Why Workshops Work (and How to Use Them to Drive Innovation)

Simon Tratnik
  • 4
    min read
  • Simon Tratnik
    Aug 28, 2023

Does the thought of leading or participating in a workshop make you groan because you believe workshops are a waste of time? 

You’re not alone, and there’s a reason: Most workshops aren’t focused on the right things. Today, people believe workshops need to be fun or innovative, but that idea is one of the reasons why most workshops fail.

That’s unfortunate because they can and should be one of a company’s main tools to drive innovation and create successful collaborations between employees. 

Imagine a room abuzz with energy, where minds from various corners of your organization come together productively. It can be a wonderful symphony of ideas and expertise that ignites innovation. 

But this doesn’t just happen by throwing all your employees in a room and hoping for the best. In this article, we’ll explore how and why workshops work. 

An engaged team participating in a workshop, using various tools and facilitation techniques. The transformative power of team building workshops shines as facilitators guide group dynamics, helping everyone get on the same page. The focus is on leveraging skills and knowledge to tackle unique challenges, generating a huge amount of good ideas. This illustrates how workshops work as a catalyst for new ideas and insights, ensuring the whole team is aligned and collaborative in driving project success.

Aren’t Workshops Just Glorified Meetings?

Before we dive into the mechanics, let's set the stage. Workshops aren’t just mere meetings or dreaded “group work”. 

They're immersive experiences that ideally cultivate innovation. Picture it as a theatre of ideas where everyone gets a chance to contribute - not just the loudest or most senior people.

You employed everyone in your company for a reason. Every employee has their strengths and dedicates themselves to their role. Many people truly love their jobs but are frustrated because collaboration is broken in many companies.

In a meeting, discussions happen, ideas are exchanged, and decisions are (sometimes) made - but meetings are mainly passive, less structured, shorter, and less productive than a good workshop. And often, more introverted employees don’t have a chance to get a word in. 

A workshop has a structure meant to achieve a specific goal by including everyone. It's not just a vague exchange of ideas. A workshop must be planned properly to get the desired outcome, like a plan, decision, or solution to a problem.


What Types of Workshop Are There?

Workshops come in many different forms and can take a few hours, a whole day, or even multiple days, depending on their content. Some examples are:

  • Challenge Scoping workshops
  • Retrospective workshop
  • Customer empathy workshop
  • Problem Discovery workshop
  • Project Kickoff workshop
  • Strategy workshop
  • Inspiration workshop
  • Leadership retreat workshop

What Happens in Workshops?

Workshops get everyone involved. There’s no sitting in a corner, trying to hide yourself from the world. Workshops are great at getting awesome ideas out of employees who’d never speak up in a meeting. 

Workshops usually include a variety of exercises and activities. Some examples are:

  • Storyboarding
  • User story mapping
  • Multi-layer voting
  • Prioritization with action board
  • Expert interviewing
  • Lightning demos
  • Solution concept sketching

These exercises and activities always need to be based on a variety of factors, like the workshop’s topic, the participants’ age and experience level, the workshop’s length, the resources you have available to you, and the workshop’s desired outcome.

The short of it: If the participants do nothing in a workshop and only listen to someone or participate in unstructured discussions, it's not a workshop but a lecture or a meeting. In workshops, people are active, not passive. All of them, no exceptions.

A room filled with professionals from different teams, engrossed in a productive discussion facilitated by an expert. The week-long training session employs cutting-edge facilitating methods and feedback loops to enhance the team's ability to face challenges. Participants are fully invested in the process, hoping to develop both individual and collective expertise. This setting is a testament to how companies can create solutions and drive positive outcomes through structured collaboration and participation and that's why workshops work.

So, Why Do Workshops Work?

Workshops work because they facilitate collaborative problem-solving, drawing upon the collective insights of all participants. They are effective because they are designed to culminate in actionable decisions—because that’s their goal.

Structured Agenda and Clear Objectives

A well-structured and well-executed workshop combines active participation, interactive dialogue, and practical application. A time-boxed agenda ensures that everyone remains focused, and clearly defined objectives guide the team toward effective decision-making.

Hands-on Experience and Immediate Feedback

Imagine the workshop facilitator as Gandalf, guiding the Fellowship of the Ring on their quest. Gandalf doesn't fight all the battles or make all the decisions; he provides wisdom, direction, and the tools needed for the journey. Participants, like Frodo and his companions, are the ones doing the actual work, making choices, and coming to conclusions.

Just as Frodo and his companions come to decisions through their journey—like going through the Mines of Moria—the workshop participants navigate through challenges to arrive at a consensus or solution.


Problem-Solving Through Collaboration

Much like the Fellowship of the Ring, a workshop brings together individuals with varied expertise to solve a problem collaboratively. Each participant contributes unique skills and perspectives to the quest at hand.

For instance, just as Aragorn brings combat skills and Legolas provides keen eyesight, in a workshop, a marketer might contribute expertise in customer behaviour while a developer might offer insights into technical feasibility.

The presence of a guiding hand (the "Gandalf" facilitator) ensures that participants remain focused on the ultimate goal and make meaningful progress, even though they are the ones actively participating and making decisions.

A bustling room where cross-functional teams are deeply involved in a collaborative session, demonstrating the art of facilitating effective meetings. Participants, over the course of a week, navigate through challenges using specialized methods. Feedback is freely exchanged, enhancing expertise and fostering a productive discussion that's crucial for the business. The process is geared towards solutions, with everyone hoping to see tangible outcomes. This encapsulates how companies around the world are making collaboration and participation a standard practice, developing a creative approach to tackling business challenges.

How to Use Workshops to Drive Innovation

While workshops don't need to be innovative, they are great tools to drive your company's innovation. Workshops encourage creative thinking, problem-solving, and the generation of new ideas. 

This can happen in different ways and be a bit more complex than a cooking workshop, though the idea stays the same. 

You can use workshops to drive innovation by:

  • Bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and departments  to foster multidisciplinary collaboration.
  • Inspire teams to innovate and create new ideas.
  • Rapidly identifying, prioritizing, and understanding your team's challenges in a short amount of time.
  • Achieving team alignment on problems worth working on and turning them into projects that are assigned to responsible individuals.
  • Facilitating a deeper understanding of customer or user needs, while brainstorming ways to address them more effectively.
  • Conducting hands-on sessions that allow teams to collaboratively develop and refine solution concepts for new products or services.
  • Using visual mapping techniques to transform abstract ideas into tangible concepts.
  • Creating a safe space for participants to learn from past failures, transforming setbacks into stepping stones for future innovation.


Learn More About How to Use the Potential of Workshops for Innovation

The power of workshops in driving innovation should now be clearer to you. Good workshops transform brainstorming into concrete ideas and discussions into solutions. Workshops embrace the collective genius, which helps you to leave the competition behind.

See workshops not as events but as journeys with a defined endpoint. Do you want to embrace the workshop-driven path but aren't sure how to make it work for your company? Contact us to learn more about how a workshop like the Design Sprint can help bring your ideas to life. 

The choice is yours, and the potential is unlimited.

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