Workshop Disruption: A time to tear and a time to mend

Disruption is an essential part of a workshop. I don’t want to teach you to suck eggs here but you do realise don’t you that when people walk into a workshop you need to rearrange them?  Because where people plonk themselves down in a room follows certain rules they know instinctively but have never put into words. People sit closer to those they know.  Those who want to dominate the conversation sit in central positions or end of table positions which make them more dominant. The quieter ones will look for places where they can be overlooked or where they feel they can observe the action without being placed on the spot.

Disruption is key at the start of a workshop

workshop disruption by asking how recently you went to McDonaldsThe first task of a facilitator is to put people at their ease and to get them working well as a group.  But one of the most important tasks is to firmly disrupt the way people have placed themselves in the room.  If you don’t do it at all you will spend more and more meeting time addressing the alliances based on room positioning.  Scramble them effectively and the room will need to find its own fresh configuration. And that will automatically give you fresher thinking.  Where senior executives and juniors are in the same meeting and particular when you are using breakout groups, you need to think about who is in a small group with whom. And the likely effect on dynamics.  So for small groups at the start of a workshop I will do my best to separate junior staff from their immediate report. Because it frees up the junior staff to speak more freely. And it gives senior staff the freedom to speak without feeling they have to be seen to be holding a party line.

There are lots of ways of rearranging. In discussion with the project sponsor I will always discuss who should be in each breakout group.  And prepare a list.  One of the most fun ways of randomising a room is to pick a topic like how recently a particular product has been bought and to line the room up in order of recency.  Once I found myself rearranged in a workshop by how recently all of us had bought from McDonalds. I hadn’t been to one for years but it so happened had had to do so for a birthday trip the previous Friday. So I found myself conspicuously at the most recent end of the line. The workshop was at the offices of the Guardian newspaper who were quite negative about fast food so I still remember my discomfort being outted as a McDonalds customer!    This kind of sort is simple quick and fun and it makes it easy to move participants t into new groupings to work with people they won’t know so well.

 At the end make the most of the relationships between the people who ARE there

That’s at the start of a workshop. Towards the end (depending of course on your workshop objective) the facilitator should do the opposite. Namely to rearrange people with those they most often work with. Why? Because most of the time you have a limited opportunity to make sure that the learnings from the workshop are put into action.  Yes you can assign individuals and dates by which to get things done. But as a facilitator you may have little control over the process when people leave the room.   So I usually try to set up a planning and implementation session at the end of the workshop.  And put the regular teams back together again. Encouraging each team to present to the whole room.  It makes it more likely that the learnings will be put into practice. But critically it means that those in each group are working with their regular colleagues. That way failure to implement or cynicism about the value of the workshop damage them in the eyes of colleagues. When a work team has committed publically to doing something they are far more likely to get on with it and to nag each other until they do! For more about workshops and working with John Griffiths you can visit the link here or of course sign up for the newsletter.

So those are the simple principles for arranging people in a workshop. Disrupt the workshop at the beginning and then put people back within their teams before the end.


Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Designed by Matthew Pattman