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November 29, 2018

How to fail a workshop in 3 steps

“We don’t do workshops!” a client once told me. Then, he agreed to a 90-minute version of my full day plan. Although he never became a fan, he now sees the benefits of a well-designed session and values my workshops as a good investment of his and his team’s time.
Many feel a similar aversion against workshops. And, if I had to sit in what my client used to call a “workshop”, I wouldn’t enjoy them either. In fact, most don’t deserve their name. At best, they are lengthy meetings covered in post-it notes.
In its literal meaning, a workshop is ‘a room or building in which goods are manufactured or repaired.’ This place has a specific purpose – the manufacturing or repair of goods. It provides a safe space to process these goods without health risks. And, it provides the necessary tools for doing the work and achieving results.
Why would we have different expectations of “white collar workshops”? 
In a business context, the purpose of a workshop is to create, learn or repair through collaboration. A gathering where people share information without the active engagement of all individuals remains a meeting. If the group does not benefit from the presence of one or more participants, it compromises the purpose of a workshop and wastes everyone’s time.
The passivity of participants can even turn into a threat if their behaviour disturbs other’s engagement. Therefore, the second most important characteristic of a workshop is the provision of a safe space. A safe space is an environment free of judgement where each participant can openly but respectfully share their ideas, opinions and criticism. In extreme cases, attendees agree on so-called “Chatham House Rules” to protect their identity whenever information or insights may leave the room.
Finally, a workshop must equip participants with tools that foster the creative process. Creative refers to the act of creating and therefore does not ask for drawing or crafting skills. Instead, the workshop facilitator provides equipment that enables participants to effectively communicate, connect ideas and visualise insights. Depending on the purpose of the session, the toolbox can vary from the basics (post-it notes, markers and a timer) to more sophisticated items or even digital tools.
In a nutshell: You will fail a workshop if you (1) dilute its purpose, (2) compromise on the safe space and (3) neglect necessary tools.

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