Posts Tagged ‘Organizing’

Planning a Workshop
Organizing and Running a Successful Event

Running a great workshop that everyone will remember

Anyone who has ever planned a workshop will tell you that it’s a big job. And planning a good one? Well, that takes organization, focus, and a lot of creativity.

Running a workshop is useful whenever you need a group of people to DO something together, rather than just report on what they’ve done. Examples include bringing experts together to solve complex problems, designing sophisticated processes that need the input of many different people, and making decisions that take into account the views of different individuals and groups.

Some people HATE going to workshops. Done wrong, they can be a huge waste of time and money. However, if they’re planned well, they can be incredibly valuable for everyone involved. This is why advance planning is critical.

So how do you prepare for a workshop that will be not only relevant and productive, but memorable as well?

Before the Workshop

Follow these steps to make sure your workshop is a valuable experience for everyone:

  • Step 1: Define the Goals

    Every workshop must have a goal. Do you need to improve your company’s hiring procedures? Do you want to teach managers how to be better organizers? Do you need to do some team building with a newly formed team?

    Many workshops are a waste of time because there’s no clear goal kept at the center of the discussion. Without this clear goal, there’s really no point in getting people together.

  • Step 2: Decide Who Will Attend

    Knowing who will attend directly relates to your objective. For example, if your workshop’s goal is to develop a detailed solution to a problem, then you probably want 10 or fewer key attendees. If your goal is centered on education, then you might be happy with a much larger group, which divides into smaller groups for discussion.

    Make a list of the people who need to be there. Try to be as specific as possible, but leave a few openings for last-minute additions.

  • Step 3: Choose the Right Location

    If you have 10 attendees, then the conference room down the hall will probably be just fine. But if you have 50 people, you may have to find an outside location that’s large enough.

    Think about the logistics and practical details of your workshop when you choose the location. Will everyone be able to see your visual aids? If you need a certain technology, like teleconferencing, will the location support it? Are there appropriate facilities for breakout sessions? Will everyone be able to reach the venue? Will you need to organize accommodation for people who are coming from a long way away? And what catering facilities does the venue provide?

  • Step 4: Create an Agenda

    Now that you know your primary objective and who will attend, you can start to develop an outline of how you’ll achieve the workshop’s goal.

    • Main points – Create a list of main points to discuss, and then break down each larger point into details that you want to communicate to your audience.
    • Visual aids – List the visual aids, if any, you’ll use for each point. If you need technical support, this helps the people providing it to determine where they need to focus their efforts.
    • Discussions and activities – Take time to list exactly which group discussions and activities you’ll have at which point in the workshop. How much time will you allow for each exercise? Make sure your activities are appropriate for the size of the group, and ensure that your venue has the resources (for example, seminar rooms) needed to run sessions.

    Remember, the more detailed your plan, the more you’ll ensure that your workshop will run to schedule – and be successful.

  • Step 5: Develop a Follow-up Plan

    The only way to find out if your workshop was a success is to have an effective follow-up plan. Create a questionnaire to give to all participants at the end of the event, and give them plenty of opportunity to share their opinions on how well it went. Although this can be a bit scary, it’s the only way to learn – and improve – for the next time.

    It’s also important to have a plan to communicate the decisions that were reached during the workshop. Will you send out a mass email to everyone with the details? Will you put it on your company’s intranet? People need to know that their hard work actually resulted in a decision or action, so keep them informed about what’s happening after the workshop has ended.

During the Workshop – Getting People Involved

Once you have a solid advance plan, figure out how to bring some excitement into your event. You know the topics that you want to cover, but how will you make the information fun and memorable for your team?

Getting everyone involved is key to a successful workshop. If you stand up and talk for three hours, you’re just giving a lecture – not facilitating a workshop. Everyone needs to participate.

Creating group exercises is different for each workshop. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Many people are nervous about speaking up in an unfamiliar group. If you plan group exercises, keep the size of each group small, so people are more comfortable talking and interacting.
  • Mix up different types of people in each group. For example, if several departments participate in your workshop, don’t put members of the same department in their own group. By encouraging people to interact with other departments, they can learn to look at things from different perspectives.
  • Determine how you’ll record the ideas from each group. Will participants shout them out while you write them down? Or will they write down their own ideas and then give them to you? This is a small, but important, detail that’s often overlooked.
  • If you have five or fewer groups, spend time allowing the entire team to evaluate the ideas from each smaller group. This is a great way to narrow down your list of ideas, and let the good ones really shine.

Remember, spend as much time as you can creating fun and interesting group exercises. These will likely keep everyone interested and participating.

Overall Workshop Tips

Here are some more ideas for running a successful workshop:

  • If you plan the meeting, you may want to facilitate it as well. Learn how to do this effectively in The Role of a Facilitator.

  • Start the meeting with a few icebreakers to get everyone relaxed and comfortable.

  • If your workshop’s goal is to address a difficult or sensitive topic, it’s especially important to get the group comfortable before starting. One way is to tell a story that’s loosely related to the topic before you begin discussing the difficult issue.

  • Sometimes, not everyone has to stay for the entire workshop. For instance, the CEO might be too busy to attend the whole session. Identify which sections your busiest participants need to attend, and suggest in advance when they might want to arrive and leave. They’ll appreciate your consideration.

  • Where possible, avoid holding your workshop after lunch, between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon. For many people, this is their slowest, most unproductive time of day. Your group will probably be more energetic if you schedule the event in the morning or late afternoon. (If you have to run the workshop in the early afternoon, make sure there’s plenty of strong coffee available!)

  • If your workshop’s ultimate goal is to make a decision about something, the more people who attend, the less likely it is that you’ll reach a decision. Here, try to keep the number of people attending to a minimum (for example, by issuing minutes after the event to people who are just interested.) It’s also important to become familiar with the different strategies for team decision making. See our article on Organizing Team Decision Making to learn more.

Key points:

There’s no doubt that planning a great workshop is a lot of work. But if you spend time thinking through the details, everyone will get full value from the event.

The workshop’s goal should be at the center of all your planning. Creative exercises will get everyone relaxed and involved, and don’t forget to follow up afterward: Although it can be scary to hear what people really thought of all your hard work, it’s the only way you’ll improve your next event.

Organizing Team Decision-Making
Reaching Consensus for Better Decisions

Consensus is often essential.

While many of the decisions we make on a daily basis are quite simple, some are not. These decisions may involve assimilating a huge amount of information, exploring many different ideas, and drawing on many strands of experience. And the consequences of the right or wrong decision may be profound – for the team and for the organization.

So, should leaders be decisive, think the issues through on their own, and take firm action? In some cases, no.

There’s a limit to how much information any one individual can process, and a limit on how many perspectives one person can see. Many decisions need full group participation to explore the situation, provide input and make a final choice. As you’ve probably seen, groups can often make better decisions than any one person operating on his or her own – this is one of the reasons that companies have boards, and why important decisions are taken by these boards.

What’s more, many decisions need “buy-in” from the people affected by them, if they’re to be implemented successfully. It’s hard to get this buy-in if people haven’t been involved in the decision-making process.

The problem is that when you bring other people into the decision-making process, you need to approach decisions differently. These approaches vary, depending on a number of different factors, including:

  • The type of decision.
  • The time and resources available.
  • The nature of the task being worked on.
  • The environment the group wants to create.
  • The amount of buy-in needed.

Understanding why and how best to organize decisions for your team is an important skill. We’ll show you some useful tools to use when you want to involve your whole team in the decision-making process.

The Challenge of Team Decisions

Using team input is challenging, and it takes a fair amount of preparation and time. As the saying goes, if you put three people together in a room, you’ll often get four opinions. People can often see issues differently – and they all have different experiences, values, personalities, styles, and needs.

Trying to include all of these differences in one decision that satisfies everyone can be difficult, to say the least. Team decision-making strategies should therefore be used when needed, for example, when consensus and participation are necessary.

When time is of the essence, a good decision is one that’s made quickly. That doesn’t usually happen with full team decision-making. And when just one or two people have the necessary expertise to make the decision, it doesn’t make sense to involve the whole team – the experts provide most of the input and make the final choice anyway.

However, where the situation is complex, consequences are significant, commitment and buy-in are important, and where team members can work together maturely, team decision-making is often best.

It’s easy for managers to “go overboard” with group decision-making, sometimes as a way of trying to avoid responsibility for decisions. Use team decision-making where it should be used, and individual decision-making where it’s appropriate.

You can find out more about this in much more detail the Career Excellence with our premium members’ article on The Vroom-Yetton-Jago Decision Model. This gives you a well-thought-through decision tree that you can follow to work out the best approach to use.

Team Consensus Methods

When your whole group needs to be involved in the process, you need to explore consensus decision-making models. With these, each team member has the opportunity to provide input and opinions. All members discuss alternatives until they agree on a solution.

With consensus, there’s often compromise. Not everyone gets everything they want out of the final decision. However, because everyone has fair input, the decisions reached are often ones that most can live with, however grudgingly.

Let’s look at some useful team decision-making strategies.

  • Ensuring Participation

    A consensus decision depends on hearing everyone’s opinion. In a team situation, that doesn’t always happen naturally: Assertive people can tend to get the most attention. Less assertive team members can often feel intimidated and don’t always speak up, particularly when their ideas are very different from the popular view.

    The Stepladder Technique can help manage these differences. Each team member thinks about the problem individually and, one at a time, introduces new ideas to the group leader – without knowing what ideas have already been discussed. After the first two people present their ideas, they discuss them together. Then the leader adds a third person, who presents his or her ideas before hearing the previous input. This cycle of presentation and discussion continues until the whole team has a chance to add their opinions.

    The benefit of this process is that everyone feels heard and acknowledged. Once all the ideas are presented, the team can look at ways to narrow the options down, and so make a decision.

  • Voting for Consensus

    Voting is a popular method for making decisions, and it’s a good approach to use where opinions are strongly divided between two or three options.

    Unfortunately, it becomes less useful where there are many options – imagine an election where people have only one vote to choose between eight candidates: It’s possible that a candidate could win with as little as 13% of the vote. This would leave 87% of people feeling unhappy with the result!

    Multi-voting can address this problem. Proceeding through a number of rounds of voting, individuals are given a certain number of votes in each ballot, which they can allocate to the various options any way they want. Essentially, they provide a “weighting” to their choices. They can give one vote to each of several different choices, all of their votes to once choice, or any combination in between. After all the votes are placed, the choices with the highest number of votes are carried through to the next round, until a winner emerges. Click here for our members’ article on Multi-voting.

    This method allows more people to have input in the final decision. There may still be people who give the final choice no votes, but that number tends to be significantly reduced.

  • Establishing Group Priorities

    A similar situation is where you need to prioritize a set of options, where everyone has different views, and there’s no objective framework that people can use for decisions. (The classic situation in which this occurs is where people are allocating resources between competing projects.)

    Here, Nominal Group Technique provides an effective framework for ranking priorities and choosing the option that best fits those priorities. First, the team discusses the problem, and they narrow down the issues to the choices they must prioritize. From there, participants each rank their top choices. The team totals the rankings for each alternative, and the options with the highest ranking emerge as the group’s priorities.

  • Making Contributions Anonymous

    Sometimes, people with deep expertise that you need to draw on may dislike one-another so much that they have difficulties working together. In other situations, people may need to discuss issues that are real, but unpalatable or embarrassing. In still others, proposals may need to be developed and explored in tremendous detail, suiting individual scrutiny and analysis away from a meeting.

    For these situations, managing the process in a way that allows anonymous and remote contributions can help you avoid destructive situations and reach a good, well-thought-through decision.

    With the Delphi Method, a facilitator helps participants individually brainstorm solutions and submit their ideas anonymously – other team members don’t know who submitted which ideas. The facilitator collects and organizes the input, submits it to others for development, critique and refinement, then goes back and forth to all participants until everyone agrees to a final set of choices – and, eventually, a final decision. (Mind Tools premium members can read our article on the Delphi Method by clicking here.)

    Conducting these discussions is very time-consuming, and you need an experienced facilitator who can help individuals come together to find a solution. But the result is usually a robust final decision that has been fully explored, and is supported by each team member.

The other advantage of the Delphi Method is that it helps to eliminate groupthink.

In some situations, group cohesion and consensus can subconsciously become more important to people than reaching the right decision, with the result that the group may ignore anything that contradicts the newfound consensus. If groupthink isn’t recognized and corrected, it can lead to very poor decision-making and severe negative (and even fatal) consequences.

Key Points

Team decision-making is often time-consuming, meaning that it makes sense to prepare for it properly. Before you organize full team participation, make sure that it’s appropriate, and that you have the necessary time and resources for it.

However, teams can often commit more enthusiastically to decisions reached through consensus. Using a variety of techniques, you can do this in such a way that everyone has a chance to contribute to the final result.

Becoming Exceptionally Well Organized

spacer Image of leaf touching still pool
Bringing focus to the way you work.

You are probably familiar with the idea of “To-Do Lists.”

To-Do Lists are great for managing a small number of tasks. The problem is that, for most of us, our To-Do List is not really a planned, focused action list. Rather, it is a sort of a catch-all for a lot of things that are unresolved and not yet translated into outcomes.

Specific entries, such as “Call Tina,” exist along with vaguer aspirations, such as “Get started on house painting project.” Often, the real actionable details of what the list-maker has “to do” are actually missing. (Take, for instance, the house painting project: more precise entries would be choose color scheme, buy paints, and so on.)

What this means is that you tend to do the specific tasks, and fail to make progress with the big, important projects. And even if you do get beyond the quick actions, having a complete project as a “to do” can lead you to focus all of your attention on it. This makes multi-tasking difficult.

This can be a serious problem in a job where you need to make progress on many different projects at the same time – and this is exactly the situation most senior managers find themselves in.

This is where Action Programs are useful. Action Programs are “industrial strength” versions of To-Do Lists.

Because they incorporate short-, medium- and long-term goals, they allow you to plan your time, without forgotten commitments coming in to blow your schedule apart. Because priorities are properly thought through, you’ll be focusing on the things that matter, and not frittering your time away on low value activities. And because they support delegation, they help you get into the habit of delegating jobs where you can. All of this lets you save time – and get away on time – whilst also significantly increasing your effectiveness and productivity.

How to Use the Tool:

Follow this four-step procedure to create your Action Program:

Step 1. Collection

First, make a list inventory of all the things in your world that require resolution. Try to collect and write down everything – urgent or not, big or small, personal or professional – that you feel is incomplete and needs action from you to get completed.

To an extent, this collection is taking place automatically. E-mail requests are getting stored in your email account, memos demanding attention are being delivered to your in-tray, mail is reaching your mailbox and messages asking for action are accumulating on your voice mail.

But there is other stuff – stuff that is idling in your head, projects you want to run, things you intend to deal with lying at the bottom of the drawer, ideas written down on stray bits of paper – that need to be gathered and put in place too. Bring all of these actions and projects together and inventory them in one place.

And – this is really important – make sure that your personal goals are brought onto this list.

Tip 1:
You can experience tremendous stress if you have too many mental “To Dos” floating around in your head. You never know whether you’ve forgotten things, and you always have that terrible feeling of not having achieved everything you want to achieve.

By writing down everything on your Action Program, you can empty your mind of these stressful reminders and make sure you prioritize these actions coherently and consistently. This has the incidental benefit of helping you improve your concentration, simply because you do not have these distractions buzzing around your mind.

Tip 2:
The first time you create your Action Program, you’re going to spend a while – maybe two hours – putting it together. This is the up front cost of organizing your life. However, once you’ve done it, you’ll be amazed at how much more in control you feel. Also, it will take relatively little effort to keep your Program up-to-date after this.

Tip 3:
You’ll find it easiest if you keep your Action Program on your computer as a word processor document. This will make it easy to put together, update and maintain on a routine basis without a lot of tedious redrafting.

Step 2. Pruning

Now, process the list you made in step 1, by looking carefully at each item.

Decide whether you should, actually, take action on it. A lot of what comes our way has no real relevance to us, or is really not important in the scale of things. If that is the case, then delete these things from your inventory.

Step 3. Organizing and Prioritizing

This comes in three parts.

First of all, review your inventory of items. For any which are separate, individual actions that make up part of a larger project, group these individual actions together into their projects.

For example, at home, you may want to improve your bathroom, and repaint your living room: these can go into a “Home Renovation” project. At work, you may be providing input into the requirements for a new computer system, and may be expected to test and then train your team on this system at a point in the future: all of these go into a “computer system” project.

What you’ll find is that once you start, items will almost seem to “organize themselves” into coherent projects.

You also need to make sure that your personal goals are included as individual projects.

Second, review these projects, and allocate a priority to them (for example, by coding them from A to F) depending on their importance. Clearly, your personal goals are exceptionally important projects!

Third, insert your projects into a formatted Action Program.

The Action Program is split up into three parts:

  1. A “Next Action List,” which shows the small next actions that you will take to move your projects forward.
  2. A “Delegated Actions List,” which shows projects and actions have delegated to other people.
  3. A “Project Catalog” that shows all of the projects you are engaged in and the small individual tasks that you have identified so far that contribute to them.

The great news is that, by this stage, you’ve already created the largest part of this: the Project Catalog! This is the list of prioritized projects and activities that you’ve just completed.

Typically, the Project Catalog is at the back of the Action Program, as it’s often only referred to during a weekly review process.

Next, create the Delegated Actions List by working through your Project Catalog, and identifying tasks that you’ve delegated. Record these under the name of the person who you’ve delegated the activity to, along with the checkpoints you’ve agreed.

If you haven’t yet delegated anything, or you haven’t yet agreed checkpoints, don’t worry! What we’re doing here is creating the right framework – you’ll have plenty of time to use this framework properly!

Typically, the Delegated Actions List sits in front of the Project Catalog in your Action Program document, as it’s referred to quite often.

Finally, create your Next Action List by working through the projects to which you’ve given the highest priority – the projects that you want and need to move forward on straight away – and extracting the small, logical next actions for these projects.

The Next Action List goes on the front page of your Action Program, as you’ll refer to it many times a day.

Tip 1:
If the Next Action is going to take less than a couple of minutes, then why not do it right away? Make sure, though, that you come back and complete your Action Program!

Tip 2:
It’s this selection of appropriate next actions that takes a certain amount of judgment. If one of your projects is of over-riding importance, then have several Next Actions from this project on your list, and keep other Next Actions to a bare minimum. However, if you need to keep a lot of projects “simmering away”, have Next Actions from each on your list.

Tip 3:
Keep your Next Actions small and achievable, ideally taking no more that a couple of hours to complete. This helps you keep momentum up on projects and strongly enhances your sense of having had a productive, successful day.

If Next Actions are larger than this, break them down. For example, if your Next Action is to write an article, break this down into research, planning, writing, fact-checking and editing phases. Then make the research phase your Next Action, and put the rest of the stages in your project catalog.

Tip 4:
Where you have several Next Actions, prioritize them from A to F, depending on their importance, value, urgency and relevance to your goals.

Then monitor your success in dealing with these actions. If you find that actions are “stagnating” on your list, consider whether you should either cancel these projects, or whether you should raise their priority so that you deal with them.

Whatever you do, make sure you don’t have too many actions on your Next Action List.

Tip 5:
As you work through this process, ask yourself if there are any tasks that you can delegate or, if appropriate, get help with. As you identify these, put these on your Next Action List, with the action being to delegate the task.

When you’ve delegated the task, move it onto your Delegated Actions List, along with the checkpoint times and dates you’ve agreed.

Now review the Next Action List. If it is too cluttered, move some of the less urgent/important jobs back into the project catalog. If it is thin and under-challenging, pull up some more Next Actions from the Project Catalog.

Also, it makes sense to prioritize the items (for example, from A-C) in the Next Action List so you know what to focus on (it’s unlikely you’ll have any Actions with a priority lower than C on your Next Action List).

Step 4. “Working” Your Action Program

An Action Program is typically fairly long. But you don’t have to run through the entire Program every day!

Usually, you’ll only be dealing with the top page or pages. Some activities may be day-specific or time-specific. Depending of the way you work, these can be either maintained as the top page of your Action Program or marked on your calendar.

In effect, these pages are just a new form of your old To-Do List. It is just that only specific short actions are outlined here, while the major projects to which the actions belong are stored in your Project Catalog.

What you must do, however, is review your Action Program periodically, for example, every week (put time for this in your schedule). Delete or archive items you’ve completed, move items from the Project Catalog to the front pages as you make progress on your project, and add any new actions that have come your way.


The Action Program is an “industrial strength” version of the To-Do List. It helps you to process the projects you want to run into actionable activities, and then manage them within a three-tier structure.

The “Next Action List” heading lists the precise, immediate actions that you need to perform to move your projects forwards.

The “Delegated Actions List” records details of the projects and actions you have delegated.

The “Project Catalog” heading lists the projects that you want to work on, along with other actions non-urgent you have gathered that will contribute to the completion of these projects.

This approach helps you maintain focus on daily jobs and long-term goals at the same time, and it means that you always have a plan for “next action” at any moment. This puts you in control, and also gives you a real sense of achievement.

More than this, this approach helps you to multi-task effectively, helping you to manage and progress many projects simultaneously. This is particularly important as you progress your career, and as the jobs you take on become increasingly complex and challenging.

Use of Action Plans is just one of 39 powerful tools taught in Mind Tools’ premier time management and personal productivity course, “Make Time for Success!”