Getting over the fear of running collaborative problem-solving workshops

I have lost count of the number of times I have been faced with a big horrible hairy business challenge at work that needed something more than just a quick ‘meeting’ with a few people to figure out what needs to be done.

In these situations I always do the same thing –  get a bunch of people together for a brainstorm (OK, I hate that word, but never mind!) or creative problem solving workshop. They are becoming more relevant as business gets ever more complicated.

It’s an opportunity to approach the problem with an open mind, to collectively explore options and uncover untapped insights that lead to creative solutions. It’s also a chance to frame the problem and solution around the user or customer, external or internal.

I’m sure you have also faced similar challenges. Maybe you are responsible for a key product and are under pressure to generate ideas to reinvigorate the offering to regain lost market share. Maybe you are responsible for the go-to-market efforts and your customer acquisition needs a new approach. Maybe you have been tasked to define a new business model that creates additional revenue for the company. Maybe you need to drive up your customer retention but just don’t know how.

These problems are tough, with no clean or easy solution, and you need to embrace ambiguity to move forwards. These problems require collaboration and new ways of thinking.These problems need lots of perspectives and viewpoints to really understand where the issues and opportunities lie.

However, how many ‘bad brainstorms’ have you been in (or run?). How many of you find the idea of leading a workshop daunting since you simply don’t know how? I know I used to, and I know you are not alone.

Why? I put it down to the fact that I was never taught how to apply creativity in a ‘logical’ and analytical way. I was never taught how to turn differing viewpoints and tension into a positive thing as opposed to seeing them as a barrier. I was never taught how you create solutions in a user or customer centric way.

My tips for running a really effective workshop:

  1. Prep – prep prep prep…create an agenda of activities that follow a structure based on critical thinking (following the steps below),
  2. Kick the workshop off – Set the mood! I read recently a great way of doing this – take a look. Ask people to be brave, to build on other’s ideas and not kill them. This is not the time or place.
  3. Set a clear business challenge. “Make more money” doesn’t work, it’s too high-level, but keep it at a level where lots of options can be explored.
  4. Then, focus on your customer. Build a picture of their needs and emotional pains and gains. Use your gut to fill in any gaps. Your gut-feel is a great tool, so trust it.
  5. Next, find your areas of opportunity. Create lots of launchpad questions around your user and customer, and link it back to your challenge. “How might we” questions are great for this. If you can solve a specific need(s) for a customer AND you can also relieve their frustrations, then you have a great chance to find new value.
  6. Then, create ideas. Just google around for lots of techniques. There are more than I have had hot dinners…take a couple and try them out.
  7. Finally – get judgemental. You need to make some choices, so get out of ‘open-minded’ mode and into ‘closed-minded’, and start comparing ideas. Use simple ratings for each idea – customer impact, internal effort and passion are great ones to use. Those with big customer impact and low effort – they are the no-brainers. When you have to make a choice between ideas that deliver the same value and take the same effort – then go for the ones where people’s passion is (it’s a good indicator those ideas will get delivered!).

Then it also dawned on me – a ‘How might we’ question that I had fizzing around in my brain.

An opportunity? – “How might we put innovation methods, plus workshop design and facilitation skills into the hands of ANYONE in a company so that they don’t sweat about preparation and are comfortable and effective during ideation sessions and innovation programs?”.

It took some thinking, but we developed – a corporate innovation toolkit that guides you through the process and tools needed to solve you innovation challenge. It also comes with a workshop design tool that enables anyone to run effective and foolproof brainstorming or innovation workshops. Basically, it does all of the hard work for you – just follow the step by step instructions.

All you have to do is answer a few questions, and outthebox will design the perfect agenda, suited to your situation, and will then deliver your facilitator pack (slides, pre-written emails, facilitator instructions, shopping list etc) which allows you to relax and run the best workshop you can imagine.

Let us know what you think!