Make Every Meeting a Workshop

Liam Oscar Thurston
The Almanac
Published in
4 min readMar 1, 2016


Picture this. You’ve gathered your team to kick off a new project. Words like innovative, user-centred, impactful, and best-in-class are being thrown around while knowing head nods ripple in their wake. There’s excitement in the air. This is it, this is going to be the one, the revolutionary project you’ve all been waiting for.

The meeting wraps and your team leaves inspired, ready to work feverishly towards a meaningful outcome. However you’ve all just used the same powerful words … to describe completely different solutions.

Time passes and outputs are created. You regroup, excited to review progress, but there’s an awkward silence after the big reveal. ‘This … isn’t what I was picturing.’ ‘I don’t think we’re on the same page…’ ‘Let’s revisit why we’re doing this again…’ Let the micromanaging and pixel pushing begin. We’ve all been there, and it’s not fun.

Nobody likes going back to the drawing board, so our team starts there. We turn every meeting into a valuable workshop with Design to Align: a group drawing exercise based on the design charrette.

Here’s how to do it:

Why you need to Design to Align

  • Align your project team
  • Save time and money
  • Ideate and refine a solution you can test

This exercise will help validate assumptions, expose biases, and get your teams’ great and not-so-great ideas onto paper. It’s as much about deciding what could work as what will definitely not work.

When to do it

  • You’ve identified a problem to be solved for your business, or for your client
  • You’ve set a goal and defined what success could look like
  • You need to ideate on several different solutions and agree on a direction to pursue

Run this exercise regularly throughout a project, whenever you’re stumped or need to ideate on what’s next. Although the word ‘Design’ is in the title, this exercise is for your whole team. You’ll all be drawing your best ideas to align around interesting direction(s) to refine and test, and there’s no pressure to make them look good.

Who you need

  • 3–7 open-minded team members who are stakeholders in this project
  • Designate one person as moderator to watch the clock, lead the workshop and guide the discussions

Project execution sometimes lives in one department, but approvals are likely shared beyond your team. Be sure to include a diversity of opinions and experience on your team that will lead to a well-informed solution.

What you need

  • 1–2 hours and a room that will fit your team around a table
  • Sharpies, blank paper, and dot stickers for each team member
  • A timer

Although an hour will do it, this is a very productive and collaborative team building exercise that should run as long as 3 hours if necessary.

How to do it

  • Decide on the problem you’ll focus on solving, and the specific goal of this concept — focus on one screen at a time, you only have 5 minutes
  • Start the timer for 5 minutes and draw! Everybody sketches their unique solution quickly, keep them loose and have fun
  • Each person gives their concept a punchy title, pastes them on the wall, and pitches their idea to the team
  • Discuss each concept and dot vote on the parts that are and are not working within each drawing (3 votes per team member, per round)
  • Go back to the draw step and repeat! Don’t be shy to borrow your teammates best ideas as you iterate

A shared vision will quickly emerge as you collaborate to create a beautiful frankenstein of your team’s best ideas. Repeat the exercise and refine your concepts until your team is aligned around a shared vision. I find three rounds can be sufficient, but have run this workshop as many as nine times in a row to explore a complex problem.

Now that you’ve harnessed your team’s creative and intellectual potential and decided what direction(s) to pursue, you can produce informed prototypes that will minimize rework. Turn your team’s passionate hyperbole into actionable outputs that can be tested. The next time you find your team using colourful words to describe a creative solution, grab your supplies, get creative, and Design to Align.



Liam Oscar Thurston
The Almanac

Senior Director of User Experience at Loblaw Digital, ex Creative Director @TWG, building human-centered software for all.