Planning for Your Facilitated Workshop

Posted on: March 8th, 2017 by Jim

I wrote a post a while back on using facilitated workshops to jump-start your project planning. As I work on my book, it occurs to me how important it is to plan for your planning session. Not only do you want it to run like clockwork, you want as few people as is humanly possible to show up and say, “Why are we here again?”

Let’s be honest here – the workshop is going to cost you time and money to host. And so you want to be absolutely, positively 100% ready to have a good meeting. People hate to go to one-hour meetings and have their time wasted. Imagine if they fly in from around the world, only to find that you do not have your act together. This is the person, they will say to themselves, who is going to run this multi-million dollar project?

  • Have an agenda and publish it in advance. On the one hand, this agenda must be airtight so that everyone knows what’s happening and when. On the other hand, it should be flexible enough so that it can be torn up and re-arranged if circumstances dictate. Prior to the meeting, call and/or email everyone in advance and ask them if they’ve seen the agenda. Ask them if they have any questions or concerns. Do not leave this to chance. Do not leave anything to chance. You might hope that things will go perfectly but – to quote a cliché – hope is not a strategy.
  • Set expectations. Your attendees are, for all intents and purposes, your stakeholders. You want there to be no doubt as to why you are convening. The last thing you need is people showing up saying, “I thought we were doing to discuss the requirements of the device.” No, that’s a requirement and should have already been determined. You are there for specific reasons, namely schedule and risk register.
  • Hidden agendas. Not everyone on your project team is perhaps as enthusiastic about your project as you are. If you know that, say, Bob over in operations finds your project to be a threat to him, best to know that now and address it with the sponsor. The sponsor may know that already. She, or perhaps the both of you, needs to have a conversation with him and perhaps with his boss. You do not need anybody to sabotage your meeting.
  • Expect resistance. One of us worked on a project where the group questioned the need even for having a facilitator. So the team needs to understand what a facilitator’s role is. The meeting does not run itself. My colleague and I like to joke that there is one guy hired in every company whose job it is to go every meeting, fold his arms across his chest and say, “We tried that and it didn’t work.” Know who that guy is in advance.
  • I have lost track of the number of times I’ve been invited to a meeting and been given simple directions, only to discover that “137 Main Street” represented a complex of buildings to be navigated. And once I found the building, discovered that literally no one at the front desk knew who I was AND I had to go through security, get a badge, etc.

You want to avoid this situation at all costs. The last thing you need at a meeting is people showing up an hour late, angry because they had no idea how to find the conference room.

So those are just a few thoughts I had about planning. Bottom line – go over every single detail pre-meeting. In the same way that you plan heavily for a project to ensure smooth execution, thus your meeting.

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