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Three preconceived notions about workshops

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March 14, 2022

Are you looking for an efficient and engaging way to work with your colleagues which will have an immediate impact on your business? Then workshops may be the solution for you. Although they are increasingly popular, some people still have some preconceived notions about them. Here are three examples, and a few arguments to counter them.

10 million. That’s how many workshops have been conducted using Klaxoon since March 2020. This shows that the issue of how to get teams to work together is a key concern for companies. And the next workshop may be yours. To overcome your hesitation and combat preconceived notions, this article features examples of effective workshops that encourage participant engagement, even remotely and even in large groups.

Workshops with too many people are not feasible.

“We won’t be able to hear ourselves think! It will be chaos! It will be impossible to make a decision.” This is a common response when you suggest organizing a big workshop. Florence Vallet is a collective intelligence facilitator; workshops are part of her everyday life, and she is sometimes faced with this type of reaction: “We have had cancellations (of workshops) because we wanted to do it with many people from different fields, but the customers thought it would be too complicated.”

And yet, organizing productive workshops is much simpler than you might think.

The biggest risk you face with big workshops is generating loads of ideas. But isn’t that a good thing? The question should be: how can we utilize all this material without getting swamped by it?

For Florence Vallet, it’s all about methodical organization. “Preparation is key. Part of my job is talking about the customer’s challenges and aims.We need to establish how many participants they want – whatever that number may be – and make it work. It’s important to have strong convictions about that. We now have the experience and the competence to say ‘yes, it is possible to organize very productive workshops with lots of participants'.”

To achieve your objectives, you need to think about the substance…

In preparing your workshop, you can focus on several things. First, the content:It must be attractive to your participants and useful for them in their work.That’s the best way to ensure you get the most out of your workshops.

As the President of the digital event platform Learning Show, Yannig Raffenel, wanted to organize a fully digital edition of this usually in-person event, he always kept in mind the importance of the content. Even during a brainstorming session with 75 people. He wanted his workshop to “use the best of digital technology to add value to the Learning Show”. In the middle of a pandemic, the choice of content was clear and relevant for everyone: “The future of learning in the time of pandemic.” A subject that speaks to training specialists, who had to rethink how they operate in a world that was shutting down. The subject was germane, and the participants were highly motivated, so he had solid foundations to begin his workshop.

… and the form

In addition to the substance of the workshop – the discussions and the quality of the proposals – you also need to think about its form. Splitting your group into several smaller teams is a great idea. This will make it easier for the shyest participants to take part and help robust ideas to emerge.

There aremany ways of doing this, and it’s not as hard as you might think. Solutionslike Breakout Rooms, the World Café or the 1-2-4 All method all have the same principle: initially working in smaller groups before opening it up to a larger number.

Indeed, this was how Yannig and Florence chose to organize their workshops. Yannig prefers simplicity: “I organize the space by creating nine rooms for 75 people. Each group has specific instructions and objectives to achieve. You split up the participants and the facilitators, and everyone meets up again at the end of the brainstorming session.”

It is also possible to do a mixture of full groups and sub-groups. Florence uses this technique for her workshop on the MBTI (Myers BriggsType Indicator) – a test that is commonly used by companies to help them learn more about their employees’ personalities. “In a three-hour workshop with people from different backgrounds, it’s interesting to alternate sequences. Time to think on your own, discussions in small groups with people from different backgrounds, and then all together.” And she is convinced of the benefits of this method: “By alternating sequences with different formats and discussions with a variety of different people, by the end of the workshop a lot has happened, and the experience is positive.”

Dividing a large group into smaller teams facilitates discussion | Klaxoon
Dividing a large group into smaller teams facilitates discussion

Aggregate each sub-group’s results to allow the best solutions to emerge

Splitting your participants up into groups to brainstorm or work on a project can be very productive – only the best ideas are kept and developed. When it is time for the group to present their ideas, you just need to reproduce this system. Each sub-group works on their subject and discusses one or two ideas. The wider group can then decide which are the best ones.

It’s impossible to do a workshop remotely or in hybrid mode.

“Can you imagine? 50 people behind their computers? People will switch off – no one will want to get involved. And it’s really difficult to get people together for a remote meeting.” Is this a familiar refrain? Maybe you even agree with it?If so, here is a detail that may convince you otherwise:

All the examples above are from remote workshops. Florence Vallet & Yannig Raffenel  all organized successful remote workshops without any particular problems.

So, how did they do it?

First of all, by reproducing methods that work well in person: dividing the group up into teams and preparing content in advance of the workshop. Replace the paperboards and post-its® with a digital whiteboard and hey presto… Well nearly.

This is where our workshop experts’ know-how really comes in. Using Board and a videoconferencing tool it’s very easy to reproduce the in-person experience: “We created nine rooms, like physical spaces on the Board, simply by drawing nine colored circles. Each circle represents a room, and the participants just paste their photo into the circle representing their room. They start their videoconference on Zoom© in sub-groups, and they’re off.” Yannig Raffenel is convinced of the effectiveness of this format.

A little non-negligible bonus: getting 50 people to split up into groups takes 10minutes with real tables compared to 1 minute in a virtual space. And there are other tips for adapting in-person workshops to a remote format, like creating themes or asynchronous work.

Creating a theme to get the participants on board

The advantage of in-person workshops is their interactivity; that constant dialogue between participants and facilitators on a project or theme. How can you reproduce this dynamic despite the barriers of the distance and the screen?Jérôme Rajkovic may have a solution.

Jérôme is an agile coach at Inetum, a digital services company that helps its customers – companies and institutions – with their digital transformation. He uses workshops to initiate whole companies to an agile method called SAFe. He sometimes organizes projects with more than 100 participants.

To make sure his workshops remain interactive, Jérôme has a trump card: themes. He builds all his workshops around a different theme. Depending on the audience and his objectives, he chooses themes such as sport, videogames or regional specificities, while always making sure that the theme feeds into the work that needs to be done. “The theme enables you to provide context, to make it an adventure, and above all to create a user experience. This is important because of the distance. Creating a theme enables you to get the participants on board through a subject that speaks to them. We managed to recreate the same impressions that you get in person.”

He then uses the workshop’s theme to make the workspace more inspiring and engaging.For example, with a Lille-based company, Jérôme chose the theme of the “Braderie”– a famous local festival that is held every year in September. This is one of the region’s key cultural and social events, which the participants immediately identified with, meaning they bought into the concept, especially as the workshop took place during the festival.

Leverage the power of asynchronous work

Yes, it is quite possible to conduct all or part of a workshop asynchronously. Why? Because workshops are a state of mind more than just a gathering of people. In other words, workshops don’t need to be held in a single place at a single point intime.

As Florence Vallet explains, she kicked off her workshop before the first day: “The participants had already created their MBTI profile during a previous workshop.To prepare the workshop, I asked them to put their photo in the box devoted to their personality type on the Board. This means that, right from the start of the first day, people with shared profiles could immediately meet each other and start to work together.”

And this asynchronous aspect also makes sense for international companies. It’s a question of logistics. How many companies have employees working all over the planet? How many of them have accepted or implemented permanent remote work, or even just the option of working from wherever you like? Many companies are in this position, but despite these challenges they have not given up on the idea of collaboration and teamwork. And they are making it work.

That’s the case for Vincent Arcin, Director of Digital Transformation at L’Oréal, who runs an ideation workshop with 250 people working all around the world, from Asia to America.

Asynchronous work is a huge timesaver, because the workload is spread over several hours, sometimes several days, and everyone can take the time they need to think and respond to others’ ideas in their own time.

Bring everyone together – on site or remotely | Klaxoon
Bring everyone together – on site or remotely

When there are too many people, not everyone can express themselves.

“Go ahead, ask everyone for their opinion – there are only 150 people – at one minute per person maybe we will have finished by next week.” Maybe you saw this objection coming? However, not everyone is able to or wants to express themselves in public – never mind in front of a large audience. So, in the context of a workshop… forget about it. And you can’t take every participant by the hand and ask them individually if they would like to say something.

Except that, as we have established, splitting them up into groups, working asynchronously, and using a digital whiteboard makes it easier for people to express themselves in a workshop. And there are ways to eliminate the final barriers to expression, like facilitation methods and tools that promote interaction.

Facilitation to ensure engagement

Whether it be by dividing everyone into smaller groups, or through themed workshops or asynchronous work, your workshop’s facilitator plays a decisive role in the quality and effectiveness of discussions. “It’s their role to detect the weak signals” in a group, says Florence Vallet. They need to determine to what extent they need to be interventionist and when a laissez-faire approach is appropriate. They must be able to quickly determine whether they need to get involved and move the discussion forward or if, on the contrary, they should allow people to express themselves more freely.

So no, they shouldn’t be sitting behind every participant and asking them for their opinion on the subject – but by nudging the conversation in a certain direction, by raising questions, or by digging deeper, they can help contribute to the discussion and boost participation. “Even remotely, they can get involved and make the group discussion more productive,” Yannig Raffenel adds.

This role of facilitator is also useful in training workshops, for example. At Inetum, Jérôme generally conducts a quick survey after top-down presentations, to establish whether everyone has taken the information onboard. “We use a system of “likes” to collect feedback on every slide. At the end of the meeting, we have a good overview of how the subject was perceived and how well the team has understood it.”

Because it’s not just a question of participation, it’s really about engagement. How are your workshops perceived, accepted and understood by the participants? You need to think about your presentation in advance to avoid monologues.

Digital tools to promote interaction

So, thanks to digital tools you can facilitate very large workshops remotely, but you think it’s impossible to promote participation using the same digital tools?

Shares, likes, and comments are part of web culture – they are the very basis of virality. Your search for interaction in workshops is built on the same foundations. So, it is absolutely possible to use the same tools.

Use votes, surveys and quizzes to promote interaction and allow users to express themselves.

You can ask people for written answers initially in order to get everyone to contribute.For your participants, it’s as simple as sending a text message. Even the shyest participants can express themselves without fear of being judged. And then, to develop the best ideas, you can switch to an oral discussion. This rewards the people who are behind the ideas.

This way, you encourage participation or generate feedback. This is how Yannig Raffenel helps the best ideas emerge: “Each group votes for their favorite idea, which is presented in the plenary session. Thanks to this voting system, the workshop enabled us to choose the nine guidelines we needed to prepare the Learning Show. With this method of organization, people become stakeholders in the event, which naturally generates more interactivity. It’s a win-win for the facilitators and the participants.”

Florence Vallet, meanwhile, is a fan of surveys in the form of a “word cloud”, where each participant can describe how they feel about the workshop in a single word. “It’s magical when you launch a word cloud at the end of the workshop, and you immediately see that the participants have bought into it.”

Surveys, votes, and word clouds so that everyone can express themselves | Klaxoon
Surveys, votes, and word clouds so that everyone can express themselves

The number of participants is no obstacle to efficient or successful workshops. On the contrary, it can be an incredible way of obtaining lots of ideas or results thanks to the power of collective intelligence. Strength in numbers is about managing to make the most of all your ideas, whatever the format of the workshop. And to do this, you first need a clear method and organizational structure to enable all parties to work together as productively as possible.

So, let’s throw out the received wisdom and organize your next workshop, shall we?

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