On the surface, workshop sessions can seem mainly about dynamic exercises and even colorful post-its. This is an illusion. It is all much simpler than that.
Let’s look back at our definition of a workshop:
Everything in a workshop can be boiled down to three primitives. Think of them as the ingredients you can use to make anything.
- Think alone
- Think in a group
- Create connections
To think alone is an exercise in focus and reflection. Most people have their own patterns and if you , as the facilitator, don’t provide them with guidance (e.g. time limits, text structures, minimum number of ideas) they will go all over the place. Thinking alone is always more effective (for the purposes of a workshop, of course) if you provide some guard rails.
In the physical world, the primitive of “Thinking Alone” is best represented by the act of Brainwriting. Brainwriting is an activity where participants have a few post its, and on their own, without sharing with the rest of the group, write their ideas on them. One idea per post-it.
In the digital world, with tools like Miro, FigJam or Mural, you can use “virtual post its”.
Thinking in a group
Thinking in a group is by definition, more diverse and dynamic. Participants bring their perspectives into it and as facilitator you help them make sense of it all. If thinking alone is exemplified by people writing silently on their own post its, thinking in a group is best illustrated by a group of people around a whiteboard, moving post its around and discussing their views.
Virtual workshop tools also have this of course, represented by the working area/canvas/board.
When your clients have something to think about (assume they’ve either conducted some thinking alone or thinking in a group activities), they will automatically move into “make connections mode”. Some people are better at it, but this is basically a human instinct. We are sense-making machines.
Making connections is all about drawing. You can draw boxes, arrows, venn diagrams, 2×2 matrixes, you group things and leave things out of groups.
In the physical world, this is easy to see when a group, convening around a whiteboard, grabs a pen and starts doodling on it, circling post its and tracing connections. In the digital realm, every tool has drawing tools, either freeform (like a pen) or geometric (circles, rectangles, etc).
If you think about it, in a workshop everything is about one of these things. The surface details may change (e.g. you might give out customized visual worksheets instead of post-its for a thinking alone exercise) but the underlying mechanics of the activity stand.
All of these things can seem a little bit daunting at first, but you’ll quickly see them for what they are: perennial (and techno-apocalypse-proof) ways of shaping attention and collaboration when working with a client or group of clients.