Do you really need a workshop?

Blog, Innovation, Workshop

Have you ever tried to run an important workshop with your team with the hopes of making ground-breaking discoveries only to have it become another pointless meeting instead? Where discussions veer off topic and the results are non-existent?

We’ve been there.

While workshops might look like fun and games from the outside, the reality of creating a workshop that actually works is that planning, objective setting and appropriate facilitation are absolutely essential for success.

Outside of the real work that goes into workshops, there is one more factor that can help determine your potential for success: do you actually need to create a workshop to begin with?

What’s the difference between a workshop and a meeting?

Although some workshops might look like meetings, meetings and workshops really shouldn’t look the same – if they do, then you’re probably hitting some problems in the planning process.

Anyone who’s been in a workshop that’s gone wrong will know this scenario all too well:

A team gathers to discuss an issue and resolve it. The host of the meeting starts with a PowerPoint presentation and tells everyone in the room what the problem is. They might even spend some time talking about solutions.

But everyone in the room has his own idea of the right solution and starts throwing out random ideas. It quickly becomes a debate about the best solution. There’s no structured approach and nothing keeps teams on track when it comes to resolving problems or making decisions on the best solution, and no one is responsible for managing team dynamics.

In other words, it becomes a fight over who can impose their idea, a power game. The winner is usually one of the most charismatic, loudest, persistent, assertive or most senior people at the table.

Can this type of workshop really create the best solution? Well, not really.

The best solutions don’t always come from the loudest people at the table. Sometimes, the smallest voices can have the greatest impact.

In sum, conventional methods of collaboration might work sometimes, but if you want to motivate your team to come up with new and exciting ideas, beware of some of their pitfalls:

  • Organisational politics
  • Asymmetrical knowledge
  • Different working styles
  • Different personalities

When does a workshop trump a meeting?

If you think the above pitfalls have the potential to hinder your work, then it’s time to consider a workshop.

Here are a few cases when workshops work best:

  • You’re on a quest for a solution: You have an objective but know very little about how to achieve it, or if it’s even achievable to begin with.
  • You need new information, skills, and experiences to resolve the issue: It’s very likely that your goal will change as you discover new ideas and learn more about what works and what doesn’t.
  • Currently, the unknown outweighs the known: It’s a journey in the fog, with very few known working examples.
  • You seek alignment, buy-in and commitment from people by involving them in the process and not by convincing them of your approach.

When should I schedule a meeting instead?

Sure, workshops sound great – but only in the right context. If any of the following are true for your team, consider hosting a meeting instead:

  • You have a clear goal on what you want to achieve and there is a clear chain of cause and effect to reach it.
  • You want to share a progress update with your team about projects that you’re working on
  • You need to make formal decisions
  • Your aim is to organise workflows

Workshop versus meeting, who’s favourite to win?

The reality is that the difference is not clear-cut. Einstein once said that we can’t resolve a problem using the exact same thinking that created them in the first place. He also said that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Workshops are an antidote to that.

They change how we collaborate with others, replacing power games with structured exercises and activities that minimise bias and groupthink to find the best solution. Done well, they help align a group towards reaching a common goal despite their authority, personality and working styles.

You might have noticed that we’re BIG advocates of workshops, of course. They are the ultimate tool for resolving complex problems and creating innovative solutions.

If you’re interested in learning more, we’ve got a whole lot more to say. Check out our guide to getting started with workshops here or drop us a line and we’ll send it directly to your inbox.

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We are more than happy to share the presentation decks with you! Fill this form to download a PDF of the slides.

By sending the form, you agree with the Privacy Policy.