How to put together a good workshop?

Gaute Bjerke-Busch has extensive experience in facilitating workshops, and is passionate about facilitating, educating others and putting together great workshops.

Didrich Westgård
Consulting, SEO

We asked Gaute what he considers the most important elements in a good workshop — In addition, we got some tips for those who have not started workshops.

But first, where does the passion come from?
“I'll be honest to say that my enthusiasm for workshops has varied a lot over the past 20 years. In fact, it is only in the last decade that it has become, not only a passion, but also one of my most important tools for success in the job.

“One of my first experiences with workshops was at Stig&Stein Idélab sometime in 2002. We built Lego to stimulate the creative abilities of the team, before embarking on brainstorming techniques. What I remember well was the confusion in the aftermath about what we had really spent the day doing, other than that it was fun to do something “different.”

A good workshop is like putting on seven-mile boots

In Stig&Stein's Idélab, the main idea was to help teams strengthen their individual creative power, think “outside the box” — thus ensuring that the best ideas flow, that everyone gets speaking time, and creating enthusiasm to build on each other's ideas.

Awesome when it works, but to ensure good workshops every time, it takes to something more.

“Today, one of my most important messages before a workshop is: “Don't rely only on creativity”. I am a fan of workshops that help the team to get the best conceivable and tangible result in the short time a workshop lasts. The best feedback I have received in the aftermath is: “Now we accomplished more in three days than we usually do in three years!”

All workshops have their own purpose and most importantly; their very own and unique team of people who will solve a challenge. A good workshop can have a duration of anywhere from a small half-hour to three or four weeks. The purpose is always the same: Give the team the tools they need to succeed best within the time frame at their disposal.

Examples of workshops can be:

  • identify what can improve the customer experience (in one hour)
  • create a solution that makes it easier for the user to reach their goal (four days)
  • establish a solid and validated strategy for the company (nine half days over three weeks)
Gaute is a facilitator at Increo and has a passion for workshop management and the methodology.

What are the biggest obstacles to a successful workshop?

“I have learned that the biggest obstacle Norwegian companies face when working together in workshops is that one either tries to solve “everything” at once, or almost worse: invites to workshops that end up in large discussions that do not conclude. Working in workshops works best if all participants have experience with the methodology — and that the role clarification is done in advance. The best workshops have a facilitator and a decision maker in the team. The role of the rest of the team is to help ensure that the decision maker is able to make good decisions along the way in the process.

How do you put together a good workshop?

“There are hundreds of exercises that can be put together into a good workshop. The art is to put them together in an order that leads to a solution or decision that can be realized. My best tips for this are to have a main structure at the bottom:

  1. Check-in: Use an exercise to warm up. Even if you know each other. In a team where no one knows each other or has worked together before I can often spend half an hour on this phase. The gain you get is an energetic team with fewer social obstacles. I also usually give the team an indication of what to expect through the workshop. In long workshops, everyone experiences emotional ups and downs. These are easier to deal with if you are warned in advance!
  2. Collecting: Find exercises that effectively provide for gathering insights and perspectives, so that everyone knows the same about the challenge. What do we need to know in order to have the best possible conditions for solving what we have set out to do?
  3. Prioritize: Prioritize what insights are most important and make sure decisions are made.
  4. Create: This is the phase where the team applies their skills in creativity and problem solving. As a rule, most exercises are associated with this stage.
  5. Join: When the creative phase is over it is time to prioritize again, and perhaps the decision maker will have to make a final choice as well. Once the choice is made it is important to sort and delegate the tasks that need to be done for the chosen solution to be taken out alive. Operationalization is the least popular word on this.
  6. Check-out: Make sure everyone in the team gets the opportunity to describe what they've got out of the day. That way you can identify what each individual in the team found difficult. Then you will also lower the threshold of each one to join the next workshop!

“This structure characterizes all good workshops. And by all means — there are many ways to build a workshop, but this is the structure we work on in Increo.

For the beginner

If you haven't done workshops before, it's about starting small and building experience and expertise over time.

“It can seem overwhelming at first, when there are so many different exercises to approach. My tip for those who are in the starting pit is to learn 20-30 different exercises, but first you should test yourself until 8-12 exercises that you know work every time.

There are many places where you can find different exercises, but my recommendation is to start with:
Read our guide to 100 ideas in 10 minutes
Hyper Island has approximately 200 drills in its toolbox: https://toolbox.hyperisland.com/
AJ&Smart's resource page: https://www.workshopper.com/

— One last tip: start small with short one-hour workshops. Weight training does master!

What can we help you with?

Sebastian Krohn
Sebastian Krohn
Agency Manager, Consulting
Oslo
sebastian@increo.no
/
988 00 306
Morten M Wikstrøm
Morten M Wikstrøm
CEO, Consulting
Trondheim
morten@increo.no
/
976 90 017

See also:

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