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12/6/2019
Axis POV

Three key steps to running consistently brilliant workshops

There are some great blogs out there providing advice on how to run a great workshop, such as the ones by Alison Coward at protoypr.io and our friends at Sessionlab. As you have already may have noticed, at Axis we have a particular thoughts on what makes a workshop successful both on the day, but also over the longer term.

1) The power of preparation and structure

A poorly run workshop is a big missed opportunity and a waste of scarce collective time. A well-run workshop is properly prepared and structured:

  • Short, sharp and focused objective and key question. Invest significant time in refining them, primarily considering the context of and need for the workshop. This will provide a guiding star for the workshop and give the participants a focus throughout.
  • Have a structured journey from framing the context through to planning for action - aim to drill down into the context, generate ideas for the context and then come out the other side with how to bring those ideas into reality.
  • Think about the right methods given what you need to achieve this with the time available for the workshop and the number of attendees in the workshop. For instance, If you've only got an hour, it's probably better to use a Round robin method which will create fewer, more considered ideas than an Idea creator method which will generate a lot more free-form ideas which will take longer to discuss and evaluate.

You also need to think through the mechanics on the day. This can be challenging, particularly with methods that are relatively complex to orchestrate like a Round robin. The facilitator can get bogged down in making activities run smoothly and if things go wrong momentum can be lost. Our advice is to make things as simple as possible with clear phases and steps that make the core mechanics effortless, allowing you to focus on getting the best out of your participants.

Axis cuts preparation effort by 80%, provides pre-defined best practice phases and templates and eliminates the challenge of complex workshop mechanics.

2) Set the right balance

A great workshop needs the right balance between creativity and spontaneity and depth of content and concrete outputs. Specifically:

  • Blend different methods and structure the workshop to allow people to do both and continually iterate toward something concrete and actionable
  • Give people free-time to think and properly capture their ideas. Drive people to fully record their thinking - too often ideas are a single statement which loses its meaning after the session.
  • Include methods to prioritise and evaluate to avoid being overwhelmed with ideas that can’t all be implemented. When everyone is together during the workshop is the time to make tough prioritisation decisions and get everyone aligned on the outcome.
  • Don’t skip settings actions or plans. Workshops should be the precursor to execution, not another round of discussion.

Axis provides powerful evaluation tools and analytics to support collective prioritisation and provides a structure that blends together creativity and depth of content.

3) Remember that Rome wasn't built in a day

Traditionally, workshops have been big and expensive set-piece events where

  • People travel to a single location, often from around the world, at great expense
  • You fight for months to find time in crammed diaries has restricted their use to once a year or quarter.
  • Expectations are huge and the objective overly ambitious. No team can solve all its challenges in a single workshop.

Plan for multiple workshops as part of an overarching journey, displacing traditional meetings with workshops, which are better able to drive structure, focus and certainty of outcome. This should include workshops for weekly retrospectives and other project and programme governance forums.

Axis digital workshops are a thousandth the cost of their analogue predecessors. No need to travel, 15 minutes to set-up and no write-up. Meetings can be effortlessly transformed into workshops.

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Hero image credit: Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

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