Wednesday, 20 June 2018

An alternative to workshops

Have you ever:
·      run a workshop that in spite of your best efforts has been monopolised or steered by one big personality?
·      struggled to get a representative spread of students or academics in the room?
·      had problems with running a workshop that either had too many people in the room or insufficient representation from all areas of the university
·      been in a position to justify the time required by attendees to come to a workshop when they are flat out busy with business as usual?
·      been in a situation where there is a level of workshop fatigue – workshops have previously been done, but you need to inspire people to take action?
I have…

So, we decided to try something different.

Last year I attended an unconference, it got me thinking what if we ran an unworkshop, would it help us to address some of the constraints and problems we had identified?

One of my challenges as a lean practitioner is to get a balance between using a standard approach and methodology alongside experimentation and continuous improvement. One of the things I constantly asked myself is whether proposed changes or differences in the approach we have had Sheffield add-value AND…is it a change or an improvement.

We decided to give it a go. We knew that for this piece of work effective and comprehensive stakeholder engagement was vital and we felt that an unworkshop could be a way of achieving this.

First of all, what is an unworkshop? It is an activity that enable individual attendees to fully immersed in the activities, to pick and choose (with gentle guidance) the activities that they must undertake and allows you to test the problem (and solutions) at meta level as well as operational level. We laid out the rooms in an order that would take people through the plans and findings discovered to date, so that they could build on this, challenge it and also start to give specific detail about process differences in local areas. Rather than us setting the time, we allowed attendees to choose the time that they attended and to choose how long they were able to devote to the activities. Attendees had the option of having an individual facilitator leading them through the activities, doing things in small groups or just going through it at their individual pace.

Unworkshops take time to prepare and develop the displays and activities, they require more facilitators (although this can be a good way to give ownership to subject matter experts who may be out of their depth facilitating a large workshop on their own) and the facilitation skills required are different partly because the timetable is led by the customer rather than the agenda for the day.

What were the outcomes?
The feedback was resoundingly positive. We were able to use the same activities and format to engage staff at people level from every discipline
Attendees worked for every minute that they were in the room because they were able to focus on the activities that were relevant to them
All attendees were able to have their voice heard in a way that traditional workshops do not always allow.
We had excellent representation, and ran the same workshop a number of times because people identified staff in their departments who also needed to input into the activities
People were scheduled to attend for about 50 minutes, the average attendance time was 61 minutes.
The outputs were (in my opinion) more robust than if we’d run the event for the usual suspects. It gave the improvement lead a clear data set to refine and prioritise the improvements and a good group of stakeholders that expressed a willingness to be involved in key activities to support implementation.
The message about change and improvement was dispersed in a proactive and meaningful way.

Would I do it again? Yes, I’m already planning some for another project we are supporting. We have added this to our suite of offerings and have a clear criteria set for when they might be appropriate. Like all effective improvement activities, they are tiring, fun and produce really valuable outcomes.

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