Mastering the Art of Effective and Actionable Design Workshops

Hi Brainstorms and workshops can be powerful tools for aligning teams, generating ideas, and making critical decisions in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, these activities often receive a bad rap, with some claiming they are a waste of time or serve only to boost the facilitator’s ego. The truth is that poorly-planned workshops with no clear objectives or relevance to the team’s needs are indeed ineffective. However, a well-considered and well-facilitated workshop can be a game-changer for any design project. In this blog, I’ll share five qualities of a successful brainstorm facilitator to help you lead effective, actionable, and useful workshops.

Be Prepared: Set the Foundation for Success

Preparation is key to running a successful workshop. Before the session, define the workshop’s purpose, expected outcomes, and timeline. Create documentation outlining the goals and participants’ roles, and provide a lightweight run-of-show to guide the session. Sharing this information with participants in advance shows that you’ve put thought into the workshop and increases their commitment to the process.

Send Pre-reads: Maximize Synchronous Time

Avoid wasting precious workshop time on information that could have been shared beforehand. Consider what materials can be provided asynchronously, such as customer research, videos, or brainstorm workspaces. Utilize tools like Mural or FigJam to share the workspace in advance so participants can review and prepare their ideas. Give participants enough time (at least 2 business days) to go through the materials and manage their schedules accordingly.

Watch the Clock: Stay on Track

Time management is critical during a workshop, as discussions can easily go off-track. Use a timer to keep everyone on schedule. Many brainstorming tools include built-in timers, or you can find free options online or use your phone. Create a “parking lot” for tangential topics that arise during the session, allowing you to address them later without derailing the main discussion. Flexibility is essential for adapting to unexpected changes and ensuring a productive workshop.

Accept Change: Embrace Flexibility

No workshop ever goes exactly as planned, and that’s okay. Avoid being too rigid in your approach, as participants may feel constrained. Embrace flexibility and be willing to adjust plans if a particular exercise doesn’t work as expected. Invite feedback and skepticism, welcoming input from all participants. By reading the room and adapting appropriately, you’ll create a more fruitful conversation and foster a collaborative environment.

Ensure Everyone Speaks: Promote Inclusivity

One common pitfall in group conversations is allowing a few individuals to dominate the discussion, while others remain silent. As a facilitator, it’s your responsibility to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. Keep track of who speaks and actively call on individuals who haven’t contributed recently. When asking questions, direct them to specific people rather than posing them to the group at large. Provide quiet time for individuals to write down their ideas, and then allow equal time for sharing. This approach ensures that valuable ideas are not overlooked and that all participants feel valued and engaged.

Conclusion

Effective and actionable workshops can be transformative for teams and projects, but they require thoughtful preparation, skillful facilitation, and inclusivity. Rather than dismissing all brainstorming exercises based on negative experiences, approach each workshop with a nuanced and contextual stance. Investing in your facilitation skills and recognizing the value of group ideation can lead to better outcomes for both you and your customers. Embrace the power of workshops as a designer, and you’ll unlock a world of innovative possibilities and collaborative solutions.

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