A 10-Step Checklist for Organising and Running an Employee Workshop

One thing I have always been passionate about is gathering quality and useful insights from employees. On many occasions, I have had conversations with clients and/ or prospective clients and when asked what their challenge is the response is ‘we think…’. My response back is always, ‘well, let’s ask them and then we’ll know.’

Now, this isn’t to say that they don’t have some finger on the pulse of what their employees are thinking/ feeling/ saying, but more often than not, time and resource has meant that they haven’t really been able to get to the heart of an issue. For those who conduct staff surveys, there perhaps is some understanding of potential issues but as we all know, staff surveys often start and stop with a survey and little is really done with the findings to get a decent picture.

For me, it is nearly impossible to develop an employee engagement or internal communications plan without quality insight. Quality insight for me is that which is gathered from employees, across all levels and which asks the right questions – not the ones which solicit the sort of answers you want to hear.

Running workshops are time-intensive and can be daunting if you’ve no prior experience. However, they are a fantastic way of gathering insight and an opportunity to engage people with a particular subject matter or issue too.

There are many resources around which offer tips on facilitation, which is a whole other topic altogether, but for those looking for some practical help with setting one up, I thought I’d share my 10-point blueprint for setting up and running a successful employee workshop. If you have any good examples or other ideas to include here, please feel free to comment below. I’d love to hear them.

Preparing for your workshop

Preparation is, as with anything key to a successful and worthwhile workshop. People will quickly look for distractions if they don’t understand why they’re there, their purpose or if they’re just being spoken to for a long period of time.

  1. Identify clear, SMART objectives: It sounds obvious but really do sit and plan the session. What is it you want to achieve? What takeaways are you after? Having clarity over what insight you need to gather will make the planning process so much easier. I’m a fan of mapping out a workshop in 15 minute chunks and for workshops to last between 1.5 – 2.5 hours. This gives you enough time for any appropriate ice-breakers, contingency and breaks. Any longer then you can quickly lose people’s concentration.

You might want to put together a session plan using the following headings. This may well change a little as you work through it with a colleague, but having a clear structure will help keep the conversation on course.

 

Think about how you can make each area of discussion interactive and employee-led. This is important as what we’re trying to do with these sessions is draw on employee voice.

  1. Enlist the support of manager’s: Once you have clear objectives and clarity on what you want to achieve. For me the next step is to get other senior members of the team on board.

If they understand what it is you want to achieve, what they’ll get out of it and the role that they play, it’ll make the recruitment process easier.

Brief them (perhaps at a regular management meeting) or at the very least email them to enlist their support. Share with them what you’re doing, why and that you need them to encourage their teams to attend. Don’t forget though, that you are likely to also need to seek their input too.

  1. Develop your attendee list:Who do you want to attend? For large organisations, if you don’t sit in HR, it may be worth working with them to figure out the cross-section of employees to attend. If your team is smaller this is an easier task but:
  • Avoid having managers and non-managerial employees in the same group.
  • Consider also having splits by tenure e.g. non-managerial staff who have been with the business less than two years and then a second for those who have been with the business for longer. I often see a variance in opinions between these groups and you don’t want people to be influenced by what others are saying.
  • Try and involve as many people as you can from across all functions, teams, departments and locations….as long as it is relevant to do so!

You want to aim to have no more than 10-12 people in each session.

  1. Choose your facilitator: Who do you want to lead the session? Have you got a team of employee ambassadors who may be up for the role, or, do you need someone external to help ensure that you get the real picture and not one that people think you want to hear? Please do however avoid having any managers facilitate who might have direct reports in the room or any link with the team. You will need to brief them on their task and prepare a facilitators guide for them too. You may also want to put together a pro-forma template to help make sure that you are gathering the insight in a consistent manner – especially if there are multiple facilitators. Trust me, this will make it so much easier to analyse…
  2. Organise the logistics: Do you want to have your sessions on or off site? I don’t have any draw to either although sometimes it is nice to get out of the office for a bit! You’ll of course need a room big enough for your groups but also somewhere which is private, light and comfortable. Make sure refreshments such as water, tea and coffee are available too. You might also want someone else in the room to help type up the conversation so the facilitator can focus on listening.
  3. Communicate and invite people along: Draft clear communications to your desired list of participants. You don’t need to go into heaps of detail but do share why you are doing these sessions, who will be facilitating, where they will need to go and why their input is invaluable.

During the workshop

  1. Before people arrive:Get there early to familiarise yourself with the room and set-up the session. As organiser, you might not need to be there if you have a separate facilitator but it may help to be there to get things up and running.

Think about where you want people to sit. A theatre-style set-up is unlikely to encourage meaningful conversation. Try and have small clusters of people around tables or if it’s a small group, have everyone around one big table. Provide plenty of refreshments and sweets are always a winner (although engineers seem to prefer doughnuts….!).

  1. State the groundrules from the start:Generally I think the only real ‘rules’ should be to respect one another’s opinion, to try and talk one at a time and to keep the conversation confidential. The facilitator should emphasize that you will not be feeding back any comment or views attributed to any one individual. This is really important as it helps people to speak freely and honestly.
  2. Listen: The facilitators role on the day is to listen. Ask questions, probe further into points of interest and try and keep the conversation focused. Consider taping the conversation (as long as you have the participants consent) so that you can refer to it later and write up your report. This is not an opportunity for you to share your views and ideas.

Once the workshop has finished, thank everyone for having attended and assure them that they will receive details of the findings as soon as they are ready.

After the workshop

  1. Analyse the workshops: what you’ve heard and the intel you’ve gathered will take time and it shouldn’t be rushed but if you have written up and completed pro-formas, you’ll quickly see the key themes and trends emerging.

As part of your preparation you should have also thought about who you are going to present the results too and have booked time into their diaries to do this.

I also would greatly advocate sharing the topline findings with employees too. This is important for them to feel as though their views have been listened to. Consider presenting this back rather than simply sending out an attachment. This will help ensure that they get the context and can ask questions too.

 

Now for the most important part…ACTION. Use this fantastic insight you’ve gathered to develop a strategy which will really influence positive change. Good luck!

 

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