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Let’s talk about workshops

Let’s talk about workshops

A team is only as strong as the team members it comprises. That’s why we believe in a multidisciplinary team composition, which means that at times we augment our internal team with partners from other sectors. This is why we often organise hands-on workshops to collaborate towards a common goal. But can this approach be beneficial for your challenge? And what do you have to look out for?

Anyone that has spent some time in IT knows the basics of workshops. Workshops are often a gathering where a group of people with different technical backgrounds work together on pre-selected tasks. When we organise a workshop, we start by defining a clear goal. We ask ourselves: “What do we want to achieve in the time available?”. Once we have defined the goal, we can map out our mental journey. Here we fit in our activities to get the participants in the right mindset. Each planned activity has a clear goal. Based on the result from the activity, we can build on it in the next activities.

User Story Mapping
User story mapping in workshop format

Work your plan

Experience shows that good planning of a workshop is vital for the final outcome. Working with a large group of people with different backgrounds means that you have to factor in various uncertainties. A planning with clear goals can put everything back on track when things go south. But even the best planning can’t save you when you reach a dead end. In a workshop, you need the input of the group to achieve the set goals. This can sometimes cause problems. For example, when you are doing a branding brainstorm about the name for a product and you can't reach a consensus about the direction in which you want to go. These are moments where the best workshop facilitators can shine.

The workshop facilitator

As the name suggests, a workshop facilitator leads the workshop. In our way of working, this is the person who is responsible for everything concerning the workshop. He or she not only coordinates the workshop attendees and the planning. This person is also responsible for the flow during the workshop and the final result. Our facilitators need good human skills and experience in handling difficult situations. When we train our facilitators, we focus mainly on steering a group, without taking over the conversation. The role of the facilitator is to make sure that everyone is heard, without slowing down the process. These social and technical skills make the role of facilitator a challenging but rewarding one during workshops.

The facilitator also decides which ways are relevant, in addition to resolving so-called dead-end issues. In this way, the group gets on track towards the desired results. As mentioned before, the planning of activities in relation to each other decides the outcome of the workshop. Getting everybody in the right mindset is often the hardest part.

How do workshops work?

Let's explain with an example of a recent branding workshop. This workshop had the following planning:

  1. First we started by defining the goal of the workshop. In this case: To have a suitable name for a digital product at the end of the workshop.
  2. When everyone was on the same page, we set some clear requirements for the name of the product. In this case: The name had to be multilingual, easy to remember and have a modern feel. These are all more or less objectively measurable requirements. It was the perfect opportunity for us to discover what the customer expects from a good name.
  3. We continued the workshop with an individual brainstorming session, where everyone looked at different options individually. No distinction was made yet between good and bad names. All ideas were written down on Post-Its. The facilitator provides some options and possible sources of inspiration in advance. For example: Names based on the founder, descriptive names, abbreviations, … This assured the participants that they had a source of inspiration.
  4. After thinking individually for ten minutes, we had lots of options. This list had to be slimmed down a bit. For this we used a bull's eye diagram. In this type of diagram, we tested each name against our requirements that had been established earlier. Each time one of the options met a requirement, it moved on to the next requirement until it no longer met it. In this way, we were able to keep open the options that reached the centre of the diagram and thus met all the requirements.
  5. With the few options remaining in the centre of the bull's eye, we could proceed to the final decision. To make this decision easier, we organised a dot voting activity where everyone could cast multiple votes. Dot voting is useful when you have to make grey area decisions. Everyone gets a number of votes in the form of dots. In our case, there were six per person. Each person could cast the votes as they wished. Some people used all six votes for one option, others decided to spread between several options. This method allows the clear opinion of those present to be seen, which makes it easier to make a decision.
  6. In the end, we had a clear and visual overview of the chosen options. We could conclude the workshop with a clear result. In all, this workshop lasted about two hours. For us, this was a very efficient way of making a big decision like this.
A Bulls Eye
A bull's eye activity from a successful workshop

Let’s get started then

By now, you may be wondering whether this concept of workshops will work for you or your project. Workshops sound fun, but are often very time-consuming. In addition, it is not always easy to fit them into everyone's schedule, as there often have to be many attendees. Therefore, we suggest organising workshops when the gains outweigh the costs. When we assess the needs of our projects, we look for signs of the need for a hands-on workshop: Are there a lot of distinct parties with equal input? Is the scope of a (possible) project obvious and clear or are there still many gaps? Can we piggyback on each other's ideas to achieve a better end result for the project?

The main reason why we recommend using workshops is for their collaborative nature. By joining forces, we can often achieve more than the sum of our individual efforts. But recognising when the effort for an organised workshop outweighs the cost can be a challenge. Fortunately, our facilitators are experienced in analysing your needs and providing you with a suitable plan for your project!

Remote challenges for workshops

As with so many things in the past few years (we still cannot believe that the outbreak of COVID-19 is already two years ago), we had to adjust our way of working. This is due to the restrictions in place to fight the pandemic. Workshops, by nature a social event, have changed enormously since then. But not everything is doom and gloom in the end. The pandemic has introduced us to new possibilities and ways of working. These can come in useful for even more partners!

Meanwhile, it should come as no surprise that physical workshops have become quite impossible during certain periods. That is why we started looking for the ideal way to organise virtual workshops. Thanks to some great programs, we succeeded! By using Miro as a shared virtual space, we even saw a more hands-on engagement of our participants. And thanks to conference calls, we observed that people were talking less individually and more in groups. When someone took the floor, the rest listened. Whereas in the past, people were interrupted more often.

While there are many positive points about online workshops, it is not always easy to organise. We noticed that organising a workshop with many people online can be difficult to manage, due to the lack of personal interactions. It is a lot harder to read people's attitudes via a low-resolution webcam. If we had to put a number on it, we would say that an online workshop works best with up to six attendees, not including the facilitator.

In conclusion, the obligation to work from home has shown us new possibilities. Planning an online workshop is much easier than a physical one. So we are sure that this way of working will continue to be used even when the covid restrictions are over.

Wondering if workshops can be beneficial for your project? Contact us and together we will find the best approach.

Using Miro
Miro on an iPad

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