Raising the bar in stakeholder workshops

by Lynsey Carolan

Anyone who knows me, knows I love a good Stakeholder Workshop…

I know the pure mention of the word ‘workshop’ will probably very quickly get your internal stakeholders rolling their eyes at having to spend a day in a room with colleagues from different departments ‘brainstorming’ or ‘role playing’, when they could be doing a million other better things with their time.

With a background in the Corporate world I know first-hand just how challenging it can be to get different departments even talking to each other, let alone actually collaboratively and constructively working together towards a common goal.

I get it, I’ve been there too and been in some bad workshops that just ended up being a complete waste of time. Unless there’s a very clear agenda, a good structure and some clever workshop techniques, there’s just no point. People won’t work together, will disengage from the process and won’t take it seriously.

But fear not, it can be done and I wanted to share my learnings gathered as both an attendee and a facilitator over the years. Here’s some tips for getting the best out of your internal workshops:

Collaboration

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision… It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” – Andrew Carnegie

The best workshops are designed around collaboration. Get everyone involved – no matter the level, encourage and ask them to contribute and collaborate. Get their buy-in; brief them on what this is about, why it matters, what you need from them. Immerse them in the subject matter by giving attendees homework to complete and share with the wider group, as well as share your latest customer insight & research findings. Think about going one step further and involving the customer; potentially bringing them in to the session or doing some mystery shopping of your brand and competitors. Workshops should be fun, fast paced and high energy. Ideally go offsite where possible and into smart-casual dress too; laying the foundations for a more collaborative, constructive and aligned session.

Purpose

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” – Henry Ford

It’s also important to distinguish a brainstorm meeting from a workshop – a workshop is much more structured, focussed and task based than a quick chat at the end of a debrief. Every workshop needs a very clear purpose and specific aim and objective for the overall output of the workshop, plus well managed timelines and tight agenda. This allows a clearer structure for the session to meet the specific needs of the business and keep the momentum and flow focussed around the specific ask. Keep the workshop on track and keep any derailments to a minimum. There are politics in every organisation and it’s important to consider any potential sticking points in advance but be sure to use a facilitator that can cut to the chase on the day and manage any big personalities; keeping participants focussed on the task in hand and reducing the influence of individual stakeholders. Ultimately the facilitator is in charge on the day and their job is to support the business in walking out with what’s needed.

Design Thinking

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

We don’t know all the answers. Attendees don’t know all the answers. There’s a danger in sticking with what you know and keeping the blinkers on. It’s important to think wider, bringing in the context in the form of consumer insight, business updates from various departments and then a range of specific, tailored tasks to work through a challenge from start to finish. Using Design Thinking principles means you don’t start with assumptions – start by bringing in the information, opinions, knowledge and insight; working out what’s useful and what isn’t, refining, tightening, clarifying and then designing. Design thinking doesn’t start with the answers, it starts with inputs and refines from there, using a range of techniques, tasks and models to create business specific solutions.

Impartiality

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry Truman

Want to avoid all of the internal politics? Bring in a 3rd party facilitator. They won’t pay much heed to the fact that Jim in Compliance doesn’t get on with Helen from Product, their job is to clearly communicate the rules and aims of the session and get everyone working together collaboratively. Additionally, someone with an outside viewpoint brings in often much needed objectivity – they won’t side with any part of the business but get everyone working through the challenge to get to the heart of the matter and for the right outcome based on the brief.

Workshops that work: At Spark the outputs speak for themselves

At Spark we’ve years of experience in running workshops for a wide range of industries, sectors and complex matrix organisations and we use all of the tricks, tips, frameworks and exercises to deliver what the business needs from the session. This is what makes the real difference. The business is left with a cohesive, collaborative plan designed by stakeholders themselves. Politics are ironed out as we go, meaning voices are aligned, opinions are shared and discussed on the day, providing better collaboration and buy in. Clients leave with a clear plan of what you will do, why you will do it and what needs to happen next.

We’ve seen many clients see the benefit of our workshops in cutting through the challenges and complexities, fostering honest conversations and ultimately delivering a solid business plan. A professionally facilitated workshop may feel like a sizable financial and time investment but they are worth their weight in Gold in their ability to propel a business forward with clarity, alignment and certainty.

We’ve supported clients to:

  • Reposition their brand and business strategy – we’ve supported banks, utility companies and FMCG product leaders to refine and agree their overall brand strategy
  • Develop new services and propositions – taking insight into action across everything from new markets, new customer bases and new product development
  • Bring new or existing teams together to share information, break down barriers and work as one – using this to input into strategic planning processes, HR and people planning & development
  • Implement action-based customer listening and immersion programmes – bringing together teams and data to really understand and subsequently tackle customer improvements

For further information get in touch with the team in Spark at hello@sparkmr.com

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