Friday, October 8
Running a Workshop
Let me make one thing perfectly clear up-front: We must avoid calling our creative meetings "Workshops" or "Away-Days" if we're to make any headway†.
Events like these are intended to drive new behaviours, and set some new rules for our thinking. So the name of the event needs to reflect that intent. How about names like "Creativity Studio", "Ideas Forum", "Thinking Party" or "Play Day" which may better serve to deflect presumptions.
Title aside, let's look at some of the features of an event which successfully generates new ideas, and some of the reasons why those features are necessary:
Meetings should be far away from attendees' desks, so your contributors aren't lured away by the pressures of the day job.
Take care who you invite: Attendees should arrive at the venue open-minded, positive and respectful of their peers. This is not an event for griping, bickering, or seeking to demonstrate our critical superiority.
Select a diverse group, with a wide range of views and experiences to bring to bear. The size of the group should be between 6 and 10, excluding the facilitator.
At all costs, resist pressure from managers to monitor or regulate the proceedings. This can only constrain the team's thinking.
Prepare a focus for the meeting: Most people won't readily generate ideas unless there's some direction, so make sure you take one or more broad strengths, opportunities or challenges into the meeting. Be prepared to massage them if the group would rather refocus slightly, but don't allow the focus to become too wide to be meaningful, or too narrow to permit fresh thinking.
The facilitator should open the event by making sure everyone feels a right and obligation to contribute. An opening "round robin" exercise grants everyone that licence up-front.
Similarly, the facilitator should make sure no-one feels any right whatsoever to interrupt, belittle or rubbish anything the others say. I find it useful to tackle this with a few examples from history where apparently silly ideas have founded highly successful ventures.
With a nod to Edward de Bono, I suggest that the "Green Hat" and "Yellow Hat" will be most useful, and if a meeting is intended purely to arrive at new ideas then the "Black Hat" should be banned. The facilitator must be straight-faced about this, because if it's seen as a rather surreal and laughable rule then it will be too easily disregarded.
Hang back: As facilitator your role is not to contribute ideas, but rather to liberate the attendees, track to the agenda, maintain momentum, keep discipline, and provoke lateral thinking when needed (especially in the early parts of the meeting).
† I'm allowed to use the word in the title of this article, because search engines won't appreciate this nuance.