Solving difficult problems together — or how to facilitate a workshop.
Workshops.. In the best of times they can bring clarity and next-level collaboration and point teams to solutions to most complex and difficult problems. And yet most of people I know have a trauma about them, seeing them as a big waste of time. I can see why — few workshop meetings I’ve been to were ran effectively. Instead, they turn into long winded discussions about problems different from the one we were supposed to solve in the first place.
In this post, I’ll go over the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of problem-solving workshops. You’ll see how to use them in a way that works across different industries, methodologies and levels of complexity. Then show the common elements that make all workshops work and how they can be rolled up into the role of the facilitator. Let’s go!
What are workshops good at?
Build a shared understanding of difficult problems
We organise workshops to understand problems. Good problems for a workshop are complex and confusing. They need many people with different domains of expertise to collaborate on solution.
They are often called “sticky problems”. You may have an idea of what might solve them, but you won’t know for sure until you try it. And secondly, the conditions are also changing, and therefore any solution will likely become another problem, once those conditions change enough.
Outline potential solutions and create next steps
The goal of a typical workshop isn’t actually to just to understand how hopeless our situation is or worse, to misunderstand it — leaving the attendees more confused than they were before the meeting. Organisers often miss this point.
A good workshop is one that reaffirms our will to live. For most people that means making progress. In this case, finding a solution to the problem.
In most well-organised workshops we have everything we need to create next steps. Our ingredient list must contain:
- at least one decider — important person that can make decisions
- experts on different parts of the problem