At Wolff Olins, we believe in workshops, not meetings.
Workshopping is a change methodology. We define it as a “tool for leading teams to solve problems.” They are one of the ways we get organisations to make big and fundamental changes — whether it’s create a different company culture, evolve their business model or build a new kind of relationship with their customers. The most important company decisions get made in workshops.
To that end, we’ve created a master class to teach people what believe we is one of the most fundamental skills of great business leaders.
Workshopping wasn’t always something we did at Wolff Olins. It emerged from the need for less authoritative, top-down to more collaborative ways of making decisions and solving problems within companies.
Over the course of nearly two decades, we’ve run hundreds of workshops with senior leaders across industries. We’ve inspired curators at Tate to make art more accessible to more people. We’ve worked with global fundraising teams at World Animal Protection to build relationships with existing supporters. We’ve helped Mercedes to find new ways to make money.
Workshopping is a skill that everyone can build. Here’s some things we’ve learnt over the years:
Know your North Star
Work with key leaders to co-create a brief that clearly outlines the objectives for the workshop. But remember as Kitchen co-founder Robert Jones says, “plan to walk out with the answer, not to walk in with it.” As a workshop leader, you should have a sense of where you want to take people, but a guided, yet open mindset will often mean you’ll get to a more interesting and innovative place.
Democracy in action
Make sure participants are truly empowered to participate. There’s nothing worse than a meeting that’s guised as a workshop where the senior leaders are just telling people what to do and the only participation is a 5-minute Q&A attached at the end. Design interactive exercises and experiences that get everyone — even the quietest person in the room—to contribute.
Politics can get in the way
Create a mental map of the people in the room while planning the workshop. What are their intentions? What their biases? What do they want to get out of the workshop? Who has the potential to throw things off course? How do different people and teams interact with each other? Who are the most important decision makers? Having a hard think of these questions will help you design the right workshop experience.
Actions with owners
Workshops aren’t anything without action. Whether it’s 3 hours or 3 days, make sure to leave the workshop with clear steps with people who are held accountable to make them happen.
Time is everything
Workshopping is like conducting an orchestra. You have to keep people on time. Plan ahead to calculate the number of hours each exercise and activity will take. This will make sure you have the right pacing and balance of energy.
Take a master class on how to use workshops to unify teams to solve problems with Kitchen.
Richard Houston (@richhouston)is a strategy director and one of Wolff Olins’ top workshop leaders. He’s been at the forefront of designing and leading workshop journeys for companies like PwC, Virgin Active, EE and Skype.