Workshop Planning (VII): Interim Goals

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

Part VI <<< >>> Part VIII

In the last post, we planned the time that is needed for each of our phases. Now it’s time to set out goals! As we already have our overall workshop goal, this is not too difficult now. In a way, you are just adding milestones to your overall goal.

Why Milestones Are Important

It may seem tedious to plan a goal for each step, but it is actually not only important for you as the workshop leader. It’s also very important for the participants! This doesn’t mean that you will explicitly communicate each goal – your participants will feel whether you know your goal. Your moderation of each phase will depend on your focus, so if you know where you want to go, your participants will notice it. If you get lost, they’ll notice, too.

Too… Much?!

You can also focus too hard. It’s a common feedback after a workshop that the participants felt like the workshop leader forced them in a way to go into a certain direction, because they had a goal in mind. As usual, the art is to find the balance between knowing and pursuing your goals, but doing it together with the participants. The less ego you put into your workshop, the better. Remember, you’re there to assist your participants to reach the goals – not to reach them yourself.

Where To Start

If we include warm-ups and feedback into this exercise, we’ll have to define nine milestones in total. As a reminder, our overall goal is this one:

After this workshop, my team will have agreed on new working structures and communication rules. We will have formulated action items to follow up on, assigned them to owners and set clear deadlines.

In order to know where to start, take a minute to imagine the group you’ll work with:

  • How is the general mood in the team?
  • What will be their expectations for the workshop? (You can also start with collecting their expectations in the warm-up; or you’ll have a quick round some days before the workshop and ask them to write them down.)
  • How goal-oriented is the team in general? Will they need a lot of help to focus?
  • Are there conflicts in the team (either personal or on a more general level), that might disturb the workshop?
  • How motivated is the team?
  • How used is the team to the workshop format?

There’s no need to write this down somewhere; just use the questions for a quick mental exercise. Depending on how motivated, focused and goal-oriented your team is, you’ll know how big your first step can be. We will start with a discussion and thinking about your participants will help you to manage your and their expectations, as well as picking them up where they are.

Defining The Milestones

So, in my example, we’ll have a team which has been working together for a long time, they are used to discussions and usually are very straightforward with their feedback. However, they are not used to the workshop format. Their daily business mainly consists of working on requests they receive from other departments, which means they are used to receiving a lot of instructions to follow. With this group in mind, I know that they’ll have their fun in the discussion, but may need more help to work out the results in the end. It is crucial to remember that how many instructions or help someone needs does not depend on how intelligent they are! Do not mix this up. The only fact that is important here is how used they are to what you want them to do.

The Discussion

Why do we start with a discussion again? Because we want the team to start reflecting on a certain topic, from their own perspectives. Great goals for the first workshop phase include:

  • Raising awareness for a problem or topic
  • Giving the team the time to get used to a topic
  • Collect first impressions of a problem or topic

What you want to achieve is that everyone’s brain is stimulated and starts associating and thinking about the topic. Remember to formulate all milestones in the SMART goal format – so that you’ll be able to really check them off according to measurable results:

After the discussion, everyone in the team is aware of the current communication problems. The team has an overview of different opinions among them. They have started to evaluate their collaboration, but not yet come to conclusions necessarily.

For the following phase, it’s important to directly use the end point of the first phase as the starting point. This means that once you’ve set the goal for the first phase, you automatically know where the second one will start.

Gathering The Results

While the first phase intended to give an impulse to everyone, now it’s time to really work out all the dirty details. The goal of the second phase is quite obvious; you want to end up with a list of some sort, in which results and findings of the discussion are summarized.

After the second phase, we have agreed on a list of results and findings from the discussion, which is shared with everybody in the workshop.

Yes, sometimes it’s that easy. The tricky part is how to get there – but we’ll take care of this in the next post.

Identifying pain points

As you will have discussed your findings quite extensively already, you should keep in mind that this phase bears the danger of duplicating the precious one. In order to not bore your participants, we have to add some new input during this phase.

All participants have a joint understanding of the existing pain points, and have prioritized them according to the provided material.

I’ll explain what the material could be in the next post, I promise!

Alternative Collaboration Models

After we have established a joint understanding of the status quo, this is the phase in which you add new input which shows an ideal state. This can be a case study of another company, a text about collaboration theory, a video of a team that transitioned to a different collaboration form. Which input you choose depends on your participants. Are they hands-on, and like to learn from other’s experience? Or do they need the full theory before they are willing to try something? You will most likely have a group that tends to go in one direction or the other – as everything in the real world, it’s very rare to encounter one extreme or the other. In most cases, it’s a mix of characteristics.

In my case, I’ll imagine that the group likes to learn from others, but also from experts. Showing a video is always a nice treat which most people will enjoy (as always, you will never be able to please everyone), but also depends on the facilities at your workshop location. Reading is more tedious – and the text needs to be short enough – but more universal.

All participants have read the text about collaboration models and briefly discussed their impressions as well as the main points.

During this phase, there’s no need to have a clear written result, as this phase is only the preparation for the next one, which will take care of exactly this.

Similarities And Differences

This phase is the highlight of your workshop. The first four phases prepared everyone with the mindset, knowledge and input they need to fulfill this task. This means that the goal of this phase is very similar to your overall goal – minus the action items, as they will follow later.

The team will have agreed on similarities and differences between their status quo and an ideal status, and will have discussed necessary changes and projects.

Again, the tricky part is how to get there – which we’ll elaborate later.

Action Items

You might already have guessed – the goal of this phase is exactly the second part of the overall goal:

We will have formulated action items to follow up on, assigned them to owners and set clear deadlines.

Sometimes it’s that easy.

Goals For Warm-ups And Feedback

We left out the general workshop items like warm-ups and feedback. That is because they usually have goals that are not directly related to the topic of the workshop. With the warm-up, you have several options:

  • You want your participants to calm down and start to focus.
  • You want everyone to get to know each other better, or about a certain aspect of each other (i.e., an opinion, experience, or similar).
  • You want to avoid that everyone goes into a food coma after lunch (yes, that’s a thing!)

You see where this is going. Depending on your goal here, you can choose an activity. Sometimes, the topic of the activity can be adapted to match the workshop topic – but that’s not necessary in all cases.

With the feedback round, there’s two goals:

  • You want to know how your team liked the workshop and how their general mood is.
  • You want to know what you could improve for the next time.

There are several techniques for providing and receiving feedback. It also depends on how comfortable you and your team are to give open feedback (especially if it’s critical) – but the goals will roughly stay the same.


If you would learn about workshop planning in university, you would now start to formulate all goals in a similar manner, i.e., starting with We will… or The participants can… or something similar. In my opinion, this is a step you can skip. You can do it, if it helps you to see whether you are actually clear on your goals. As long as you can answer the SMART questions, all other formulations are fine, too. As you will need this in the real world where you don’t have ages to make everything perfect, this is a step that you can very easily skip without losing much.

So, without further cleaning up, let’s move on to the tricky details!

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