I’ve run a lot of workshops. I’ve attended even more. There have been good, there have been bad. There have been the truly shocking.

In all of my years of workshopping, the single tool that I have found to be the most useful is a simple technique for planning rather than any particular technique in a workshop itself (although I’m becoming an increasingly vocal evangelist for John Willshire’s awesome Artefact Cards).

This lovely little tool is called the STOP chart. And it helps you to think about timing, structure and approach in a way that things that look like meeting agendas simply don’t.

It goes a little something like this:

A four-column chart, with columns titled Session, Timing, Outcome and Processs. (See where the STOP comes from?)

The Session column is for a name for each session in your workshop. Timing might be either the start/stop time, or just the minutes or hours that that session will take. Outcome is what will be achieved through this part of the workshop, and Process is how you’ll do it. Hardly rocket science, but from experience too often the Outcome and Process bits get munged together in a way that often neglects the reason of why the workshop was taking place in the first place.

Here, as they used to say, is one that I made earlier…

You can see that there is a reasonably clear distinction between the Why and the How. Rather than having a session that simply says, for example, “Stakeholder Map”, the purpose of doing such analysis is made explicit (Who is it that the project needs to manage and influence?) and the techniques to do so also made clear.

Now of course, as somebody once said, you can plan all you like but on the day it might well go completely to shit. One of the real arts of great facilitation is to use a plan as a framework in which to adapt to the context and the needs of the group. The same workshop will invariably run differently depending on time, space and participants. But the stop chart not only gives a clear baseline plan with which to start, but again because the Outcomes are separated from the Process, at any point it’s much easier to do a quick assessment as to whether you have been able to get what you need even if the path you have taken has taken a number of detours.

Not a silver bullet, but a very useful and simple technique that certainly helps me loads.

You can find a crib sheet for this along with a stack of other resources at https://stamplondon.co.uk/recipes/

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