10 Top Tips for Workshopping

I love to go mountain biking though I’m more enthusiastic than skilled. Recently I went for a ride in the Highlands with some friends. 

Believe it or not this is the story of how to workshop.

Bear with me. 

As the day progressed it became clear that we’d signed up to an impromptu mountain biking lesson. Each time we came to a technical part of the course my friend, who is a mountain biking instructor, suggested we take some time out to ‘workshop’. 

Once I’d gotten over my pride and came to terms with the idea that we wouldn’t be careering through the course as quickly as humanly possible, I saw the genius of applying this approach to our day. 

Egos were put to one side as we tested, shared and learned better solutions to each challenge. This approach can equally be applied to project processes. Rather than going gung-ho through the motions of a project, we stop, get together, engage in intensive discussion and activity and get to solutions quickly and collaboratively.

So here are my top 10 tips for a great workshop experience: 

1. Do your preparation
Thorough preparation is a vital part of the process. Don’t skimp on this or you could find yourself wasting precious time during the workshop.  Start by setting a clear set of goals and create an agenda to follow. 

2. Choose the right location
People often want to stand up to draw, talk and mull over ideas during a workshop. The right environment is ideally a space with blank walls where you can pin things up; somewhere relatively private where you can work without distraction that allows people to stand up, talk and draw out ideas.  

3. Have your equipment ready
This might sound obvious but you’d be surprised how much time can be lost looking for things like pens, post-its, a white board or paper. Don’t waste time; come into the room prepared to start right away. 

Getting the right equipment can also help a lot. Things like Magic Whiteboard paper lets you to create a whiteboard anywhere you can find a blank wall space. And you can roll it up and take it away with you after. 

4. Keep it exclusive
Another key thing is to keep your team small. It will empower the people involved, allow you to work fast and remove bottlenecks and blockers. A small agile team made up of clients and agency representatives will become your peer group for the time of the workshop. 

5. Park your ego at the door
Being open to new thinking and sharing ideas is a key part of great workshops but it also means presenting your skills to the group in a humble way. You need to be able to move on from ideas that don’t work quickly as time is limited. 

Equally it’s important to make other people feel comfortable. Everyone should be able to present ideas without being shut down. More free thinking leads to more ideas and better results. 

6. Work as one unit
This one is especially pertinent if you are workshopping your idea alongside a client. Don’t be afraid to socialize. After all, getting to know each other is part of the process of breaking down barriers and collaborating.  

7. Get in the zone
There’s no time to sit back and admire the view. However long you have for your workshop it won’t be long enough. So make the most of your time and focus, focus, focus. This process could save your project team weeks or months of painful virtual communication especially if you usually work in different countries. 

8. Feel the burn
Putting the hard work in to establish the direction of the project will make your life a lot easier in the weeks / months ahead.

9. Reach a consensus
Part of reaching a consensus is about being decisive. So long as you’ve achieved a basis to build on it’s a success. It could be a process or a design solution but as long as you can then go off and work in isolation on your foundation it’s a win. 

You don’t have to achieve everything in the workshop, but it should set the dynamic for ongoing collaboration and interaction with the clients. Even working over the phone, is a lot more effective after you’ve had a productive workshop.

10. Record it
And finally, record it, take photos, feedback to everyone and confirm next steps. Then give each other a pat on the back; you’ve worked hard!