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Author's profile photo Alejandro Pifarre

My 5 Golden Rules for Design Thinking Workshops


I have designed and facilitated quite a few Design Thinking workshops from a few hours to five days, in different topics like Strategy, Operations, IT Architecture, Technology, etc.; from 3 to 300 people. During this journey I have identified five “golden” rules that I follow when facing a new session:

1. BE CLEAR: this rule applies to any project, but it is particularly important for a workshop considering the limited allocated time. The sponsor has to provide a concrete and well described challenge to work with, a topic is not enough, and agree in the main deliverable. Then you can structure the flow for achieving a result only in terms of format, since the content will come from the participants. The expectations have to be well defined, we can commit to get a response for the agreed challenge, but anything else.

2. BE PREPARED: the activity that requires more seniority is not the facilitation, but the preparation of the workshop; from the agenda to the catering. The design has to consider the exercises and content, but also the emotional fluctuations. Always check the room in advance, bring yourself your key material and make sure the basics logistics are taken care. The game is mostly played before the workshop.

3. BE FLEXIBLE: once you have a detailed agenda, by the minute, do not fell in love with it. Depending how the session evolves: commitment, speed, results, teamwork, be prepared for minor and major changes. The goal is to get results and not to check the boxes of the Design Thinking phases.

4. BE BOLD: include always something new, even small, that you have not tried before like a new technique, or even better create a new one. This continued novelty will keep you alert and fresh, and you will develop your palette in the process. The participants will notice you are making an effort and will respond event better to your instructions.

5. BE THERE: A good workshop is based in the coach having empathy with the participants’ needs. You are there for them. They need to connect between them and with you. They will be committed if you are committed. They will go the extra mile if you go first. If you are very tired at the end of the session, that is a good signal. Tired, but happy.

I have no intention to say that these are general rules. They work well for me and help me to navigate difficult situations. I hope you find them useful, and perhaps in a Design Thinking spirit, you will build upon them to create your own rules. Feel free to add them as a comment.

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      Author's profile photo William Newman
      William Newman

      Hello y bueno Alejandro -

      Rule #5 is key.  As the lead facilitator you can have a team but YOU have to be engaged. This can include "shuttle diplomacy" between break-outs, clarifying requests, or introducing needed information into the process to push things along.

      I am normally exhausted after a 5-day workshop (even shorter ones). Tired but happy indeed!

      Mucho gusto y salu2

      "Ing. Bill"

      Author's profile photo Alejandro Pifarre
      Alejandro Pifarre
      Blog Post Author

      In general, feeling tired after a workshop is a good signal.....