How to Find Out the Real Topic of Your Workshop with Britt Andreatta
A facilitator’s work rarely moves as smoothly as it should: a client has an issue, contacts the facilitator, the facilitator delivers a workshop that helps solve the client’s problem. The process is often far more complex, unpredictable, and variable than that.
Just think, how many times have you delivered a workshop that ended up addressing a separate issue to the one you were brought in to address?
When you have the time and space to help a group analyse the problem they have been brought together to work on, it often becomes clear that the problem is actually an expression of a deeper or otherwise-connected issue.
How can we, as facilitators, get to the heart of the problem before we start our workshops?
Britt Andreatta has been trying to answer this question for several years and has developed a strategy that helps her uncover the true purpose of her clients’ requests early in the working process. She shared this strategy with Myriam in a truly eye-opening episode of Workshops Work.
Dig deeper straight away
Taking a client’s request at face value is the starting point of misaligned workshops. Britt explained to Myriam that, from the very first interaction, she tries to uncover some deeper issues.
“Instead of just jumping in” and telling a client that you can deliver, say, a communication skills workshop, Britt advises that we adopt an “unattached” perspective and “take them through a series of questions” without pushing a certain approach, workshop, or perspective.
This process of interviewing the client is all about “trying to help them get really clear about what’s underneath.”
And it’s powerful.
“99% of the time, by the time we’re done with the questions, it’s not a communication workshop. It’s not the thing they came in asking for, it’s something else entirely.”
And getting your clients to, as Myriam says, “reflect on the purpose” of their workshop is beneficial for everyone involved.
The client, Britt notes, is “really grateful for that process” but just as importantly “I am too because now I know I’ll hit the mark, whereas before I started asking these questions, I would deliver a great communication workshop but it wouldn’t quite do what they were hoping for.”
For Britt, this early-stage interview with the client addresses the “need to help them get clear about what they don’t know or what they haven’t brought to the surface yet.”
The questions to ask your client
Britt calls these early-stage questions “diagnostic questions”. In her conversation with Myriam, she suggested facilitators ask their clients diagnostic questions including:
- What’s not happening that you’d like to see happening?
- What’s happening that you’d like to see less of?
- What behaviours, words, and actions do you want to see if everything was going well?
- What is the ideal outcome you’re trying to achieve? How can we measure it? What would it look like?
- Is there anyone who is currently working in that way?
- Do you have ‘pockets of excellence’ that we can leverage or see what they’re doing differently?
- Who really needs the training?
These questions (and ones like them) will help you bring deeper issues and questions to the surface.
It might not always be easy for you or your client. Myriam notes that “we like to solve the easiest questions and sometimes we feel resistance in actually admitting to ourselves where the real problem lies”.
But if you do not choose to manage that resistance and “if you don’t address the real problem… they’re not going to get what they want and you’re not going to be able to design the workshop that really works.”
And we are here because we want to make workshops work!
How to design a workshop for your client’s real purpose
Britt focuses on gentleness when starting her workshops – “if people aren’t really feeling safe with each other, then we can’t really accomplish” what we set out to with the workshop.
“Without psychological safety, you can’t really have great learning,” notes Britt.
When it comes to setting out plans with the client, try “to be very authentic” – and that includes being honest. You “have to ask those questions” because these deeper underlying issues exist and “they’re in the room, whether we talk about them or not.”
“The other thing I always insist on,” says Britt, “is that I get an opportunity to speak to the people who will be attending the workshop… because there’s the way the leader sees it and there’s the way people experience it, and I have to solve for the gap in between.”
Britt suggests using activities such as gallery walks to bring difficult issues to the forefront at the start of the workshop:
- Ask the group several questions (e.g. How safe do you feel to speak up in this group? What happens when people speak up in this group?)
- Have them write their responses anonymously on post-it notes
- Display them on the wall
- Have the group read them in silence
- Facilitate through further questions – what did you notice? What do you think this means about your culture? What do you think needs to happen?
“If someone doesn’t feel comfortable writing the truth, they’ll write something else. That’s okay. But inevitably, enough of the themes come out that there’s enough there to work with.”
Activities such as this “can be really great tools to help bring the real issues out into the room” and, as Myriam notes, are “introvert-friendly.”
Perfect for flattening the room!
Addressing the real topic delivers the real solution
In a way, Britt’s approach to creating the right workshop for her clients’ true needs relies on facilitation and coaching practice from the first minute.
Putting facilitative skills into practice with the client as part of their initial call – for example, using open-ended questions and building psychological safety – means the workshop you design will produce a better, more powerful result for the client.
In other words, this approach helps you make workshops work!
Incredibly, this was only one small part of Britt and Myriam’s conversation. They also discussed virtual vs. physical facilitation, more about psychological safety, getting the right people in the room, and so much more.
You can listen to the show on your favourite podcast player, searching for “Workshops Work” or stream the episodes on www.workshops.work.
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