by Steve Roche

The facilitated workshop

The facilitated workshop is a proven technique for problem-solving, used successfully throughout industry. Business workshops are typically convened

  • To scope projects
  • For action planning
  • To capture requirements for information systems
  • To form a business or technical strategy.

Meetings often either become workshops or have many elements within them that resemble a workshop.

  • Two IT departments are blaming each other for the inability to supply what is required; they decide to hold a workshop to sort out their communication problems.
  • A group in a big company, formed with the brief to launch a change programme, come together for a workshop to build the team, share problems and generate ideas.
  • The authors of a best-practice manual to be released across the organisation get the main stakeholders together to review content and ensure support for the final product.

Once people are gathered together physically in the same room, it is easier for them to agree common goals. This is valuable for those who otherwise have difficulty getting together because of geographical separation, time pressures or other reasons, such as organisational or political splits. Senior people are always short of time and will want an effectively structured workshop to get them a result as quickly as possible.

Benefits of workshops

A well-run workshop offers benefits in three main areas.

1. Efficiency

  • Reducing the elapsed time required to achieve objectives
  • Overcoming communication difficulties
  • Relying on the skills of a trained facilitator in order to focus on and contribute to issues being discussed
  • Effective use of resources

2. Teamwork

  • Commitment to the end results, because everyone has been party to all decisions made
  • Synergy from people building on each other’s ideas and gaining a better understanding of each other’s viewpoint (the whole is greater than the sum of the parts)

3. Quality of results

  • May be a unique opportunity to discuss major issues and problems and reach agreement
  • The facilitator involves everyone in the process and aims for consensus not compromise
  • Confidence in the workshop output should be high, because of the active involvement of all key players in the decision-making process.

Potential drawbacks of workshops

  • Can be expensive to run
  • Can be time-consuming to prepare and follow up
  • Need to be carefully planned and expertly run to be successful
  • Can be hard to get diaries synchronised, especially for large, dispersed groups