Sample Content

The first lesson about workshops

From the introduction to Work the Room

A few years ago, I ran a sketching session for a sprint planning meeting. Everyone on the team got a blank piece of paper to sketch the landing screen. The group included a table’s worth of engineers and this guy from QA. As everyone else started to sketch their version of the landing screen, the QA engineer pushed his chair away from the table and sat against the wall, arms crossed, not sketching a thing.

This QA engineer represents one of the scariest participants you’ll ever encounter. The curmudgeon looks surly, doesn’t want to be there, doesn’t want to participate, and thinks your sticky note, sketching hijinks waste everyone’s time.

I’ve led workshops for over a decade, and the best way to ensure good participation and collaboration is a good workshop plan. You have one of those, right? Good plans create safe spaces for discussion and encourage every participant to contribute in meaningful ways. And in these great environments, your participants go out of their way to make things more difficult.

That’s not lesson one. That’s just fact.

Every workshop has a different dynamic. Even if you know everyone in the room, you have to manage everyone’s participation, so you all walk out of the workshop with the outcome you planned for. Even with a room full of curmudgeons like that guy from QA.

Regardless of how many curmudgeons you encounter, there’s one, simple secret to good facilitation:

Don’t manage people. Manage collaboration.

You’re not a god. You’re a facilitator. Facilitate collaboration.

That’s lesson one. Manage collaboration, not people. You’ll watch me apply this lesson again and again throughout the book. Every facilitation tip takes this to heart.