For The Brain

Workshop Resolutions for 2021

Workshop Resolutions for 2021

Dani Kennedy

Senior Vice President, Client Success

January 27, 2021


I love workshops and the possibilities of working with different people to think about new ways to tackle and solve problems. As a facilitator, I get excited about understanding what’s needed to create a space for people tasked with solving those problems. As a participant, I look forward to the discovery, creative innovation, and mental expansion that happens in a workshop environment. 

At the same time, I’m well aware that the very word ‘workshop’ is a trigger word for so many people. In the spirit of the new year, below are 10 workshop resolutions to make your next session a success.

1. Research, research, research

Allow true time, between 2 weeks to a month, for research and pre-work so you know where to direct the team’s focus on what you want to solve. You’ll want this time to look at the data and do additional research to fill in the blanks (interviews, Hot Jar, Journey Mapping, NPS Scores, Slack surveys, etc). This will give you an understanding when, where, and how the problem(s) surface. 

By completing research before your workshop, you can truly understand who your audience is, how they are impacted by the problem on the outside, and who needs to be part of the team to help with a solution on the inside.

One more thing - Don’t forget to walk through your customer’s shoes now and throughout your workshop. (Remember Clayton Christenson’s milkshake talk?)

2. Problem framing is a game changer

Once you’ve completed research, commit to solving for a need, and not jumping straight to creating “a thing”. By using problem framing - the process of uncovering what needs to be worked on through the use of information, activities, and new ideas - you and the team can stay focused and prioritize what needs to be done.   

Note: Problem framing helps build your group’s appetite for wanting to be part of creating something new. 

More on how problem framing can help your team identify business opportunities, here from New Haircut.

3. Bring in a new and diverse team

Bring new perspectives to the table by throwing out the list of usual workshop participants and create a more inclusive and cross-functional team. You can still include participants from your ‘go-to’ list by enlisting some of them to be sponsored users or to provide additional insights or research. 

No matter who you get in the room, a cross-functional team should be cultural, gender, and accessible inclusive.. While this might be a tall order, it will set you up for success with your end-users and customer base. Also, as the person putting together and facilitating working sessions, it’s your responsibility to be aware of who is and isn’t in the room - if it feels like this is a team diverse enough in thinking, ideas and people. Representation is everything.

4. Send your workshop invite early

As a moderator, when enlisting participants to join the working session, send the invite when you begin your research so participants can clear their calendars. This will also give you time to replace anyone who can’t participate. When reaching out to potential participants, be as transparent as possible about the goals of the workshop, expectations for the working session, and any pre-work you might require of them. 

If you are asked to participate and you can’t commit to helping out, be honest with the moderator so they can find a replacement or find another role for you.

5. Know the roles and be prepared to be flexible

Once you have your participant list, understand your role and keep a list of participant roles and responsibilities on hand. While roles and responsibilities don’t have to be set in stone (they can be fluid depending on the activity), having a plan always helps.

Here are some examples of roles and responsibilities

1. Facilitator
If you are not playing the role of facilitator enlist someone who will bring objective guidance to the group - With so many moving pieces and parts of the workshop, this facilitator should bring objective guidance and be able to:

  • Come prepared with an agenda, be mindful of time, and know when that agenda needs to pivot to accommodate the goals
  • Keep the energy up in the room
  • Keep participants present on the task(s) at hand
  • Poke holes and encourage the group to think beyond their comfort zone.
  • See holistically across the team - wearing the hats of everyone in the room with a holistic and empathetic eye

2. Stakeholder - and/or a final decision maker
Depending on the work, that is sometimes the same person or more than one person. This varies depending on the size of the organization, the client (specifically if you’re on the agency side)

3. Bring in the developer early and often
If there is a solution or something to build, include a member of the team tasked to build the widget/product/solution. They will help the team by guiding how to make a solution come to life while perhaps inserting a “yes, and” idea that can level up the solution.

4. Enlist a ‘user advocate’ for the solution
A user advocate is someone Including someone outbound facing - whether it’s with customers, the press, or influencer community - ultimately ensuring the solution is real and viable. For example, if it’s sales - making sure it’s delivered in the language of the customer.

5. Cohort of users (known as sponsored users) to test the solution against. Considerations for users include:

  • Who is the Sponsored User, someone who uses your feature or product and knows some of the real-world pain points they have experienced? Or is it someone net-new?
  • Create a space for this cohort to ‘walk-through’ a prototype of your solution. For example, if you took a paper prototype of the website, have the group test through the prototype so they and you can identify friction points along the way.

6. A little pre-work is good…just make it reasonable

Send your participants research and pre-work that they can easily do in an hour or less. The information will help ground everyone in the same place and the ability to complete the work quickly will set everyone up for success. 

When everyone is in the working session, revisit the main points of the pre-work and have the research handy for everyone to refer back to (Tip: If you’re working in Miro or Mural you can create a gallery board with all of the research posted).

7. A social contract is a must

Work with your participants on a social contract for the workshop - and stick to it. The social contract is not meant to ‘keep everyone in line,’ but instead, to empower the team to focus on what needs to be accomplished and leaves clear space to ‘play.’

Three points I like to add to initiate the social contract:

  • Introducing and modeling active listening. It’s a must-have for creating a successful working group and creates a space for everyone to be heard
  • Requiring device-free work time. If people must attend to something, they can step out of the worksop.
  • Committing to and specifying a time for participants to pull their devices out and tend to their day-to-day.

8. Don’t rely on the ‘go-to’ solutions - it gets you nowhere

When in session, coach and encourage participants to explore unfamiliar ideas and solutions and support any learning curves that help get to these ‘places.’ This is where new folks in the room help bring new perspectives and inspire new solutions to test.

9. Don’t rely on the ‘go-to’ solutions - it gets you nowhere

Make sure the working session has next steps: tasks that are both achievable by participants, and easy to manage from a project planning perspective. Each task needs an owner and a due date so the solution can actually be created and ensure efficiencies in time spent in the workshop.

10. Respect the retro

Close the working session with a small retrospective, which can easily be set up in online collaborative tools like Miro, Mural, or any online whiteboard, so you can all celebrate your good work. 

One quick activity you can use is ‘I like, I wish, I wonder/what if’.  Everyone can share what they liked about the session, what they wish occurred, and what they wonder could happen ‘if’. This exercise helps participants conclude their session while possibly giving you insight into how to evolve workshops going forward. 

I can go on and on with tips for workshops, but that would make for a book more than a list. What I will leave you with is this: many resolutions are broken by February because people are impatient and the instant gratification of most resolutions just isn’t there. These tips and this workshop resolution will satisfy that need for instant change because you are making the decision to bring innovation to your team the right way. Not only that, this resolution is beneficial to everyone in your workplace orbit - your team, the business and YOU!

So let’s raise a glass, find those problems to solve, and bring in a brand new team to discover this year’s exciting new innovations. Cheers!

Game Storming

The Design Thinking Playbook

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

Awesome Training Courses

New Haircut’s Facilitation Course

Any or all of Daniel Stillman’s workshops

Design Gym Courses

IDEO Courses

IBM’s Design Thinking Course





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