Over the past few years, I’ve planned, facilitated, and participated in multiple workshops, from 1-hour ideations to 1-week Design Sprints.
For a good workshop, you need a proper challenge and goal, you need planning and good facilitation, and you need to bring the right people together at the right time.
You also need buy-in from all relevant stakeholders and commitment from all your participants. Without the former, it’s a non-starter. Without the latter, you’ll struggle to gain any value from your workshop.
Below are my 8 go-to arguments for having a workshop, whether remote or in-person. I’m writing from my perspective as a Product Designer, but really, these benefits apply to any kind of workshop. I hope they will help you the next time you have to convince someone of their value!
The value of workshops
1. Multiple perspectives
Workshops are all about bringing multiple people — the right people — together, to share their perspectives on a given challenge or opportunity, contribute their domain expertise, or come up with ideas inspired by each of their unique roles.
As an example, you may bring in a Developer, a Marketing Manager, and someone from Customer Support to work on something that would normally be handled solely by the Product Design team.
2. High-quality work
When you have the right group of people with diverse perspectives, all committed to achieving the same goal, and you guide them through a carefully laid-out agenda of exercises, you have the ingredients for high-quality work. Arguably, work of higher quality than could have been achieved by one person working on the same task by themselves.
A workshop can be a highly efficient way of gathering multiple perspectives, considering and prioritizing your options, and making decisions. From my experience, this is arguably the most valued benefit of a workshop. Consider the Lightning Decision Jam for a prime example of efficiency at play.
4. Reduced bias
Now, some people argue, for very good reasons, that workshops can actually cause a bias. They imagine a shouting match (aka brainstorm) where the most extroverted (or just loudest) person gets their idea across. They imagine open discussions where the most charismatic or senior person wins.
In those situations, I completely agree. They’re perfect for causing a bias toward the person presenting something, rather than what they’re presenting.
However, with the right exercises and proper facilitation, you can achieve an even lower level of bias than you’d have in your normal work. Use two of the key principles from Jonathan Courtney’s The Workshopper Playbook:
- Together, alone. Let everyone write down their thoughts or questions, or sketch their ideas, in silence. This gives all participants the opportunity to form and frame their own thoughts, ideas, or perspectives on something, without being influenced by anyone else. You’re all working towards a common goal, but you’re not discussing or negotiating your way there.
- Keep it anonymous. Simply tell participants to put up their notes, ideas, or whatever you've asked them to write down, without presenting or arguing their case. If necessary, you, as the facilitator, can present or explain what you see to make sure you’re all aligned. Let everyone vote on their favorite idea or the challenges they think are most important, rather than on the presentation or the person behind it.
5. Sense of ownership
What happens when you bring multiple people together, level the playing field, and let everyone contribute equally, is a significantly heightened sense of ownership of the project and its success. The sense of ownership can be felt by all participants regardless of rank or department in a way that’s extremely hard to achieve through “normal” work processes.
Another important reason for bringing multiple stakeholders together is creating alignment. Whether it be aligning on who you’re designing for, what the challenge actually is, or which idea should be pursued first, workshops are a great enabler.
Alignment comes from a shared goal, making sure everyone is heard during the workshop, using non-hierarchical and democratic processes, and ending it with one or more decisions and clear next steps that everyone commits to.
7. Team spirit
To be fair, there is a small risk of your workshop turning into a big argument where two or more participants just can’t agree on something and refuse to compromise. In the other 9 out of 10 times though, a workshop will lead to increased team spirit through teamwork, the constant sense of progress, and the excitement that comes from achieving a shared and valuable goal!
Speaking of excitement, I actually see this as important enough to deserve its own headline. In addition to the team spirit shared by everyone, each participant should experience a sense of excitement about their work, both during and after the workshop! Perhaps all your colleagues are already loving their work, but even so, who doesn't benefit from a little extra boost?
With the right circumstances and people to plan, facilitate, and participate, workshops can be an extremely valuable tool in your toolkit, regardless of the field you’re in.
In a good workshop, you bring multiple perspectives together to create high-quality output in a very efficient manner while reducing bias and enhancing the sense of ownership, stakeholder alignment, and team spirit. All in a fun and exciting way! Enjoy!