Workshop Planning (I): Setting The Goal

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This article is part of the series on workshop planning. Check out the whole series!

>>> Part II

As a team leader, empowering your team and helping them succeed is critical. In the digital age, you will not be respected as a leader just because you have a title. Instead, your team will trust you if you show responsibility, engagement, and trustworthiness. The style of your collaboration with your team and other teams is crucial on your path to obtaining these virtues. As nice as it is to have an external coach for every workshop, this is not always possible (time- or money-wise), and you will be in the position to plan and execute a workshop with your team. The better you plan ahead, the better the outcome of your workshop will be – so every minute you can invest in planning has its worth.

What Is A Workshop?

It’s one of those words everybody talks about, but nobody ever says what they mean by it, right? A common definition sounds like this: a meeting at which a group of people engage in intensive discussion and activity on a particular subject or project. In this matter, it’s similar to a seminar or a class. In a work environment, a workshop is a session in which a team has a certain amount of time to discuss or work on a certain topic, to reach a desired and pre-defined outcome. A workshop differs from your usual workday in terms of focus, working forms, and structure. There are several reasons why you should do a workshop with your team:

  • Discussing and reacting to changes is easier in a defined environment, where everybody is given the time and space to speak up, share their thoughts and ideas, and be open about their feelings (towards a certain topic – or in general, depending on the workshop). A workshop will facilitate this process for your team members, especially with very complex, abstract, or difficult topics which tend to be neglected when everyone does business as usual.
  • Working on a project or plan to get it started, defining general rules and responsibilities within a new team, working group, or project. Kicking off a new project with a workshop session can be very beneficial, not only because you will not accidentally forget to define rules and responsibilities by sliding into the project gradually, but also because a workshop with a great outcome will give an extra boost of motivation to you and your team.
  • Analyzing a project or product retrospectively and discussing future steps. Using a workshop to focus on this will help the process stay on topic, as well as goal-oriented.
  • Introducing a new policy or new structure. Depending on how set this already is, a workshop can also be a great means of just bringing this new knowledge to your team, even if you cannot decide against it. The structure of the workshop will be different as less creative input is needed.

These are just examples of where planning and executing a workshop could bring a great outcome. And the outcome needs to be great in order to justify the high efforts of preparing a workshop! What I can promise you is: The initial effort will go down significantly if you have built up a basis of material and structures you can use – so keep on reading to learn what you need to do.

How Can We Define ‘Outcome’?

The outcome of a workshop differs depending on the goals you set. Which is why here’s the first rule of every workshop: Do not start planning without a clear understanding of your goal. The worst case scenario is that your goal is not clear, you tell the whole team to spend a day in a meeting room with discussions and they don’t get why they have to do it. It’s super easy to avoid this – if your goal is clear, this will not happen. There are different kinds of goals – let’s call them the content goals and soft goals.

  • Content goals: Your workshop should have one content goal. This goal is related to the topic of your workshop and will have a tangible outcome. Well, in the digital age, it does not necessarily need to be tangible such as a print-out or a poster, but you will write something down – in the best case, an agreement, further steps, and clearly defined action items.
  • Soft goals: Besides your content goal, you will always have several soft goals. Even if you don’t plan for them explicitly, they might just happen to be there. You can also focus on some of them to enhance the outcome even more.

Soft Goals Are Not Soft At All

Even if they are called soft goals – similar to soft skills – they are not really soft, nor can they simply be dismissed. On the contrary, it’s the soft goals that are the most important benefits of a workshop! Just think about the following:

  • Instead of you deciding on something after consulting with your team, you will come to a team agreement.
  • Instead of you planning out the new project, you will discuss what the mutual value for all stakeholders is and set your goals accordingly.
  • Instead of you asking for feedback from your team, you will sit together and discuss on an eye level.

The clear benefits of this approach is that your team will be empowered to speak for themselves, they will feel heard and seen, and they will know that you appreciate their input and opinions. We are living in an age where your team is not a bunch of people just doing the tasks they are told to do, but where they are needed and wanted to give provide their ideas and contribute to the planning as well as the execution. Depending on what your team’s purpose is, this might differ slightly. A good rule of thumb is: The more creative your industry or department, the more independent, self-operating and critical you want your team to be. By having a workshop, you’re inviting them to share their knowledge – which they will gladly do.

Goal-Orientation is Key

The success of your workshop highly depends on the goal(s) you set. Let’s get one thing straight first: With a somehow functioning team (i.e., a team that will not kill each other or themselves if they are locked in a room for more than two hours), even just meeting and discussing will lead to a mediocre outcome. You can recognize this by feedback like:

  • It was nice to meet everybody, and to have the time to discuss some topics.
  • I liked it that we were given the opportunity to voice our opinions on this topic.
  • The atmosphere was great and I think that I got to know my colleagues better.

While it is nice to receive this kind of feedback after a workshop, you should aim for higher outcome than this. As I mentioned before, the outcome has to justify the workshop preparation time and effort! If you look closer, you will find it difficult to see which goals a workshop could have had when these were the things you received as feedback afterwards.

As a rule of thumb, you should set one content goal. The content goal will define what you want to achieve with the workshop, in a form that you can present to your team, other colleagues, or superiors. The content goal should be presentable and understandable in one sentence, it should contain a reasonable and measurable result. Keep the SMART goal structure in mind when formulating it! Compare the following statements and you will understand why:

We will discuss how the MVP for our new product line could look like in the workshop.

At the end of the workshop, we will have defined the MVP for our new product line and assigned follow-up tasks to everyone on the team.

See what I mean? The first goal is not very clear. What will you discuss? How far do you want to come? What do you want to achieve? The second sentence answers all these questions. At the end of the workshop, you will have a list, or document, poster, or whichever medium fits your needs, where the MVP is defined. You will also have assigned the follow-up tasks to everybody on the team, which means that every single person attending the workshop will go home with a clear view on their next days, weeks, or months.

The single reason of why it is so important to define the goal correctly is that in the moment where you come back to your goal, and ask – Have we achieved what we wanted? – you will not be able to clearly answer this question without a clear statement to begin with. In order to be able to give yourself and everybody else the satisfaction that they nailed it, you need a well-formulated goal. So don’t take this away by being sloppy with your goal formulation! It will be worth the effort, I promise.

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