What is a Workshop

You’ve landed here, perhaps following a trail of links and tips I’ve left around “The Internet” and you want to know more about this Workshop stuff. This post will be a quick introduction to the topic. You’ll quickly see that Workshops are a very useful tool to have on your expert’s toolbox.

The simplest definition

A workshop is a collaborative guided experience that mixes the expert’s knowledge with the client’s context, to create a tangible result

We will break this down and you’ll see that there’s not a lot of fat in this. Every word matters

  1. Collaborative…
  2. … guided experience…
  3. … that mixes the expert’s knowledge…
  4. … with the client’s context
  5. … to create a tangible result.

This definition helps you define a workshop, but it is useful to investigate why these are the characteristics. Let’s go over this again, but starting at the end

A Workshop has a tangible result

It’s right there in the name: A workshop is meant for work. Work on a specific challenge and solving it in a pre-determined timeframe (the workshop’s duration). Because workshops are usually composed of one or multiple interactive activities, some people assume that any presentation or training session that includes dynamic exercises (e.g. Brainstorming, SWOT Analysis, Idea Selection, etc) is a workshop.

But that’s not the case. The first ingredient to call a meeting a workshop is that said meeting ends with a clear, tangible result.

A workshop is not a keynote presentation, nor a traditional class or lesson. A workshop is a work session.

A Workshop requires the client’s context

You’re the expert and you have seen many patterns in your career. You might be very good at spotting opportunities to help your client’s even if they don’t see them. But you cannot do this alone. Your expertise is almost certainly not as specific enough to fully describe your client’s specific challenge. You might be very good, but without having your client participating in the session, you won’t have a workshop.

To solve a real problem (and have a tangible result), you need the context only your client can bring.

A workshop is more than the application of your expertise. It is the application of your expertise your client’s unique situation.

A Workshop leverages the expert’s knowledge

People call you because you are equipped to help them. Sometimes this means you have direct experience in solving their current objective. Sometimes it means that you simbolize a sizable financial investment and that motivates them to move forward. Regardless of the reason, a workshop is not complete without the application of your expertise.

In practice this means 2 things:

  1. The questions and exercises you deploy during the workshop are a distillation of your expertise
  2. The client cannot do this without you

A workshop is not a worksheet a client can go through on their own. A workshop requires that you dynamically apply what you know to the patterns you can see emerging during the session.

A Workshop organizes activities to steer the client’s focus

Lack of clarity is quite often the reason client’s cannot address their challenges on their own. As a subject matter expert (even if you don’t yet use workshops) you know that bringing clarity to their questions can be half the battle. Directing and shepherding what your client is considering and reflecting upon is a core skill of any expert.

Workshops are composed of multiple questions (shaped like activities) that orchestrate your client’s attention. With their attention being proactively managed by an expert, the client can explore with discipline and without the risk of getting lost in details.

A workshop is not a freeform meeting. A workshop has a structure and a plan to reach the desired result.

A Workshop works if both the client and the expert work towards the same goal

All collaborative tasks depend on a shared goal. Different people contribute with different skills and perspectives, but what they are working towards is clear. When someone works on a part of the solution, the output should align with other parts, made by other people.

During a workshop, the goal should always be clear. The result and the goal are different things:

  • The Goal is the business outcome we want to achieve with the workshop
  • The Result is what we develop during the workshop and we’ll use to achieve the Goal

A workshop is not a place for the expert to show the client how much smarter they are. A workshop is a place of no-ego, where the expert and the client are peers, working towards a shared challenge, using their own strengths.