The devil’s in the detail: winning workshops need to do more than just feel good

Workshops using insights are a tool increasingly used by clients. However, getting people together to debate and complete tasks – whilst rewarding – is not sufficient evidence of a day well spent.

We all know the feeling: You’re at an offsite venue with a cross-functional team discussing ‘next steps’ after a research programme that has taken significant time and money to execute.  The benefits of the workshop are self-evident and a necessary part of the process of building ROI from your investment decision.  You’ve been well-facilitated: you’ve shared something about yourself that no-one else in the room knew, objectives have been stated, refined and captured.  You’ve ideated in groups and used a lot of flipchart paper.  Five o’clock approaches and you are feeling good; energised, integrated, fuelled with a common purpose.  Off to the bar for that well-earned drink.  So far, so good.

But is that enough?  How can we make sure workshops measure up? How can we ensure they are time well spent, rewarding for the business, not just the individuals?

Critically, you need to be ends-focused: Ultimately, what is this session for? What opportunity is it addressing? What will happen next? What is the link between this part of the process and the actions people will take next?

Three types of workshop

In our experience, while workshops can vary significantly in emphasis, content and style, they typically have one of three quite different ends in mind.

1 / Informing – to share, bring learnings and information to life, to get buy-in, because it is considered essential that the information lands and lives within the business

2 / Ideating – to inspire, generate or build on options or solutions for an opportunity, which are then systematically assessed and decisions made as to which can deliver

3 / Planning – to build a strategy, a vision, a roadmap for action against a defined opportunity; considering inputs, applying criteria, agreeing outcomes

Clarity about ends allows a session designed to deliver, using the knowledge, creativity and analytical abilities in the room to best effect.

Three ways to fail before you start

There are three key ‘going in’ criteria that usually determine the success of a workshop before you even pick up that first Post-It note:

  • The right people in the room. Don’t waste the time of people who don’t need to be there, and if someone key can’t be, talk to them beforehand to get their perspective and represent it. Seek their agreement to re-engage them afterwards.
  • The right information in the room. Wherever it comes from, look for multiple sources: triangulated data is powerful. Show the information in the right way: digestible but not doctored.
  • The right activities in the room. The process needs to push and challenge people’s thinking. Sweat the details of agenda, timing, exercises and tools.

Three ways to spot success

And finally, three ways to judge likely success at the end of the day:

  • Have you surfaced the underlying tensions? Has there been enough conflict to demonstrate that you’ve got to the heart of the issue?
  • Outputs need to live and perform in the business. Have you got content, form and ‘portability’ spot on?
  • Are actions clear enough? Is there ownership and accountability, are there time-lines?

We love running workshops: they are one of the most rewarding things we do.  But only if they deliver once the day is done.

To hear more about how our workshops help unlock opportunity get in touch.