Last week I ran a workshop that was designed to wrinkle out the options facing a community organisation. It has been successful for many years, but now faces the challenge of significantly changed competitive and social environments since its formation,  and the loss of a key person whose mission in life had become intimately tied up with the organisations success.

How was that volunteer passion to be replaced?

What did the future hold for this organisation?

How are they going to continue to win?

There was limited time available, certainly no time for chasing rabbits,  so the structure had to be pretty simple and lead to useful outcomes.  In reality is was bog standard ‘workshopping’

  • What is the current situation?
  • Assuming success for the next five years, what would the organisation look like? (I call this hindsight planning)
  • What had been the strategies, both  successful and unsuccessful that had been tried over the 5 years, leading to the success?
  • What resources and capabilities were now evidently required for the ‘success’ to be replicated in real time?

In starting to write up the workshop over the weekend, and necessarily reviewing my own performance as the exercise leader, I thought about the factors that in the past have made for a successful  workshop beyond the necessary structural elements.

Domain knowledge.

Workshops and so called ‘brainstorm’ efforts commonly fail because there is insufficient  domain knowledge and  expertise available that addresses the key questions central to the purpose of the workshop. Success in any activity requires the presence of some sort of plan, with objectives and metrics, combined with a factual assessment of the circumstances that led to the discussion. Without this level of immersion, the workshop will just be a conversation. ‘Think outside the box’ is often the instruction, but if that leads to random thoughts outside the relevant postcode, it will not add any value, and will be enormously distracting. Domain knowledge, and knowledge related to the domain in some relevant manner is essential.


As the Mad hatter said to Alice ‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there’  you need a map of some sort that includes your starting point and an end point. Without these, you  will go around in aimless, unconnected circles. No workshop of any kind ever works without some sort of map or guidelines understood by everybody involved.


Inspiration and ideas come from the friction created by differing and often opposing views presented by intelligent and informed people. Rarely is an idea complete at first blush, rarely can an idea not be improved by some level of refinement, and rarely does informed and creative debate not lead to creative solutions and ideas. It takes people prepared to accept that their idea is merely a contributor to a more complete picture, that it is a point in the road that contributes to a better outcome that leads to true inspiration.

Action plan

As with a workshop roadmap, any plan that evolves out of the workshop needs to have a plan, no different to the one that drove the workshop in its structure. As George Patton said on his drive towards berlin in 1945, ‘without a plan you are just a tourist‘.


An imperfect plan today, well implemented is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. Anther of the wise sayings of my old dad, ‘you get 1/10 for a plan, the other 9/10 are kept for the implementation’.

I have seen many workshops that come up with very useful stuff that is just lost or put aside once the participants get back to what they see as their ‘real jobs’ facing the urgency if the daily grind. It takes a good dose of leadership, and often outside  coaching to make the implementation part of a workshop actually part of the daily business of the enterprise.