Imagine that you’ve just been tasked with running an innovation workshop to fill your businesses innovation pipeline. No pressure! You wouldn’t be alone if this idea filled you with absolute dread. Firstly, the pressure of coming up with game-changing ideas can feel pretty damn daunting. And secondly, the idea of playing the role of facilitator can bring on more panic than an episode of Killing Eve for some people.
I love running workshops (I’ve been told that I was possibly born holding a flipchart marker), but I can absolutely appreciate that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But I also know that with the right tools and a few tips you can set yourself up for the best chance of success and help minimise the panic. So here are five of my top tips for facilitating a successful innovation workshop…

1.    Plan your time
It might sound simple, but always write up an agenda before your session so you know how you’ll use your time. This doesn’t have to be set in stone but having a good idea of how your timings will work beforehand will help ensure that you stay on track and achieve your workshop objectives. If you need to switch up timings during the session, that’s OK, but at least you can decide how this will impact other areas on your agenda and what can and can’t be compromised.

2.    Invite ‘externals’
‘Groupthink’ can be a huge dampener on creativity, and we are far more prone to groupthink if we brainstorm within our everyday work teams. Essentially groupthink is a process by which we strive for group consensus, meaning we can start adopting the opinions of the group and put aside our own personal beliefs which can often lead to more ‘mediocre’ ideas. One tactic to break out of groupthink is to invite along a number of ‘externals’ to your workshop i.e. people who are outside of your usual work team but who might have an interesting perspective on your challenge. An ‘external’ could be someone within the same business but who works in a different team or it could be someone outside of the business. Either way, inviting along externals significantly improves the diversity and the quality of the ideas you generate.

3.    Don’t facilitate AND participate
You can’t effectively facilitate and participate in an innovation workshop. You just can’t…so don’t even try. If you feel it’s important that you participate in your session, then seek out someone who can play the role of facilitator or vice versa. But the role of facilitator is a full-time gig and requires a different set of skills focused on getting the most out of the group, keeping things on track and making sure the workshop objectives are met. If the facilitator tries to participate as well, it’s inevitable that things will creep off-track.

4.    Try not to get stuck on a particular creative tool
As an innovation facilitator, it’s important to have a few different creative tools up your sleeve for generating ideas in your session. At Inventium we have a whole toolbox of different approaches that we use in our workshops for generating ideas, whether that be, for example, crushing assumptions, stepping into the shoes of someone else to solve the challenge or bringing in external stimulus and information. The key is to try a range of different approaches with the group and see what works. But the trick is not to force a particular tool. If something isn’t working, then don’t waste any more time on it and move on to something else. And similarly, if one particular tool seems to be a favourite amongst the group and is generating lots of fresh ideas, then allocate more time to this rather than cutting things off prematurely.

5.    Have tactics to manage dominating personalities
There are usually a couple of people in every workshop that tend to lead the discussion through either being extremely passionate, highly extraverted or perhaps more senior than the rest of the group. While their energy is great and we want to harness this, we don’t want it to be at the sacrifice of the opinions and contributions of others in the group. Therefore, as a facilitator we need to have a few tools under our belt to help manage these more dominating personalities. One highly effective tool that we use at Inventium is called ‘shifting’. How it works is that for every round of idea generation, we first begin in ‘individual mode’, where people generate ideas on their own without discussing them with anyone else. Then after around 15 to 20 minutes of ‘individual mode’ we shift into ‘group mode’ where everyone then shares their ideas and the group discusses and builds on them to generate new ideas. This approach works for lots of different personality types and it ensures that everyone’s ideas are heard and captured.

By adopting these five approaches I feel confident that you’ll be well on your way to running a successful innovation workshop.

And if you’d like more help in becoming an expert facilitator, come along to Inventium’s Innovation Facilitator Training course where we’ll cover loads of tools like these to help ensure that your next innovation workshop will be a hit and that your innovation pipeline will be brimming with awesome ideas!

September 10th & 11th: Innovation Facilitator Training

Learn more here.

If you’re interested in coming along, drop me an email at zoe@inventium.com.au.

Hope to see you there!
Zoe