Workshop Planning (XII.2): Working Form Changes

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

Part XII.1 <<< >>> Part XIII

We’re nearly done with our workshop plan! In the last article, we finished the whole first half of the workshop, ending with a longer break which you could also use for having a team lunch. Let’s dive into the second half!

The second half starts with an external input. I already wrote two blog posts about providing input as such. This time, the input will be text-based. As mentioned earlier, I like using hbr.org as a source for articles – they are informative, well-written and can easily be understood even if you’re not into all that management talk. For my topic of moving to agile collaboration, I found an article which in general fits this topic quite well: Agile at Scale. It is about scaling up agile teams in companies, and mentions many differences between traditional collaboration and the agile framework.

Less Is More

When you plan a reading session in your workshop, make sure to provide a short enough text. Not everybody reads at the same pace, and you want to make sure to not stress out half of your participants by applying a lot of time pressure. As a rule of thumb, don’t give them more to read than one page of text (around 300 words). If you have a longer text and you don’t want to narrow it down so much, you can also give each group a different excerpt and have them present their results afterwards.

In my case, I will narrow the text down to 300 words maximum because I didn’t plan for a phase afterwards where the groups would exchange their knowledge. It can be quite frustrating if you split up the input into groups without everyone having the chance to choose the topics of their liking, or an extensive exchange afterwards. I would not recommend to do this unless you can guarantee that everybody will be informed about their favorite topics by the end of the workshop.

Reading = Working Alone

Reading is something that you best do by yourself. So your first phase after the break (excluding the warm-up) will start with everybody working on their own. It is a bit risky to have such a quite phase directly after the break – if it were a lunch break, you can expect people to go into a ‘food coma’. That is why the warm-up is extra important here. By having everybody move around, maybe stretch or change positions, you can prevent the food coma which will facilitate it for everybody to read a page of text. Additionally, the warm-up can assist you in quickly recapturing the main points you collected before the break in a playful manner.

You should provide everyone with a set of questions, so that they know what to focus on. As we’ll work on the differences between agile working forms and our own situation, I can ask them to focus on the advantages of agile working forms. The easier and more straightforward the task, the better – you should avoid that understanding the task alone takes several minutes.

Discussing Results With A Partner

After everybody has read the text, your participants should have time to think everything through. Exchanging about what you have read with your neighbor is a great way of checking whether what you understood from the text is actually what the group understood. This will not only help the slower readers (who might not be finished, or who might have skipped parts of the text because they were afraid to be the last ones), but it will also create a solid base on which the following discussion can start. Note that at this point, it has not been said yet that there are any differences between the text they read and their own working style. I would recommend that you give them enough time to identify where they stand, instead of just assuming that everybody thinks the same as you (that agile working forms are not yet part of your daily work). For this task, ask everybody to discuss with their neighbor. As it’s usually difficult to just talk about what you’ve read, make sure to give them another question. If you’re using a flipchart, write the question down (or have it prepared already). If not, you can use a whiteboard (which will also be your medium of choice in an online workshop), or hand out a sheet where the task is written down. By providing the question in a written format, you can make sure that everybody actually got the question. It will add additional focus to the discussions that will now start.

You can ask everybody, for example, to check which advantages and disadvantages they found for agile working forms. Afterwards, ask them to compare their own situation to the textbook situation, as well as giving their opinion about it.

The whole reading session should not take longer than 30 minutes. I would recommend to set 15 minutes as the time allowed for reading. Afterwards, there will be ten minutes for the discussion with their neighbor, as well as five minutes buffer (lost to explaining and introducing the phase). You can stress that you don’t expect anybody to dive into the text deeply at this point, and that they will have additional time to discuss the details afterwards.

Going Into The Details: Working In A Small Group

This is the core phase of your workshop. Let’s review what we’ve achieved so far:

  • You started with analyzing and discussing the collaboration within your team and with other teams and have identified pain points, as well as change requests.
  • You have read about agile working forms and their advantages, and your participants have discussed these findings briefly with a neighbor.

Now, it’s time to bring both together! Ask your participants to gather in small groups (around three to five people per group would be perfect) or divide them into groups. Although there is no need to split up the partner teams from previous phase, it can add an extra dynamic to the discussion if you do so. The quite simple question the groups should answer is: How do we want to collaborate in the future?

You should also give them the desired results of their discussions. In this case, I would ask them to list necessary changes and projects, as well as things they would like to keep. There is a great exercise you can use for this which is called Start – Stop – Keep. The results will be sorted into these three columns, which can either be done on a flipchart sheet, on three DIN A4 sheets, or remotely (if it’s a remote workshop). There should be some written output in the end, to allow for a quick wrap-up afterwards.

As the phase in total should last around 45 minutes, it’s quite a long time. I would recommend to ask your participants to first keep going for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remind them that they should put down their discussion results (which will easily take another ten minutes). I can say from my experience that most groups tend to forget about the time if they discuss, and are glad if they receive a reminder after some time to write down their results. Use the other five minutes as a buffer – you will need them, either in the beginning for the groups to form, or in the end for everybody to come back to the original seating order.

Wrap-up In The Presentational Setting

For the last phase, ask every group to present their results. Depending on the vast amount of those, you may limit it to their TOP 3 aspects. This will give you more than enough to work with, and it will additionally make it necessary for each group to apply a priority to their points.

The setting will be the same as in the beginning of the workshop (everybody in one group), with each group having an equal amount of talking time. You as the moderator should make sure that nobody goes overtime. You can also add small breaks inbetween where you gather questions from the audience. Depending on how many questions there are, you can decide to answer them immediately, or write them down and have a follow-up. Depending on how many groups you have, the 20 minutes planned for this phase may be too short. You can calculate at least three minutes per group – if you know that your team is thorough and likes longer talks, plan for five minutes per team. Add an additional minute for changing the setup inbetween the presentations – this will give you a rough idea of how long you’ll need.

After each presentation – or after all of them, if there are not too many groups, quickly ask for the most pressing action items resulting from the mentioned projects. As this should be done rather quickly, instead of writing them down on the whiteboard or flipchart, you can also scribble them in your notebook and share them with everybody after the workshop. As these are your anchors for any follow-ups that you will have, you can take a bit of extra time to bring them into their final form.

This phase concludes your workshop. Before everybody can go back to daily business or into the weekend (depending on when your workshop takes place), you should have a quick feedback phase. At this point, it will show if any of your phases went into overtime, as this time will be reduced from your feedback phase. I usually plan two feedback exercises: An extensive one, in case we have time left, and a very brief one, if we are in a rush. I decide on the spot which one to take. In general, nobody is angry if you finish a few minutes early, but taking longer than expected can be quite exhausting and problematic. Of course, in a motivated team, everybody will stay and will also not find it offensive per se that they will have to stay longer, but again, inclusivity is the topic here. If somebody has to collect their children from kindergarten, they need to leave on time. In order to not stress out your parents, make sure to finish on time.

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