How to Conduct an Awesome Workshop

Because many workshops can be such a drag. Here are a few guidelines you can co-create at the beginning to ensure a successful outcome.


Meetings can be such a pain. We all know this. What can you do? Co-create guidelines! By providing guidelines and rules for the team, you can empower the team. You reduce the opportunity for mental fatigue and ensure that each person’s contributions will be, give equal attention and value. What we often do is select three from this list (or make your own!) then place blank bullet points and ask the participants to help you fill them in. If no one adds any to the list, add one yourself. By co-creating them on-the-fly with everyone in the session, you’re more likely to get things moving.

Everyone participates

One conversation at the room level

Withholding judgement of others ideas

Get up and draw

Be comfortable

Easy on people but tough on ideas

Be timely

The phone stack

No TPS Reports

No “Yes, but…”

Everyone participates

We mean everyone. These sessions are intended to encourage participation by all participants regardless of their status or title.

One conversation at the room level

Have you ever been in a meeting and seen lots of side-bar conversations? We believe that all comments are valuable. This may help others from talking over each other and prevent the s/he-who-speaks-loudest-wins.

Withhold Judgement

This becomes increasingly important when people are coming up with ideas. Bringing forth an idea can be a courageous act, and if there’s harsh judgment, it can unconsciously begin to erode the confidence and subtly drop the quality of ideas.

Be comfortable

We don’t want people to feel like they have to stand up or sit down all day, so if someone is sitting and feels the need to stand, that’s OK. If they need to leave for a call or to go to the restroom, that’s OK too. It seems almost too obvious to call out, but it does help make a difference and establish the tone of the sprint.

Easy on people, tough on ideas

Along the same lines as withholding judgement, we want people to feel like they can contribute. What better way than to value their contributions and also go easy on them for doing so? Ideas are where we can get critical, and this sometimes is a great “two birds with one stone” guideline.

Be Timely

Your job is to make sure the time doesn’t go over what was stated and agreed. If you said you’d have lunch at 12:30, make sure you’re breaking at 12:30, otherwise some people will be looking at their watch thinking: “I thought we were supposed to break for lunch now?” and they will become disengaged.

The Phone Stak

Who doesn’t love their mobile phone? Who also doesn’t put it down in a meeting? Most people. We call the phone stak a literal stack of mobile phones in the middle of the room that keeps the technology from barging into your efforts. Sometimes you can use it, and sometimes it fails, but you have to try it.

First one to reach for their phone buys a round of drinks for all.

No TPS Reports

Do you know what a TPS report is? Neither do we! Keep the jargon and acronyms to a minimum so everyone in the room understands. If necessary, start an acronym dictionary in the back of the room to keep track and let everyone know what “BTKO” really means.

Avoid “Yes, but…”

Anytime the word “but” is said it often invalidates what someone said earlier, so ‘yes but’ is essentially a disagreement. Disagreeing is OK, and preceding with a ‘yes’ can be subtly counterproductive. See rule on withholding judgment.

Lastly, if you ever see anyone breaking these guidelines in the session, call them out on it. If you violate these guidelines (and you probably will as you are human), call yourself out. If you are called out, admit it, apologize and move on.

This is a snippet from the forthcoming Design Sprint Book published by O’Reilly Media.

What has worked for you? Do you have any other suggestions? Write a response!

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