Facilitating workshops

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Here are some things I’ve learned about facilitating workshops. Hope you find them helpful!

  • Start with the end in mind.
    1. What are the organization’s goals? What are your project goals?
    2. How can the workshop support those goals? What kinds of reports or actions will come out of it?
    3. What activities will you need in the workshop?
    4. What kinds of materials, tools, or information do you need for those activities?
    5. Who needs to be involved, and why?
  • To build buy-in through a workshop, help people…
    1. Contribute to or validate the priorities
    2. Build or agree with the vision
    3. Identify the risks
    4. Identify and commit to steps for success
    5. Understand and commit to the next steps
  • If possible, have one person be a scribe while the other facilitates. It’s really hard to listen, think, write, and talk all at the same time.
  • How to take notes or scribe:
    Flip chart
    Can start new sheet quickly
    Can prepare structure
    Tip: Bring tape and find out where you can tape up sheets.
    Bring coloured markers.
    Sticky notes
    Other people can contribute
    Easy to reposition/organize
    Tip: Use different colours to categorize.
    Tip: Put notes on a large piece of paper so that you can add text/lines or move everything.
    Minimizes post-workshop entry.
    Can be reorganized quickly.
    Watch out for limited screen space.
    Tip: Set up your template ahead of time.

    There are lots of other ways, of course!

  • Keep your workshop focused by writing tangents down in a “parking lot.” This should be a separate easel, poster, flip chart, or whiteboard section, so that you can use it throughout the session. That way, you acknowledge tangents but keep the main discussion on track.
  • Build breaks into your workshop schedule. Plan for a 10 minute break every 1-2 hours. This gives people a chance to stand up, stretch, and take care of things. Tell people the exact time you’ll resume.
  • Mix up your activities to bring in people with different communication styles.
  • When brainstorming, start with two minutes (at least) of silent, individual writing, then open it up to group discussion. This gives introverts the space to process your question and participate in the discussion. Go around the table a few times if needed.
  • Quick prioritization (voting-based): Start with a short list of ideas, and give people a few votes each (2? 3? more? Depends on the number of options and the number of people.) Multiple votes are good for finding popular second or third choices and so on.
  • Quick prioritization in workshops (spreadsheet-based): List the ideas, evaluate them on different criteria, score them, and sort them. If you want, you can even make a scatterplot.
  • It can be difficult to run a workshop with senior leaders in the room. If necessary, use silent brainstorming, eyes-closed voting, etc. Get the leaders to ask positive questions and encourage participation.
  • Every next action identified in the workshop should have one person take responsibility for it. If no one steps up, then it might not really be a priority.

Thanks to: Bernie Michalik, Jennifer Nolan, Aaron Kim, David Ing, Jason Wild, David Nomble, Damian Brennan, Tony Mobbs, and other people who taught me about facilitation!

Like this? Teach me what you’ve learned, and I can add it to this!