Running Effective Innovation Workshops

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that innovation is a team sport. The strongest teams are characterized by functional, gender, and cultural diversity among its members. And, teams that are successful at innovation are committed to ongoing growth via avenues such as innovation workshops.

When it comes to running effective innovation workshops, here are some things to keep in mind:

First, decide where to hold the workshop. Now don’t get carried away here. Any room will do. You don’t need a so-called innovation room with bean bag chairs and frisbees. I’m not a big fan of these rooms because I don’t think they do anything to boost creativity. Just find a room with comfortable chairs and flip charts.

When you begin your workshop, start by identifying the constraints around the problem. Constraints might include budget issues, timing, or legal and regulatory boundaries. List them all. Without constraints, the ideation will lack focus. You’re likely to generate ideas that are too wild to be viable.

Next, make sure you and the participants define the closed world around the problem. Where you define this imaginary space around the problem will have a big impact on how you apply each technique.

Now decide which of the five techniques to apply.  

Once you select the techniques, create a list of the components and attributes by writing them down on a whiteboard, a flip chart, or a pad of paper. Make sure you number the list. That helps keep the workshop more organized as you work through the lists.

When you apply a technique, be sure to work in smaller teams of two or three people, not as one large group. Working in pairs is also more efficient.

As you apply a technique, assign each pair a different component from the list. That forces them to really focus, and it increases their chance of coming up with a creative idea. Be sure to set a specific time limit, say 3 minutes. This further constrains their brain to think inside the box.

When ideas are generated, try not to identify them with a specific person. Otherwise, people may bias the idea depending on who generated it. A simple way to do this is to have people write down their ideas. When giving credit for the source of an idea, make sure it’s from the pair of colleagues, not just one person. You have to find ways to strip ideas of their identity. This will make sure ideas don’t get thrown out prematurely.

A typical workshop can be anywhere from an hour in length to several days. Innovating is hard work, so be sure to manage the group’s energy level. Take a lot of breaks during the workshop, and mix up the activities to keep people engaged.

Using good facilitation techniques will make sure you get the most out of your creativity workshop.