Sending out an invite for a workshop is a big thing nowadays. How many people will have time? When can we book it? How many people will show up? Will they find it valuable considering their busy calendars? Will they be exhausted after back-to-back meetings all day?
There are so many new things to think about when working from home — let alone when organising and preparing to run a remote design thinking workshop.
In this blog I want to share the one thing that’s helped me keep delivering useful workshops — remote. I hope you can adapt some aspects of the following into your process and tell me what impact it has.
It must have been September when the lockdown restrictions eased. I went into the office to pick up my keyboard and saw KR. We had a nice chat and exchanged lockdown stories.
“I was thinking about your work the other day” — KR started
“Oh how come?” — I said
“Because you’re always doing workshops with people. I was wondering how you are going to do your job remote.” — he explained
Oh god. How AM I GOING TO DO MY JOB?!?!
But first… some context.
When to use design thinking workshop
In tech, Design thinking workshops can help a product team move from or into a new stage of product development. I run them in that context. This type of workshop can also be used in start up environments or ‘digital transformation’ (buzzword sorry) work. To be honest, the format is so malleable, I’m going to suggest they can be used in any environment to make decisions and progress a groups thinking.
Why use them
I see workshops as the smallest unit of collaborative work. No matter what you need to accomplish, if it’s framed right and you invite the right people — skilled facilitation should ensure progress. It’s always a decision-making exercise. You should come out the other end with a clear action or better questions.
What to consider
Choosing the right time and format for a workshop is essential. I normally spend at least three times the length of the workshop designing it.
Speaking to the people who need it and planning the session by the minute are my top activities during this time. It might sound a bit obsessive, but it allows me to enjoy the workshop when it happens and hold space for healthy debate. Also, if everything is planned by the minute I can innovate and bring some fun into each activity.
For example, in the following images you can see me sketching live to 30+ workshop attendees. Materials: lamp, photo booth, masking tape and a ruthless minute by minute plan.
Before playing with lamps and masking tape though (ie. before the pandemic started) I would have a simple set of ‘rules’. I’d make sure to deliver the following during face to face design thinking workshops:
Finishing on time, or early
Small bursts of talking combined with interactive exercises
Prepared (pre-populated even) relevant exercises
Space for pivoting if needed
Plenty of time for discussion at the end
After throwing my process out the window and the list above too, the one rule that still stands is: make sure the workshop ends on time.
Cookie points for wrapping up early.
Everyone wins when you end on time: it’s considerate!
Considering how stressed we are these days, the last thing we need is to feel forced to tolerate an online group activity we’re unhappy with. It’s bad for participants who could be doing better things and for workshops organisers who might end up rushing and not getting what they need.
Attention levels are low with the amount of video calls some of us are having. Attendees are less likely to absorb things being said (this is true of video calls as a whole), which means as a facilitator — you’re on the clock.
You win for planning to end on time: it’s effective!
Planning for a workshop that ends early or right on time addresses most if not all workshop pitfalls — in my experience. Pitfalls include:
- People feeling it was not a good use of their time
- Letting someone derail the workshop
- People not understanding instructions
- Disengagement with group exercises
- Extroverts speaking over introverts
Here’s a list of things you want to check you have, before sending out an invitation…
A why: You made time to understand why you’re running this workshop in the first place. You curated the list of attendees with relevant stakeholders. You spoke to attendees and got feedback on the workshop’s content so that the session is valuable to them.
A buffer: You planned-in time for conversation. This time will be there for questions, discussions, or for the hijacker. You haven’t heard of the hijacker? 🙂 The hijacker is a well-meaning senior person in the room who wants to change the direction of the meeting. This is a common situation where they feel the workshop is not helping and are comfortable asking the group to pivot. When this happens, I let it play out a bit and then re-conquer the meeting respectfully. It’s helpful to remind everyone of the goal we agreed on for today.
A minute-by-minute plan: You know the goal of the workshop and what needs to happen by the minute. You even set time aside to repeat instructions and for people coming back late from their 5min break.
Minute-by-minute planning enhances the idea of scarcity and leads to a careful selection of exercises and thorough thinking. It will be harder to pick an activity that doesn’t add value or to let someone take over the session if you know you have to move onto the next exercise in 20 seconds.
Another benefit of planning by the minute is that you can give different people the lead or opportunity to speak. You know how much time you have and who is attending, the maths are there. Engagement and effort will make attendees feel more connected to the work being done during the workshop.
The most fun ever!: How well can you time box? Can you be assertive without making people uncomfortable? Are you running late or early? Can you beat your own record?
Time boxed activities: You curated time-boxed interactive exercises. You know these will help attendees avoid overthinking and second-guessing themselves. You’ll encourage them to try participating since time is running out.
A squeaky dog toy: How else are you going to tell people to stop talking or tell them time’s ran out?
In remote times, when we’ve all had to adapt and evolve our processes, focusing on getting better at time management has helped me deliver good workshops.
It’s kept me engaged during sessions and therefore engaging. It hasn’t felt stressful because I’ve been choosing when and how I raise the bar for myself.
In summary, remember that the less time people spend in your workshop, the more time they have to take care of themselves and others around them. Do the right thing and be mindful of time.