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5/5/2020
Axis POV

Mastering remote workshop facilitation

Collaboration without boundaries

In a digital world, ideas made real are the lifeblood of sustained competitive advantage. Brilliant idea creation and execution is powered by diverse, inclusive and empowered teams unconstrained by geography, orthodoxy or hierarchy. The challenges of responding to a global pandemic make this even more salient.

Human interaction and cross-business and ecosystem collaboration are key. So, how can teams become much more than the sum of their individual parts, whilst at the same time responding to the realities of remote working?

This is not an easy journey. Too many meetings are frustrating and ineffectual and days spent at home on conference call after conference call will only exacerbate this problem. Just think of the squandered talent, energy and passion, the ideas unspoken and decisions poorly made. Think of the people on the end of the call on mute and watching Netflix.

The truth is that none of this is new or unique to 2020 (except the Netflix bit). We needed to eliminate bad meetings anyway, and make every meeting harness the diversity, creativity and wisdom of every participant, wherever it is.

Workshops are key. They are meetings that use facilitated activities to improve collaboration. They are more productive and effective than meetings for a variety of purposes. But they can be time consuming and expensive to plan, run and write-up. They are grounded in a world of face-to-face interaction underpinned by flip charts, sticky notes and posters. How can organisations extend the use of workshop based collaboration in a resource constrained and remote world?

The answer is that they need to democratise great facilitation - and remote facilitation specifically - across the organisation, at pace.

Facilitation, Facilitation, Facilitation

What makes a workshop awesome? What makes a workshop inclusive, with everyone engaged and heard and effective with outputs that are clear, innovative and ready for execution? The answer is great facilitation.

Facilitation done well entails:

  • Understanding the workshop objective, shaping an incisive key question and selecting the right attendees
  • Designing a workshop journey with a set of methods and materials that drive to the target outcome
  • Running the workshop to drive engagement, hear every voice, challenge convention and drive to alignment on a set of cogent and actionable outputs

The importance of great facilitation is even greater if the workshop is remote. The realities of remote collaboration increase the need for simplicity and structure. What needs to be done must be crystal clear from start to end. Participants should be focused on thinking, co-creating and decision-making. And the facilitator should have the head-space to focus on engagement, discussion and driving to an outcome. The mechanics of the workshop should be invisible to the participants and effortless for the facilitator to orchestrate on the day.

How to be a consistently great (remote) facilitator?

There are three things that you need to get right

Planning: investing time in planning the session pays big dividends

  • Start with the defining an objective and key question that makes it unambiguous and simple for everyone to understand what is expected of them and what will collectively be achieved. Work on refining these with others
  • Think about the structure – shape a journey that sparks creativity, drives out deep and meaningful content, fosters alignment, forces decisions and prioritisation and gets you ready for action. Identify the appropriate methods for this journey given the number of participants and the available time
  • Send out a pre-read to allow the session to focus on co-creation vs. getting everyone up to speed on existing thinking, status etc. The session should avoid PowerPoint presentation of content. Short sharp stimulus like videos can work well

People: identify the right participants

  • Make sure that the decision makers are in the room. Any good meeting is about making decisions that stick with a robust decision-making process supported by the structure of the session
  • Include content experts and make sure their voices are heard. It sounds obvious, but many meetings are heavy on management and light on content
  • Identify 1-2 people who are ‘outsiders’ e.g. from a different team or department who can provide challenge. Tell them that is their role and empower them

Process: think of the session as a structured process...

...with a clear and logical journey from start to finish that meets the objective and answers the key question. Here are some pointers:

  • A good facilitator will keep everyone focused on moving through this journey creating clear linkages between each step and continually bringing things back to answering the key question
  • When working remotely the practical realities of many methods to support co-creation and collective decision making are tricky to get right. For example, selecting ideas through voting or placing ideas on a two-by-two matrix. Use the right tools to make this viable with clear instructions
  • Continually signpost to make it clear what everyone should be doing at any given time
  • Proactively ask questions and bring people into the process
  • Get the outputs of the workshop issued immediately with clear next steps to drive a sense of momentum

We can help

As organisations look to adjust to the reality of sustained remote collaboration, Axis offers a solution to help through democratising access to effective workshop facilitation that generates brilliant ideas and better decisions.

We make it simple, easy and quick for anyone to facilitate consistently brilliant meetings and workshops. A meeting where every voice is heard, hidden truths and insight are surfaced, and distance is no longer a barrier to participation. And we cut the effort to prep and write-up by over 90%.

We do this by digitising meeting facilitation and participation through a web-based application. Our digital workshop platform enables you to plan a tailored workshop in minutes using a best practice structure from framing the context to planning for action. There are a variety of methods designed to enable remote co-creation and collective decision making. The whole workshop is clearly signposted with a simple step-by-step process that makes facilitation effortless and effective. It becomes easy to keep a remote workshop on track and focused.

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

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