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‘Removing biases is always quite key as a facilitator’, Daniel Tuitt, Freelance Service Design Lead/ Business Design/ Innovation Consultant

Workshops are a great tool to frame problems, ideate design solutions, share ideas with your stakeholders and make decisions. But how do we run a successful workshop like this? If anyone is asking this question like me, this is the article for you to read 📚 Daniel shared his experience and really practical tips with us — enjoy! Leave comments and questions if you’ve got any (or just say hi 👋🏼)

Daniel Tuitt, Freelance Service Design Lead/ Business Design/ Innovation Consultant

As an experienced facilitator, are there any common challenges that you find when facilitating workshops?

I think there are always going to be different challenges because, unless you’ve worked with the same type of participants all the time, you never know who is going to attend, so you always have to prepare exercises and materials and have a clear outcome and purpose for them being here in the first place.

For example, a key thing is making sure that everyone feels listened to — whether you’re the most senior person in the room versus someone that’s quite junior versus someone that’s an introvert versus an extrovert versus someone that has a conflict with someone else within their team.

Engagement is another important key for me. I think people underestimate the ability to use humour, to use icebreakers, to have fun but also have a clear business outcome.

What I sometimes do is prepare a plan or agenda, so people roughly know what they’re getting into, just a high-level view of “these are the things we’re going to cover.”

I think people underestimate the ability to use humour, to use icebrakers, to have fun but also have a clear business outcome.

How do you create a safe space for people to communicate with each other and share their voices so that everyone is heard in the first place?

That’s usually through silent brainstorming where they can provide ideas, giving people space and times to talk about their challenges, but also creating an environment and guiding principles around what you envision a good workshop to look like.

Some of the guiding principles I say is if it’s remote: “Please put your camera on just so we know you’re there and we know you’re engaged. Turn off any tabs or any other things that can take away your attention because we want all your attention there because we value you.”

Make sure they have a clear role within the workshops in general. When they come to breakout groups, I have an exercise I usually do where I give people mini roles such as note-taker, timekeeper or a person who make sure everyone is heard. Some people might take dual roles.

You need to make sure that everyone feels comfortable. Be yourself — whatever that might mean. Respect each other as well because everyone has their own points of view.

You need to make sure that participants know what not to talk about too. Whether it’s in a room or if you’re using Miro, create an area where you can park a topic that’s not related to the workshop focus. You can say, “That’s a great point. It’s not a key focus for our workshop today. I’m going to take your note so we can come back later.” Write it on a post-It note and put it in a corner.

Not one idea should be wasted or ignored. Give it a place so it can be revisited in the future.

Finally, make sure it’s clear everyone knows why they are there in the first place because people are sometimes ‘over workshopped.’ They might be thinking ‘oh another workshop, another time I am going to waste time I could be doing my day-to-day work.’ Try to make sure that everyone knows why it’s so important for the strategic purpose, developing a brand new proposition or a new idea. What are some of the desired outcomes from this workshop? Just be very clear in terms of what you want to achieve. If a key participant needs to leave a little bit early, shift things around so you can get their input in.

Author’s memo: To sum up, these are some of the guiding principles Daniel follows if a workshop is remote:

‘You have to make these clear from the invitation to the time they actually are in the workshop in the first place.’

  1. Ask participants to put their cameras on so we know they’re there and we know they’re engaged.
  2. 2. Ask participants to turn off any tabs or any other things that can take away their attention because we want all their attention and because we value all participants.

3. Make sure they have a clear role especially in breakout groups such as leader/facilitator, monitor, notetaker, time-keeper etc.

4. Make sure that everyone feels comfortable

5. Respect different perspectives and points of view

6. Make sure everyone understands what not to talk about too

7. Explain why this workshop is important and what are the desired outcomes

What would be the benefits and challenges to running workshops as an outsider, a third-party facilitator when trying to create a safe space for participants?

Whether you are an employee of the organisation or a third-party facilitator, there are both pros and cons. When I come in as a third party, sometimes it’s a political minefield for some businesses in general where you don’t want to be seen saying the wrong thing. Even if I was working inside an organisation in-house, I would try to facilitate workshops from a different division or a different part of the business because I think the fact that I know the people, I know the complexities around the project, I might hold back as a facilitator. Removing my own biases is always quite key as a facilitator. You’re not on anyone side. You’re making sure that everyone is being heard.

Put a ‘facilitator’s’ non-biased jacket on to remove biases and your ideas during workshops.

I’m trying to plan a workshop for turning insights into design ideas and inspirations. How would you structure a workshop like this?

I run quite a few workshops that focus on getting the insights of different stakeholders into insights as you’ve mentioned before. Some of them could be problem-framing workshops. This is a tool that’s used by Design Sprint. A problem-framing session is helping you understand who you’re targeting, what problems you’ve faced before, how can you overcome them, who do you need to involve within and without your business.

There are other exercises you can develop to ideate ideas around the priority of certain challenges, getting people to write down their thoughts and you can start connecting some of those key insights and key thoughts that they’ve written down — whether that’s on Post-It notes or in Miro — and start consolidating what are the key findings and how these can become actions for the next steps.

In the same way, I run workshops with potential customers around developing propositions. Once again, it’s the same thing. What are their hopes and fears? What are their perceptions of the existing product or service? You can help get them to develop their own ideas and concepts. It will be a co-creation session where they will have to split up into groups and develop their own ideas, for example.

I have run a two-day workshop where we had a number of different ideas validated by customers. The next step was sharing these ideas with a number of key stakeholders across all the different business units and getting their points of view. What I normally suggest is putting together a mini business case as one of the exercises. We would look at this and develop it even further. We will have an expert to refine what they said. That’s a great way to turn a workshop into insights.

Who do you normally invite to this type of workshop if you want to make sure that we are aware of business requirements or technical feasibility?

You answered your question in some way. You need to consider the desirability, feasibility, and viability of any concept before you can go forward. That means having the voice of as many different business units as possible in the room. Preferably, someone or a couple of people to be a part of each stage.

When it comes to desirability, customer success managers or salespeople are great to invite because they have direct interaction with the customer. Designers and researchers from other departments too.

For viability and feasibility, try to invite subject matter experts. For example, to make sure some ideas are viable, invite lawyers, accountants, or the HR team. From the feasibility side, developers, designers and maybe legal again to see if there are any issues in terms of regulations at all. Again, in terms of how you can actually build, it’s all product managers or product owners. They can start thinking about how to develop the key aspects.

Involve as many voices as possible to improve ‘desirability’, ‘feasibility’, and ‘viability’

What do you think I should read in terms of books or something that I can learn more in-depth as well?

I think it’s less about books. There are some fantastic resources online. I would definitely say the Google Design Sprint is a good book in general just for facilitation because it goes through a two-week design sprint and there are multiple activities that you have to take to be successful in achieving your goals.

Some knowledge from books is still valuable, but I think having real practical information and insights from people like myself and other more experienced experts is really important because there are always new issues and challenges. There could be other ways to do things which you probably won’t find in a book.

‘Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days’ by Jake Knapp

What do you see in the future of workshops?

I think, obviously, workshops are still here to stay. I think the importance of workshops is growing over time because it’s quite hard to do, especially when you’re online. You need to stay creative. You need to always allocate more time when you’re working in a remote setting.

Hybrid is always tricky. For example, in the workshop I ran today, we had one or two people today that couldn’t attend an event. We had to record it, but it’s still very bizarre because you had to stay in a certain position. You’ve got your microphone up. You’re going to the toilet, and if you go still microphoned up, there are funny things like that can happen.

I think the future of workshops and facilitation is that it’s going to push past the general framing of workshops. It’s going to go past just ideation workshops or research workshops or planning workshops. The term “workshop” is going to change and evolve over time.

The term “workshop” is going to change and evolve over time.

Bonus content: Daniel shared a presentation about reimagining a learning experience.

These were the two challenges we worked on — one was reimagining learning, thinking about some of the deep-rooted challenges around learning remotely, and general thinking about the wider communities such as educators, partners, students, and likes; and the other one was building resilience in communities for local businesses. How can local businesses support communities to build resilience over time?

There was a lot of cross-learning through the London chapter of Open IDEO and many others. We were able to engage and talk about what we’ve done. We were able to share some of our key insights and how we worked together over time, build relationships, and get people from international groups to engage with us as well.

There were some key talking points from this around playfulness. Always try to be playful and experimental. Try to be accessible and make sure because some people have children at home. If they can’t turn on their cameras, that’s fine. Some people might face certain issues in terms of internet connections. If you’re working on MURAL, they might be only using their phone versus a screen, so understand those challenges.

Screenshot from ‘Collaborate to Create: Building design community during uncertain times’

Interviewed by Misato Ehara
Edited by Misato Ehara
Illustrations by Andrea Méndez
Edited with Google docs
Published on 7 Feb 2022

Interviewee: Daniel is a Service Designer that has a portfolio career and has worked with brands such as Nike, Ministry of Justice, BSI, OpenIDEO, Lego, Barclays, Visa, British Gas, Nike, Starbucks, Tesco Bank and many more. He supports his clients to understand HOW and WHY they should build propositions through a systematic approach.

Curious about the world, so he can be the catalyst for change! Daniel is on a quest to transform the way people and brands see challenges in local communities by designing better experiences in a collaborative way.

Interviewer: Misato Ehara is a founder of The UX Review, former design Strategist at Gensler. She has just completed a Masters in Curating Contemporary Design and currently working as a User Researcher at Refinitiv/London Stock Exchange Group.

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Misato Ehara

Misato Ehara

UX Researcher @ Wellcome Trust

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