certainly run an ideation session with only one other person, but we’d strongly advise against it unless you know your colleague extremely well and they’re also skilled at facilitation.
What is the difference between workshops and seminars?
The difference between workshops and seminars is the level of participation. A seminar is led by a presenter who will talk to an audience, whereas in a workshop there are activities or exercises for participants to complete.
What should I do if people start talking over each other during my ideation workshop?
This can be challenging for an event facilitator to deal with. The best way of dealing with this is to acknowledge that people are talking, then ask them one at a time to start their sentence again and give the other person the chance to finish theirs first.
How many people should be in a good size for an effective workshop session?
The size of the workshop should be determined by what you’re trying to achieve. If you need everyone to give their input on a particular idea, for example, then you probably want as many people as possible.
Can I run workshops remotely?
You can certainly run a good ideation session entirely remotely and there are lots of platforms online to make this possible.
What are the 3 main types of brainstorming?
There are several types of brainstorming, the main three being free-form, one-directional and judgement. Free-form is where participants brainstorm ideas without any guidance or set structure, which can often result in a large number of ideas. One-directional means the facilitator has a list of questions they ask the participants to get them thinking about specific areas for example, if you were looking at product innovation for school children then you might ask ‘how can we make this better for children?’. Judgement brainstorming is where the participants are put into teams and each team judges the best ideas based on a set of criteria, which can be useful when there are lots of diverse opinions in the room.
What is The Unconference?
The unconference format is an informal meeting that supports participant-driven discussion through open space technology. An unconference has no set agenda, speakers or schedule of events - instead participants propose topics that they want to discuss, and the schedule is formed from those proposals during the event.
How do I make sure that my idea gets noticed during an ideation workshop?
The best way of making sure your ideas are remembered in a group setting is to ask yourself how you’d explain it simply if you were talking to someone else. This way you’ll have an understanding of how your idea might be simplified and communicated to the other group members, who might not be as familiar with it as you are.
What should I do if people start arguing during my ideation workshop?
Ideation workshops are a great way of coming up with a lot of fantastic ideas but it’s also a format that can bring individual opinions into conflict. If this happens then try to get the group to come up with different ideas or group them into themes.
For example, if one person is suggesting an idea that another thinks is unachievable then the group can decide whether to put it in the ‘realistic’ bucket or ‘unlikely’ bucket.
What's the difference between brainstorming and ideation?
The main difference between brainstorming and ideation is the purpose. Brainstorming involves generating ideas, whereas ideation focuses on analysing, prioritising and creating concepts that are built upon to develop into a product or service.