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Are Workshops the New Meeting?


Have you ever joined a meeting about an important issue, sat around with 5-10 other people for an hour and lost track of what was happening… then concluded by scheduling another meeting? Don’t worry– you’re not alone. A recent study by Harvard Business Review found that out of 182 senior managers in various industries, 71% said meetings are unproductive and 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.

I think a lot of us know this to be true. In the past several years, we at Neuromagic have started using workshopping methods in addition to and in replacement of traditional meetings to increase engagement and productivity. We’ve found that they’re more productive, get more people sharing, and keep everyone more energized.

Though workshops don’t work for every situation, they can be incredibly valuable when used correctly in situations that have a predefined issue to tackle or topic to explore.

What is a Workshop?

Essentially, a workshop is a group of people gathering to work on or learn something in hands-on. There’s lots of workshops outside of the world of business, from crafting to music to theatre. In general, they tend to involve some level of creativity and hands on work. The same goes for workshops in a business setting.

They also require focus on a particular subject. You can’t get together and have a workshop without an agenda or issue to tackle— that would just be your team in a room with some post-its and pens. You may set a meeting with a particular subject on the table, but focus often leads to nebulous conversation around a broad topic or range of topics.

As the Collins English Dictionary puts it:

a period of discussion and practical work on a particular subject, in which a group of people share their knowledge and experience

It’s the practical work on a particular subject that really differentiates a meeting and a workshop. Otherwise, they share the similar purpose of knowledge exchange.

Benefits of Workshops

  • Participatory: No matter how hard we try to balance the voices in the room at a meeting, some people get drowned out. Introverts and juniors might have great ideas that never get heard, either due to insecurity about speaking or a lack of room to do so. In a workshop, everyone gets to participate equally.
  • Engaging: Workshops are made up of activities that everyone can participate in. There’s no one in the room (or video call) just sitting silently and listening to someone else talk (or not listening at all and working on something else!)– there will either be some conversation, or an individual activity to work on at all times.
  • Built-in Decision-making Frameworks: Workshop activities like sticker-dot voting and using priority matrixes help to make decision-making quick and painless. Visuals help to prevent the group from going off on a tangent and focus on the decision at hand. With simultaneous and/or anonymous voting, you also avoid pressuring team members to side with what seems popular or what the highest ranking person in the room wants.
  • Facilitation: Workshops should have a designated facilitator to keep everyone on track. Facilitators make sure that everyone is participating equally, and gently guide teams through activities.

3 Workshops Templates to Try

There are tons of free resources online to help get you started running workshops in your organization. Here are a few that we recommend:

  • Lightning Decision Jam: This quick decision-making workshop was created by Berlin-based design agency AJ&Smart and helps you prioritize and make decisions in under an hour.
  • Marketing Alignment Workshop: If you’re trying to get your team to consensus and make decisions about marketing goals, but keep ending up running in circles… this is for you! We created this slightly longer workshop to use in the place of endless meetings, that allows for review and decision-making regarding company goals which guide marketing strategy. We now have it as a free workshop template on Miroverse.
  • Google Design Sprint Methods: Google’s Design Sprint homepage has a number of resources about Design Sprints, including these “Recipes”— individual short workshops and activities that can be used within or separately from a Design Sprint. (Design Sprints are a workshop based methodology, for more info check out our Beginners Guide to Design Sprints)

Tools for Running Remote Workshops

Whether you’re co-creating across the world with global clients or working remotely with a small team, remote workshops are easier than ever with the advent of remote whiteboards, video conferencing, and cloud based sharing. These are a few of the basic tools you’ll need to run a workshop remotely:

  • Miro: An online digital whiteboard tool with a number of great features and capabilities, including an infinitely expansive workspace, pdf upload support, sticky notes, drawing features, and built-in video communication and timer.
  • Mural: Another great online digital whiteboard tool where you can create neatly organized canvases, add various content (images, videos, links, pdfs), and run timed activities.
  • Zoom: There’s lots of video-conferencing platforms but Zoom wins out for its convenient breakout room feature! If you’re running a larger workshop, it’s useful to be able to break down into smaller groups to work and later reconvene to review.
  • Notion: Our favorite note-taking tool. Though not necessarily used for live collaboration, notion is great for taking notes about workshop results, setting up necessary background materials like notes or images, and generally staying organized remotely.

As long as you’ve taken care of remote workshop prep and have a good grasp at how to facilitate with remote tools, remote workshops can be just as fun and engaging as in-person!

Though meetings might not be replaced by workshops, there is certainly a lot to be gained from integrating workshops into your work routine. If you have a clear issue to tackle, workshops can be a productive, fun and efficient way to co-create and decision-make with your team while avoiding never-ending discussion lack of results from traditional meetings.

Rei Sasaki

Service Design Intern
Rei is currently a student at Tokyu University of Foreign Studies, majoring in French and Sociolinguistics. She is passionate about understanding society and culture, with a current focus on Service Design and sustainability.

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