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Workshops: Format and How to Run


Workshops combine training, development, team-building, communications, motivation and planning. 

Participation and involvement of staff increases the sense of ownership and empowerment, and facilitates the development of organisations and individuals

 Workshops are effective in managing change and achieving improvement, and particularly the creation of initiatives, plans, process and actions to achieve particular business and organisational aims. 

Workshops are also great for breaking down barriers, improving communications inside and outside of departments, and integrating staff after acquisition or merger. 

Workshops are particularly effective for (CRM) customer relationship management development. The best and most constructive motivational team-building format is a workshop, or better still series of workshops, focusing on the people's key priorities and personal responsibilities/interest areas, which hopefully will strongly overlap with business and departmental aims too. 

Workshops can be integrated within regular monthly team meetings - an amazing amount of motivation progress and productivity can be accomplished with just a 90 mins workshop per month. 

Workshop facilitation by a team leader or manager develops leadership, and workshops achieve strong focus on business aims among team members. 

Workshops are very effective for training too - workshops encourage buy-in and involvement more than conventional training courses because they are necessarily participative, and the content and output are created by the delegates. 

Also, the relationship between workshop facilitator or workshop presenter and delegates is participative, whereas a 'trainer' is often perceived as detached, and the training material 'not invented here'.


There are many workshop format variations - here's a basic one:

  • Prior to workshop session identify and agree via consultation with the team the aim/opportunity area to be addressed. It's helpful to refer to John Adair's Action-Centred Leadership model for examples of different workshop subject areas and their implications.
  • It's also important to decide workshop objectives in relation to the team's 'maturity', experience and development - refer to the Tuckman 'Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing' Model and the Tannenbaum and Schmidt Model to understand and agree the level of freedom and responsibility to give the team during workshops, and in agreeing workshop follow-up actions and responsibilities.
  • Set suitable date and venue for meeting and issue agenda, with verbal explanation/reassurance if necessary - see running meetings.
  • At start of workshop, introduce aim and process - agree expectations - answer queries. (5 mins)
  • Brainstorm the ideas and opportunities with the whole group - flip chart is best - see brainstorming. (10-20 mins)
  • Split the group into pairs or threes (more usually creates passengers) and ask them to come up with outline actions/initiatives/plans to achieve agreed purpose/aim. (20-30 mins)
  • Have groups present back their ideas - review and praise positives aspects in each, and gently agree areas which would benefit from improvement/refining. (max 5 mins per group)
  • Then task and agree for groups or individuals to refine outline plans into clear objectives (refer to SMARTER principles), during the workshop, or afterwards to be fed back to manager, which can then be followed up and coached during implementation.
  • Follow up, coach, encourage, support and invite ideas for future workshop items and process improvements.

Design Tips

Workshops are an extremely flexible and effective method for training, learning, development, change management, team building and problem solving, and virtually any organisational challenge.

You can actually run any sort of workshop you want - your options are as wide as your imagination and certainly not limited to off-the-shelf or tried and tested formats.

Think about and then agree openly your aim(s) for each workshop or and/or session.

Invite suggestions from delegates beforehand as to workshop subjects and aims if you want to maximise commitment and empowerment.

It helps for certain aims to use a model or concept to explain the theory behind your intentions, for example if dealing with communications and motivation, helpful models are: Johari, Maslow, Mcgregor, Tuckman, Emotional Intelligence - these concepts are interesting and accessible for students and organisational delegates of all types. There are many others on this site.

There are also lots of materials and templates on the free resources section which help to theme and underpin workshop sessions.

Split big groups into pairs or threes - this is more dynamic and produces more ideas - and gets the whole group working better, particularly when they present ideas and review with the whole group. As with team building exercises, if you split into sub-teams of more than four it's advisable to have each team appoint a leader, or things can be chaotic and some members become 'passengers'.

Try to agree actions and accountabilities at the end of sessions and workshops which enable follow-up.

My approach to workshops is always to tailor the content and structure for the particular situation, which I would encourage you to do, rather than use off-the-shelf formats. Approach it like training design - what are you (or the delegates) seeking to achieve? Be specific - more specific than just 'team-building' or 'improving relationships' - you need to identify a specific element within a general aim.

Establish and agree a measurable output(s) or result(s) that represent the aim(s), and then work back from there in thinking how to structure the workshop or session(s).

Unless you have a good reason for using laptops and projector, have the delegates use flip chart paper and coloured marker pens, and hang the sheets around the walls. This enables delegates to be far more dynamic and creative than modern technology media.

Encourage people to use creative methods that are appropriate for their personal styles and learning styles.

Visual, spatial, creative people enjoy working with flip-charts, colours, 'post-it' notes, etc.

People-centred individuals and teams enjoy human interaction - role-plays, discussions, mutual interviews, etc.

Logical, numerate, process-oriented people are happier with more structured planning tools and computers.

Think about the sort of people in the workshop groups and provide tools, materials and methods that they will be comfortable using.

See the guidelines for team building games and exercises, the free team building games, and for business strategy: the free SWOT analysis template and examples, and the free PEST analysis template, which can all help in running successful workshops.

Facilitating effective workshops is a skill that comes with experience. Effective workshops require a facilitative and enabling approach - not a directing autocratic style, so concentrate on enabling and providing tools, knowledge, mechanisms, freedoms, processes, information, etc., that open people's minds and make connections between tasks and people, in an enjoyable, constructive and liberating way.