Viewing entries tagged
Designing workshops


The 5 elements of every collaboration session

The mental model we'd like to introduce here is a really useful one to understand first and to keep in mind as we layer in other mental models and practices.  The model defines 5 design elements of every collaboration session.  At the most basic think of these as a checklist of the intersecting elements that you, as the facilitator, needs to design and prepare for any session. We won't be going into the detail of 'how' rather defining each and how they relate.  You'll see that we have posts scheduled that will drill down into each of these elements further.


It all starts with Purpose.  All the other elements we describe here hinge on having a clear and meaningful shared understanding of why the session is being run and vision for the impact it needs to achieve.  A statement of purpose should also be precise enough to serve as an anchor against which to course correct during your session and also to evaluate the success of your session.  It should also be precise by clearly define the scope and boundaries of the group's collaboration.  Quite often Principles will also emerge from your understanding of your client's needs that serve as anchors for solutions you generate.  In addition to being precise and meaningful, the purpose statement should inspire the active participation of your group of participants to dedicate their valuable time and energy towards.  

Don't rush through the process of defining the purpose of your session.  Take time to test and iterate the purpose statement, rather than settling on the first idea that comes to mind.


We understand the temptation of jumping straight into identifying and then assembling  a series of activities.  However we strongly advocate that a 'run sheet', 'agenda' or 'session design' is definitely the output but never the starting point when designing the workshop process.  Rather the process is in service of the session's purpose.  It needs to be designed to take the participants on a journey which will help them achieve their purpose and fulfil their potential as a group.  We will elaborate on this is a series of posts on session design, but for now the word 'journey' is instructive in terms of how to think about session design: a connected narrative with characters, plot and scenes rather than a disconnected sequence of activities that might be fun and novel but don't have any coherent intent.  More so than the session purpose, the session design should be iterated and tested many times from different perspectives and from varying levels of detail.  


What's a workshop without people right?  But who do we need in the room for the work we need to do to achieve our purpose?  What different perspectives, knowledge and decision making roles do we need in the room?  Will we be able to surface the right tensions and get to the right level of detail with the group that we've curated?  And 'curated' is the right word here: a group that's been carefully selected rather than invited by open invitation.


Content is about the information we feed into and then capturing the output generated during a session.  There are a few dimensions to consider for content:

  • Whether it's purely informative and directly related to the topic at hand versus content that provides inspiration for new ideas
  • How and when it needs to be fed into a session
  • The type of content media e.g. print, video, audio 


Experience is a broad topic but one that so often overlooked or considered as an afterthought.  If we accept that a good workshop should create a strong memory for participants which anchors them to a pivotal occasion, it's not hard to imagine that experience is an important contributor to the creation of this strong memory.  The way I think about experience is how and what participants see, hear, think and feel during your session. Tangible drivers of experience include sound, light, use of space and furnishings, graphics, and the availability, accessibility and quality of workshop resources.  

A bad workshop experience - such as poor quality catering or hot/cold rooms - can legitimately undermine all the other hard work you've put in to designing and preparing your session.   


Check out this really great story by Chris Burke and Tara Dulaurence as a resource for this framework.