Workshops will lead to the best decisions

This is a sponsored post by Kadence International.

You make decisions every day. From the simpler - what to wear, what to eat today? – to the harder to solve - should we launch this product, should we change our strategy? There are times when you need to make important decisions, where the future success of your team, department or your whole business may depend on the outcome. For these decisions – it is important to ensure you prepare everything that you can to get it right.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review Erik Larson discussed a study that was completed with 500 managers and executives where only 2% regularly applied best practices when making decisions. Yet the importance of having best practices has also been clearly documented – in a separate study in the same article Larson identified that in a three-month study of 100 managers those that did use best practices achieved expected results 90% of the time and 40% of them exceeded expectations.

The question is what can be considered best practice? Whilst there are many that still advise to "go with your gut" there needs to be a collective wisdom applied to decisions. In the bestselling "The Book of Leadership" Anthony Gell discusses the concept of Group IQ, the idea of collective Intelligence of a group always being higher than that of a single person and that great leaders should be 100% open to the ideas of others.

The true challenge is how to get ideas from a diverse group of colleagues, digest, filter and then use them to help make decisions. This is where workshops come in. Despite the term "workshop" becoming overused and wrongly ascribed to basically any meeting nowadays, when run correctly, with proper facilitation and preparation, they can be a very powerful tool in decision making.

What is a workshop?

A true workshop is a carefully structured and pre-planned session that involves intense discussions, lively debates and a healthy element of fun. It brings together a diverse range of participants, and is designed to create fresh, novel ideas to achieve a pre-determined objective.

A common barrier to running workshops is an assumption that they are day long events and involve huge amounts of creativity and effort. The fact is there are many types of workshops. Some can last as long as five days; others can be as short as an hour.

At their heart, workshops are a mindset. They are an agreement for a group of people to creatively collaborate as a team to achieve a common goal. Workshops are designed with the aim of generating action from ideas created in the group; in this way they have more structure than a brainstorm and therefore require more preparation.

Workshops are a creative process where everyone participates fully, and so naturally involve more energy and planning than a meeting.

To manage and direct this creativity, they need a central, guiding figure, a facilitator, to drive this energy and keep the participants focussed on the objective. Following a clearly set out workshop flow can help enhance any would be facilitator. In a recent study of 7,000 leaders and managers from 27 countries conducted by Kadence we discovered that the most important element when attending a workshop is a correct structure and planning followed by the role of the facilitator.

Tips for running a good workshop

There is no one way to run a workshop. They can be tailored to numerous time frames, objectives and audiences, which is what makes them so successful. However, underlying each workshop are three key principles: flow, variety, and insight.

Flow relates to the overall flow of the workshop. It's pre-prepared and planned in advance. In Nobody Wants a Hammer: how to run workshops that turn insight in action – we identify the five main stages of a workshop. These can be thought of as a linear, traditional flow, where a workshop starts at the beginning of the five stages and works through to the end. Stages can be omitted, repeated, or the sequence moved around depending upon what works best for you.

Kadence Flow Chart v1

Variety ensures there are a range of participants in the workshop. Avoid just one department, but rather try and achieve a diverse mix of backgrounds. Ideally, everyone essential to agreeing an action step should be in the room.

Insight is the starting point for any decision-based workshop. Provide condensed findings from a variety of sources, from primary research to sales data and everything in between. This should be given as homework for participants ahead of the workshop. More interactive and engaging material could be placed around the walls of the workshop venue, so everyone can immediately re-focus on the core insights.

Making decisions from the workshop

Workshops can be used for pretty much any kind of decision making, however big or small. According to our study, 91% of those occupying c-suite positions believe that workshops are a very effective method of generating impact in their business. As long as there is a common goal in mind, and those attending are willing to participate to achieve that goal, a workshop can give you everything that you need to make the best decisions.

Interestingly, as part of study of international leaders, we found that two thirds want to know more about how to run workshops. Suggesting there is a growing appetite for tapping into Group IQ, and doing this efficiently and effectively through workshops.

The writer is Philip Steggals, managing director Kadence International and co-author of Nobody Wants a Hammer – How to run workshops that turn research insights into business action.