by Steve Roche

Setting up a facilitated workshop

You need plenty of notice to properly prepare and set up a workshop. Ideally, you will need at least two weeks, so plan well in advance.

Be sensitive to people’s states, depending on what else is going on. For example, if redundancies have been recently announced, morale will probably be low and support for a workshop lessened.

Choose the day of the week carefully, taking account of company culture (Monday mornings and Friday afternoons may not be popular times). Avoid arranging events close to holidays.

Beware of the danger of burnout: if key people are required to become involved in too many workshops, they may become tired and resistant.

Where to hold the workshop?

The cheaper and easier option is probably to use an onsite meeting or conference room, but the advantages of getting people away from their normal place of work include

  • A higher level of commitment and involvement
  • Less chance of interruptions and people being called away
  • More stimulating – encourages people to think outside the loop
  • Increased opportunities for social activities and team-building.

When you have selected the room, think about the optimum layout. For example, don’t allow opposing factions to group themselves together.

Who is involved?

One reason why some workshops fail is that insufficient thought and planning has gone into the list of attendees and there are either too many people, the wrong people for the job or the mix is wrong.

Workshop owner

For a successful workshop, it is essential that an individual is identified in the role of owner (sometimes called a sponsor). This is the person responsible for the event, typically a senior figure with a business problem to solve which needs the input of a number of a people. The owner’s responsibilities include

  • Identifying key participants
  • Defining scope and objectives
  • Deciding on the required deliverables.

During the workshop, the owner is often present. This helps to emphasise the importance of the process and enables them to participate in the activities and resolve any major issues. It helps the group to make decisions with the backing of the senior figure. A possible drawback of having the owner present is the danger that they may exert an undue influence on proceedings.

Almost always, the owner is not the best person to run the event themselves:

  • They will find it hard to contribute if they are running the event and even harder to step back from their own opinions and fully hear all views expressed
  • They will inevitably have an agenda, preventing them being open to all possibilities.


These are the people invited to take an active part in the event, chosen because

  • They have relevant knowledge, skills or expertise
  • They are stakeholders in the problem or solution area
  • They are known to have helpful contributions to make.

The role of participants is to bring their skills, knowledge and ideas to the workshop and to represent their part of the organisation. It should be made explicit that the views of all participants at a workshop are of equal value.

Participants should be briefed before the event, so they know what to expect. Briefings may need to cover

  • Logistics – including start and end times, location, directions and catering arrangements
  • Objectives and outline agenda
  • Any material they need to read or prepare before the event
  • List of participants with guidance as to what or how they are expected to contribute.


The scribe is responsible for ensuring all output from a workshop is suitably captured. This output may include ideas, questions, decisions, outcomes, issues, actions, plans and designs.


Beware of underestimating scribing as a clerical task. A good scribe possesses many of the same skills and qualities as a facilitator.

Documentation is often directly typed into a computer, but other methods may be appropriate. For example, the flip chart sheets that participants have created represent a powerful visual memory of the event, so it may be wise to encourage them to use the actual flips afterwards rather than relying on transcribed notes.

The main skill of a scribe is the ability to write or type while listening carefully and simultaneously analysing information.


Responsible for

  • Ensuring that all workshop activities are completed before, during and after the event
  • Dealing with people – especially handling disputes, keeping within scope, ensuring that people work as a team
  • Staying independent of the team or issue and being seen to remain impartial.

The facilitator should agree workshop objectives with the owner at an early stage, so that they can be circulated to participants before the event. One of the first items on the agenda will then be to review objectives with the group and update as necessary.

Critical success factors for a workshop

If time is short and experienced facilitation is not available, these are the critical steps to follow for the best chance of a successful event:

  • Identify an owner with whom to agree the objectives and required output
  • Construct an outline agenda and process
  • Check that participants understand what they are coming to, why, where and when it is
  • Work at getting everyone’s cooperation and support to jointly achieve the objectives
  • Ensure decisions are documented, actions identified and owners allocated
  • Decide what happens to output from the event, and on what follow-ups are needed.

Appoint a scribe if you can (enlist a participant if necessary).

Find someone to share the facilitation role (especially with a larger group or an event that runs for more than a few hours). Two co-facilitators can split the scribe role, help each other with administration and timing, give participants a change of energy and perspective, and provide each other with feedback and learning.