Monday, 14 December 2015

It is Christmas Day in the Workshop

If I could pick what has been the biggest change in the way marketing and advertising people work over the last twenty-five years or so, I'd have to say that it's the rampant rise of the workshop. Since I've been freelance, the majority of requests that come in are for designing and running workshops.

I looked at my trusty Oxford Dictionary (published in the 1980s), and at this point, the main definition of 'Workshop' referred to 'a room or building in which manufacture is carried out'. Maybe that's why I have always associated the word with the grim connotations of 'Workhouse'. There's a secondary definition, which does suggest a 'meeting of several persons for intensive discussions, seminars, learning' but the emphasis here is on something extra, for educational purposes.

These days, workshops seem ubiquitous. I have even heard 'workshop' used as a verb - 'let's workshop it.' What did we do before workshops? Well, we did have plenty of brainstorms, but I notice these have gone rather out of favour. The post-its, the flip charts, the marker pens are now the weapons of choice of the workshop facilitator.

With colleagues working on a project often dispersed geographically, one reason that workshops have gained popularity must be the need to use the limited time that people are together, face to face, wisely and effectively. There's a worry that a free-flowing discussion, or a simple meeting won't be productive, therefore the need for more planning and structure.

While this makes sense in a lot of cases, and a well-conceived, designed and run workshop should yield results, I'm sure we've all experienced so-called workshops that have over-run, gone off on another tangent, provided reams of indecipherable post-its, or have simply confirmed one or two lowest common denominators, aka 'alignment'.

Often these workshops are ineffective and focus on consensus rather than brilliance due to a lack of clarity at the outset of what the purpose is. For me, brainstorms are about ideas, while workshops are about specific solutions to specific questions. It's a bit like qualitative and quantitative research.

Before we go into automatic pilot and 'workshop it' - we should ask ourselves: what is 'it'? What is the question we want to find a solution to? Is a workshop the best way of doing this?

Or should we have a brainstorming session, or simply a good old-fashioned meeting?

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