Workshop Facilitation Handbook

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This handbook has been created to enable the facilitation of various workshops for key aspects of establishing and delivering a programme using the PS PMA. It is not a tutorial on facilitation and assumes that those undertaking a facilitation role have the appropriate skills.

This material has been produced by Outperform UK Ltd for Excellence in Programme and Project Management (EPPM).

Click for the Workshop Facilitation Handbook

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Workshop Roles
When to use Facilitated Workshops

Some Definitions

A facilitated workshop is a structured approach to ensuring that a group of people can reach a predetermined objective in a compressed timeframe, supported by an impartial facilitator.

Facilitation is the activity of enabling groups to work well together on a particular topic of shared interest in order to create tangible products, i.e. more than a set of decisions on actions to be taken outside the meeting.

Benefits of using a Facilitated Workshop

  • Rapid, quality decision-making Because all necessary stakeholders are present at the same time, there is good confidence in the result. The group focuses on the objectives to be achieved in the session so that the information gathering and review cycle is performed at a greater speed. Also, misunderstandings and disagreements can be worked out at the time.
  • Greater buy-in Workshops, run effectively, lead to participants feeling more involved in the programme and the decisions being made. They build and maintain enthusiasm.
  • Building team spirit It is a controlled way of building rapport as well as delivering valuable content for the programme. It can promote understanding and co-operation between departments and organisations, which is particularly important when a programme is cross-cutting and/or involves partners.
  • Design by the stakeholder community If practices are reviewed as a result of a workshop, participants can gain a greater understanding of the inputs and implications of their work. This can lead to efficiencies that are led by the participants themselves, giving greater buy-in and commitment and therefore a greater chance of successful implementation.
  • Clarification of requirements when they are unclear Stakeholders can be led through their objectives and processes to define what they may require. In the workshop environment, participants can explore and model ideas. This is successful through a combination of structured discussion and the presence of knowledgeable participants.

Preparing for a workshop

The preparation required should not be underestimated. Although it is difficult to generalise, a lead time of 2 weeks is the minimum required (for logistics, diaries, etc.)

1 Identify the Workshop Owner It is important that one person acts as the Workshop Owner. This role should be fulfilled by somebody who is, or who represents, the main customer of the programme or task to be addressed. This helps to ensure that the workshop gets the required visibility. Suitable owners will:
  • Be available to attend key events: most importantly the workshop itself, but also briefing sessions and follow-up meetings if required. This active involvement is critical in gaining the required commitment from other participants.
  • Have the authority and knowledge to provide guidance on scoping the task and how related initiatives may impact the workshop.
2 Identify the workshop objectives Each of the following should be considered:
  • Who owns the workshop: the role of Workshop Owner is key to the process.
  • Stakeholder and programme team objectives. Are they different?
  • How many participants? The number of participants is an important factor in the success or failure of a workshop Too many and the process becomes impossible to manage. Too few and the required synergy cannot be achieved.
3 Identify the key players. The Facilitator must be satisfied that the correct people are involved in the workshop. The aim is to ensure that all areas of legitimate input and that any necessary subject matter expertise is available.

Workshop participants should satisfy the following criteria:

  • Able to input the relevant knowledge, at the appropriate level of detail, for their work area.
  • Have the authority and expertise to make the required decisions on behalf of their work area. (If someone needs to bring their boss with them, consider having just their boss!)
4 Prepare the workshop agenda Define what deliverables are required from the workshop. This will depend on the workshop objectives.
  • The facilitator then decides which techniques will be useful for creating the deliverables and achieving the decisions along the way. The workshop duration depends on a number of factors, such as the required level of detail, the techniques being used, the location, etc. The nature of workshops means that it is very difficult to plan an agenda that will run strictly to time. Workshops are living, dynamic events and the facilitator must be willing to go with the flow when required. This should be seen as positive but, if this happens with a “Hard” agenda, participants can feel pressurised to catch up “lost” time. “Soft” agendas are easier to manag.
  • Determine the duration of the workshop, what sessions will be required to achieve the deliverables and then plan the agenda but do not include start and end times for any session.

The above flexibility should also apply to coffee and lunch breaks. These should be available as required by the flow of the workshop, rather than dictated by catering requirements. For this reason, buffet lunches are the preferred option.

5 Brief the Participants The following subject areas need to be communicated to each participant:
  • The scope of the subject covered by the workshop
  • The background for the workshop
  • The aims and objectives of the workshop
  • The required deliverables
  • The position and importance of the workshop in the overall programme
  • Their role and responsibilities before, during and after the workshop
  • The skills and knowledge they are expected to provide
  • The preparation work they will be expected to have performed
  • The logistics of the workshop, e.g. date, location, agenda, etc.

Facilitating a workshop

The sessions of the workshop will be run by the facilitator according to the agenda sent out in the workshop brief. The facilitator will ensure that all materials created during the workshop are clearly visible to all participants including an Issues List that is used to park topics to be dealt with later in the workshop or afterwards.

At the start of the workshop, the facilitator should display and explain the ground rules that he or she will apply throughout, e.g.

  • “Silence means assent”, i.e. don’t complain later if you didn’t say anything at the time.
  • “The 5-minute rule can be invoked by anyone”. This means that participant can note that a discussion is going nowhere, it is given a further 5 minutes, then it is parked as an issue and no more discussion is allowed.
  • “Everyone in the room is equal”, this is particularly important when there are very senior and very junior people present.

The use of appropriate tools and techniques is central to the successful delivery of the workshop. Tools and techniques should be easy to use; participant’s attention should be focused on the content of the session not the method being used. A rule of thumb is that the more complex or intricate the tool is the less likely it is to produce the required outcome. The table overleaf gives some simple techniques for achieving particular purposes.

Also, a number of tools and techniques that are freely available for use by facilitators. These range from ideas on how to plan a workshop through fun things to break the ice in new groups or energise flagging participants to standard business facilitation techniques such as force field analysis and swim lanes.

ActivityBrainstormingParetoFishboneForce FieldStoryboardMind MapDe Bono's HatsCommittment MapVoting
Situation Appraisal
Problem Statement
Establishing root causes
Generating alternative solutions
Options evaluation
Making decisions

Towards the end of the workshop, the facilitator must ensure that all outstanding issues and actions are clearly identified and allocated an owner (who is present at the workshop!), who is given sufficient time to do the work and report back to the Workshop Owner.

After the workshop

The workshop report normally consists of Issues and Actions, agreed Way Forward and specific deliverables identified in the brief. Post-workshop activities are given in the table of responsibilities at the back of this handbook.

Workshop roles and responsibiliites

RoleBefore workshopDuring workshopAfter workshop
Workshop Owner
  • Ensure there is a valid need for a workshop
  • Approve clearly defined objectives, deliverables and agenda
  • Identify key players to attend
  • Must be present throughout the event
  • Provide high-level guidance to resolve issues
  • Nominate owners for unresolved issues
  • Approve next steps
  • Ensure agreed next steps take place
  • Ensure unresolved issues are progressed as agreed
  • Ensure all roles are fulfilled by people with right experience & authority
  • Develop clear objectives, deliverables & agenda and agree them with the Workshop Owner
  • Decide the workshop processes
  • Organise/deliver briefing process
  • Ensure logistical arrangements are made
  • Manage & control the workshop as required to ensure objectives are met and benefits are realised
  • Seek guidance from the Workshop Owner where appropriate
  • Ensure all necessary information is properly recorded & on display where appropriate
  • Ensure next steps have been agreed
  • Conduct review of workshop process (optional)
  • Produce and deliver Workshop Process Report (optional)
  • Review workshop with Workshop Owner
  • Read briefing information
  • Attend any briefing session
  • Research appropriate background information
  • Attend the whole event
  • Contribute information and viewpoint where appropriate
  • Be prepared to take decisions as required
  • Progress assigned tasks to agreed time scales
  • Attend follow-up events if required
  • Participate in briefing process if required
  • Analyse & interpret recorded information if necessary
  • Record information as required
  • Seek clarification of points as necessary
  • Produce workshop documentation
  • Progress assigned tasks to agreed timescales
  • Attend follow-up sessions if required
  • No action
  • Keep quiet unless asked to contribute by the Facilitator
  • No action

Hints and Tips

  • The Facilitator should be impartial, with no stake in the outcome of the workshop, and therefore should come from outside the programme management team.
  • It is probably not worthwhile using facilitated workshops if the number of key players is small, say, less than six or seven. In this situation, a chaired meeting or a series of one-to-one meetings may suffice.
  • Conversely a large number of prospective participants, say eighteen to twenty, may make a workshop too difficult to manage. In this situation, descoping the workshop terms of reference or dividing the problem up into components involving fewer people should be considered.

See also

User Guide to this wiki.
Outperform's wiki administration guide (login required).
Click here to download the PSPMA Embedding Guide
PS PMA Video Case Study
PS PMA Glossary of Terms
A map of PS PMA documents to MSP documents.
One page PS PMA wall chart in A3 size, PDF format
Visit the Local Government Project and Programme Community of Practice (PPM CoP) and join up.
The Site Map shows all pages within the PS PMA wiki.
The Workshop Facilitation Handbook
About London Councils
If you have suggestions for improvement or examples we can use, please email: Lorna Gill or Falguni Pisavadia

© 2011 Copyright and disclaimer notice
PRINCE2®, MSP®, M_o_R®, P3O® and P3M3® are Registered Trade Marks of the Cabinet Office in the United Kingdom and other countries
The PS PMA Embedding Guide includes content that originates from Outperform UK Ltd, a leading consultancy that helps organisations embed best practices. Original content reproduced with permission
For the EPPM team contact details go to the EPPM pages on the Capital Ambition Website

Wiki design by Outperform UK Ltd.

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