If it seems that workshops are actually well-run meetings, that is true to a certain degree. Facilitated workshops and well-run meetings are very similar. The main differences between meetings and workshops are:
- Primarily intended to inform by exchanging information
- Agenda steps are frequently time-boxed
- Tending to have informally defined roles and a non-neutral leader
- Typically covering many issues in a few hours or less
- A building method—a way to solve a problem, develop a plan, reach a decision, agree on analytics, design a flow, etc.
- Agenda steps are typically not time boxed since the deliverable likely supports critical product or process innovation
- Include formally defined roles and a neutral facilitator
- Remaining focused on one development at a time, lasting from a few hours to a few days
Understand the different reasons for hosting workshops versus meetings. Workshops focus on singular topics and strive to build impactful deliverables.
Meetings tend to follow one of three themes, to . . .
Workshops on the other hand tend to focus on singular topics and strive to build impactful deliverables. Successful workshops depend on the following:
- Building a workshop method to engage participants
- Defining specific deliverables
- Grouping information gathering activities
- Policing the workshop method to accomplish those goals
Success for Both Meetings and Workshops
The following are the critical elements necessary for the success of using structure in both meetings and workshops:
- Preparation—getting yourself and the participants ready
- Workshop event—gathering the information, making the decisions, and documenting the results
- Review and resolution—distribute and integrate deliverable, typically into project
- A well-trained session leader with facilitation skills and technique skills—without which, execution of the workshops and preparation tasks becomes less than adequate, ad hoc, and inconsistent
- Availability and commitment of proper resources—both people and facilities; with people providing the input and facilities supporting the environment—having less than optimum produces less than optimal results
- Commitment from all management, thus ensuring availability of the proper resources, personnel, time, and support
- Proper application of the concepts and structure of the technique, therefore avoiding inconsistent and unpredictable results
Differences Between Workshops and Meetings – Structure
Use of the term “meeting” is somewhat synonymous with the use of the term “workshop.” Four practical differences typically include:
- Meetings frequently time box agenda steps. With most workshop activity, front-end loading frequently makes it easier to complete the back-end steps and activities. Therefore, for most workshop activities, we estimate time but allow groups additional time to fully develop their consensual assumptions up-front, when it matters most.
- Regularly held meetings (ie, staff meetings or board meetings) end when time runs out, usually with an understanding that unfinished items will be picked up in the next meeting. When groups are building toward a workshop deliverable, the sequence of the steps is important and they frequently cannot leap ahead or advance until the foundation work is complete.
- Meeting leaders may not be expected to be entirely neutral. Effective meeting leaders learn to embrace the importance of neutrality and active listening but when required, they may be forced to render an opinion or a decision. Workshop leaders should strive every way possible to avoid offering up content, knowing that the participants must own and live with their decision. Workshop leaders risk total failure if they violate neutrality by offering up content.
- Workshops tend to last longer than meetings. While the average meeting may last an hour or two, the average workshop may take a few days or even a few sessions with multiple days.
Meeting Workshop Differences Considerations
Due to time constraints, participant availability, and meeting space (real estate) options, much workshop activity gets spread across multiple weeks, turning a potentially natural, multiple-day workshop into regular multiple-week “meetings.” The structural difference between concurrent-day and concurrent-week approaches is that the break periods between activities are longer with the concurrent or multiple week approach, extending the amount of time required to complete the project.
The session leader needs to be aware of workshop deliverables that are hidden in the term “meeting.” Simply because an event is being called a meeting or lasts for only an hour or two, does not give the session leader the right to show up unprepared or to become a judge of others, their input, and their opinions.
Use of the term “workshop” frequently overlaps with the term “meeting.” Yet five practical meeting workshop differences require leadership consciousness:
- Meetings consist of loosely related topics that serve to review and monitor, inform, and sometimes endorse (or decide). Participants during meetings are commonly passive while workshops demand their contributions and activity. Meetings aim for an updated state of affairs or condition (outcome), while workshops create tangible deliverables
or concrete ‘outputs.’ Contrasted to meetings, workshops create the ability to act upon clear and necessary workshop output.
- Meeting frequently limit the amount of time per agenda step. With most workshop activity, front-end loading frequently makes it easier to complete the back-end steps and activities. Therefore, for most workshop activities, we estimate time, but also allow groups additional time. When they fully develop their consensual assumptions up-front, it matters most.
- Regularly held meetings (ie, staff meetings or board meetings) conclude when time runs out. Because typically, unfinished items carry over to the next meeting. When groups build toward a workshop deliverable, a sequence of steps must be followed because participants cannot advance until they complete the foundation.
- Participants do not expect complete neutrality from meeting leaders. Effective leaders learn to embrace the importance of meeting neutrality and active listening. However, when required, leaders must render an opinion or a decision. Workshop leaders should strive every way possible to avoid offering up content, knowing that the participants must own and live with their decision. Workshop leaders risk total failure if they violate neutrality by judging or stepping on content.
- Workshops tend to last longer than meetings. While the average meeting may last an hour or two, the average workshop may take a partial or full day(s). Complex deliverables such as a Project Charter or Requirements Gathering may last a few sessions across multiple days.
A Structured Technique Works with Both Meetings and Workshops Because . . .
- Assignments combine and finish timely
- Clear tasks define outputs and directions.
- Consensus-derived information becomes input to subsequent activities.
- Groups make higher quality decisions than the smartest person in the group.
- MG Rush aids analysis by providing methodologies, such as structured analysis and information modeling.
- Ownership is clear.
- Participants have well-defined roles.
- Structured workshops provide well-defined deliverables.
- The group reaches mutual understanding of business needs and priorities.
- The session leader stimulates participants with a toolkit of visual aids, documentation forms, and group dynamics skills.
- Workshop structure and group dynamics provide more complete and accurate information.
Structured workshops conducted with workshop best practices are increasingly popular among lean sigma and requirements gathering projects that frequently support business process improvement and product development.
Why? When properly conducted, workshops conducted with workshop best practices are simply faster and more effective than typical business meeting discussions. Remember that the terms discussion, percussion, and concussion are all related. Therefore, if you ever have a headache when departing a meeting, likely it was unstructured.
Documents Reasons for Workshops
Over the years we have catalogued the various workshops we have facilitated and share the reasons with you, sequenced below in alphabetical order, rather than frequency, importance, or randomness:
- Any initiative requiring decision-making or consensual agreement between two or more people
- Business area analysis
- Business case development (including process optimization)
- Content management prioritization
- Executing your strategy, building action plans
- Gathering requirements
- Innovation, at least the creativity and ideation portion
- Key performance, measuring and management indicators
- Knowledge management (including decision support)
- Maintenance activity to solve for missing descriptions of changes, precision with requirements, or problem identification
- New system or business development initiatives
- Performance management (BPM—including balanced scorecard and dashboards)
- Problem situation requiring arbitration or neutrality
- Process improvement—design or optimization
- Project management
- Problem solving
- Product development processes
- Scientific inquiry or challenging paradigms
- Six Sigma® and Lean or other quality initiatives
- Strategic planning at any level in the organizational holarchy
- Team charters (including management perspectives and supporting strategic planning activities or tactical assignments)
- Virtual meetings and workshops
- Voice of the customer or advisory groups
Meetings frequently follow workshop activity. For example, numerous meetings will follow a project charter-planning workshop across the life cycle of the project being supported. While dozens of life cycles exist (eg; IPCC, DMAIC, Scrum, etc.), each workshop has its own life cycle.
Workshop Best Practices
Essential workshop best practices developed during facilitated sessions include:
- Defining consensus as a standard that can be supported rather than the ideal resolution that makes participants “happy”, help set a better expectation that should prevent all participants from losing any sleep (a personal standard).
- Energize and engage participants by explaining the importance of the session in the beginning and strive to quantify the impact of the meeting on the project valued in cash assets at risk or FTP (full-time person) being deployed.
- Use a neutral facilitator. The facilitator must be neutral to content discussed, allowing the participants freedom to edit and modify their own contributions. Neutrality provides trust that enables higher level of participation and contribution by participants.
- Using a pre-defined deliverable, agenda, and participant list. The deliverable and agenda for each session and participant buy-in ought be articulated in advance to transfer ownership to the session participants prior to the meeting. Thorough preparation helps the participants to focus on topics, questions, and activities that help the facilitator better control the context.
- Using a refrigerator (aka “parking lot” or “issue bin”) to store items out of scope or beyond reach for the time available helps separate the co-mingling of strategic issues, tactical maneuvers, and operational issues.
- Using a well prepared deliverable and agenda, the facilitator can better control the scope of conversations, preventing circular and irrelevant discussions.
- Write it down. If it is not written down, it never happened. Strive to capture verbatim comments and complete necessary edits after the meeting.This helps to build more confidence among participants. Making the documentation immediately visible to participants minimizes one-on-one follow-ups and email conversations.
Workshop Best Practices Benefits Claimed
- Organizations establish scalable, consistent processes that can be measured and continuously improved as a result of adopting a structured approach.
- Overall project life cycle can be shortened by two to four weeks, thus helping business stakeholders realize project benefits early.
- Session participants demonstrate a high level of active engagement, claiming and that structured sessions enabled good use of their time.
- Structured approaches also produce higher quality outputs, allowing for issues and risks to be identified and resolved earlier in the life cycle, when the cost to resolve them is smaller.
- Structured approaches help enhance the perceived value of the session leader role as a valuable provider of context rather than a mere producer of documentation.
- Workshop approaches result in clear reduction in time and effort. In comparison studies, companies claim project life-cycle savings that exceed USD $100,000 and some exceeding one million dollars because they adopted a structured approach to meetings and workshops.
- Workshop approaches successfully shift project development activities from being template driven to conversation driven, thus helping build better teaming and collaboration amongst participants.
Due to time, participant availability, and meeting real estate space constraints, much workshop activity today may be spread across multiple weeks, turning a potentially natural, multiple-day workshop into regular multiple-week “meetings.” The structural difference between contiguous-day and contiguous-week approaches is that the break periods between activities are longer with the contiguous or multiple session approach.
The session leader needs to be aware of workshop deliverables that are hidden in the term “meeting.” Simply because an event is being called a meeting or lasts for only an hour or two, does not give the session leader the right to show up unprepared or to become a judge of others, their input, and their opinion
Take a class or forward this to someone who should. MG RUSH professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practicing methodology. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools before class concludes. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.
Therefore Become Part of the Solution While You Improve Your Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology Skills
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