Facilitating workshops can be a great way to collaborate on design challenges and to establish a roadmap or a strategy as a team in order to drive maximum impact. It’s important to involve stakeholders throughout the process. That said, there are certain considerations to keep in mind when facilitating with stakeholders in the room. Stakeholders, for better or worse, can have a lot of influence over a conversation.
Consider using the following techniques to help maximize contributions of others on the team. First, identify which stakeholders will be attending and make the role and desired level of involvement abundantly clear, depending on their management styles or chemistry with the team. Some workshops may run differently than others. OK, so as for stakeholders, we have Leslie and Amir from Business Transformation. Are there any others? Well, Marje from Accounting, also R.S.V.P. does attending. No, no, if the stakeholders have buy in and understand that the goal of the workshop is to maximize output from attendees, then the main focus is to make it clear what their role is in the workshop. For example, Lesley in a mirror might be bought in, but will need to be reminded who the facilitator is and that they will be attending as participants and not as leaders of that workshop. If a stakeholder like Marge in this example has a dominating personality that is has a tendency of talking over others or may inadvertently divert or halt discussions, consider how much of their input will actually be needed. In some cases, having them attend a spectators during a playback or sync meeting as opposed to having them participate could be a good solution. But what is needed their approval only? Or do they also have knowledge that the rest of the team needs in order to make an informed decision, in either case, make everyone’s roles clear and indicate how much they can or should participate and why?
To avoid stepping on any toes, you can say something like, so we know you really want to attend as a participant, but we also want to respect your time. We know you’re busy and we want to present to you a more formalized, refined product rather than having you pour over the rough drafts. Also, we find many participants feel more compelled to generate ideas when their bosses aren’t in the room. So we’re having all the department heads attend the final sync meeting instead. How does that sound? OK, works for me. It’s easy for things to get heated when people start talking about the products they’re currently working on. Does anyone want to share ideas they came up with? And I came up with a Dreux delivery service that works via Bluetooth. No. Are you kidding? We can’t do that. We have so much we have to launch by next month. That reminds me, Alex, did you send Tabitha the notes from our focus group yesterday in order to foster an environment of collaboration, you’ll want to establish some ground rules before starting your workshop to avoid situations like this. Here are a few I like to use to help keep the conversations going. First, strictly enforce a generative phase and an evaluation phase and make it clear that the word no or yes, but should not be uttered during the generative phase. It’s nearly impossible to generate ideas at the same time as evaluating them. Next, you want to clearly establish the scope of the workshop early so that conversations don’t get derailed by other competing topics. And if those topics do come up, use a parking lot or a dedicated standing document for any tangential or related questions or ideas that could warrant their own meeting. That way, you can keep conversations on track. Marje, thank you. But hold that thought. Remember what we said earlier about evaluating ideas? Just as a reminder to everyone, the scope of this workshop is not meant for this month, but for our roadmap for an MVP. So, Jane, please keep going and tell me more about this idea and we’ll see what we can incorporate in this MBP. Finally, you’ll want to ensure that there are multiple ways to contribute. Some people, whether they’re stakeholders or not, talk more than others and may sway a solution one way versus another. I like to incorporate voting, which incorporates stickers and my favorite sound, silence, not voting ensures that every person has a say, whether they like talking in a group or not. You can incorporate voting at any point in a workshop, any time the group has to reach a decision from a number of different options.
The most important thing to tell your workshop participants is that voting is silent, done independently and when possible, anonymously. Facilitating with stakeholders can be a painstaking process fraught with politics and tension. But it doesn’t have to be. It can be a great way to get buy in and to demonstrate to these stakeholders the power of your workshops. To learn more, check out our article on conducting you workshops and exercises, or read about our full day course on facilitating UKCS workshops.