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Planning a workshop.


Workshops are not just meetings, nor lectures, nor seminars, nor discussions, but may well contain various elements of all, or some, of these. They are principally gatherings of anything from four to over ten people called together in an informal environment, conducive to creativity, in order to tackle a problem or achieve an objective. Workshops are appropriate for the study of broader issues, ones that deserve deeper analysis than can be achieved in ordinary meetings, or ones that require brainstorming or imaginative thinking.

Workshops do not have a "chair" or a leader as such, but a facilitator who creates an open, relaxed atmosphere to encourage contributions from the participants.

Workshops are good for:

* securing group ownership of the objective

* getting maximum contributions from people

* involving people as fully as possible

* brainstorming ideas

* coming up with the right questions and constructive alternatives

* formulating a rough plan of action.

National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership

This checklist has relevance to the following standards:

C: Facilitating change, units 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


A workshop is a group event or learning occasion or training session at which participants are the major contributors, or learn from each other or where the experience of the participants is more important than the knowledge of the workshop facilitator.

Action checklist

1. Select a facilitator

Determine whether the facilitator should be internal or external. Internal staff can be used if:

* the issue is not too complex

* the issue is not really contentious

* the staff member has some experience as a facilitator.

An external facilitator should be used when the above factors do not apply.

The facilitator should feel comfortable with running activity-based sessions and should be able to:

* indicate to participants the expected outcomes or targets

* have clear plans and tactics on how to get there

* do as much as possible to ensure that participants own what they have achieved by the end.

2. Clarify what must be achieved

Identify the objectives of the workshop, deadlines to meet, and any opposing ideologies to reconcile. Ensure objectives are measurable.

3. Identify participants

Participants must be able to make a worthwhile contribution. Pay attention to the best mix of people and to any potential conflicts which will need to be managed.

4. Select a venue

This must have appropriate facilities--equipment, room-size and atmosphere are an easy oversight. Give some thought to a flexible workshop structure with content or themes for an outline programme, paying attention to syndicate rooms for group-working. Where it is important to "step aside" and think afresh, a venue outside the premises should be considered--this frees the minds of participants as they will not be constantly thinking of the work waiting for them a few yards away.

5. Obtain equipment

Think of all the fiddly bits and pieces that may seem trivial but can be enormously helpful when a session is in full swing, including. glue, scissors, Blu-Tack, OHP, flipchart and pens that work, paper-clips or stapler. Get the room layout to suit your needs. Seating patterns can make a difference to discussion.

6. Establish ground-rules

This is particularly important with brainstorming sessions, and with groups of mixed seniority, but keep rules limited: the more rules, the more inhibiting it may become.

7. Assess what the participants need to know in advance

Perhaps set a pre-workshop task, but keep pre-workshop information to a minimum as the focus is on group activity. Be aware of preconceived ideas and fears, and prepare in advance how to dispose of them.

8. Work out a time-table

Workshops can last from half a day to two or three days, depending on the topic(s). Design the day(s) flexibly allowing for comfortable proportions of plenary to groupworking sessions. Take into account the concentration required of the participants. Try to work a balanced mix between active and passive sessions. Remember to remain in control but be flexible when events by-pass or over-rule your scheduling.

Allow adequate time for coffee/tea breaks--participants need time to absorb ideas and chat with one another. If the workshop lasts more than one day, it is often useful to start the first day with lunch so that people can relax and get to know one another.

9. Plan how the workshop will begin

An immediate--but appropriate--ice-breaker can help establish the atmosphere you wish to create and can also help with introductions. After the ice-breaker, set the scene, clarify why you are all there, and explain the process so that all are comfortable with it.

10. Make the workshop enjoyable

Everyone will get more from the workshop if it is an enjoyable experience.

11. Measuring workshop output

Measuring the success or failure of a workshop goes beyond mere participant satisfaction of--hopefully--an enjoyable and constructive session, or sessions. It is measured in terms of:

* to what extent measurable objectives were progressed, advanced or achieved

* what thinking, behaviour or activity changes have taken place, will take place or have been confirmed as a result of the workshop

* what action results as a consequence of the workshop.

How not to manage a workshop

Managers should avoid:

* allowing things to become too relaxed

* worrying about an individual's non-participation at the expense of overall group success

* seeking to dominate thinking or try to impress with your knowledge

* spending much time lecturing or presenting

* indulging too many red-herrings

* allowing an individual to dominate

* involving participants who really do not want to be there.

Workshops are inappropriate if:

* you need to collate or analyse complex or detailed information

* you need to investigate mistakes or failure

* you need to make a final decision.

Additional resources


Facilitation made easy: practical tips to improve meetings and workshops, 3rd ed., Esther Cameron

London: Kogan Page, 2005

Practical facilitation: a toolkit of techniques, Christine Hogan

London: Kogan Page. 2003

The facilitation of groups, Dale Hunter, Anne Bailey, and Bill Taylor

London: Gower, 1996

How to run seminars and workshops: presentation skills for consultants, trainers and leaders, Robert L Jolles

New York: Wiley, 1996

This is a selection of books available for loan to members from the Management Information Centre. More information at:

Related checklist

Facilitating (162)
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Title Annotation:Checklist 018
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Human Resources, Training and Development
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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