Tell me a joke. When’s a workshop not a workshop…?

Is it just me, or do you spend a lot of your time in workshops? At Gilroy, we work with our customers to create propositions, and generate actionable content as a result. And the quickest way to get to what our customers know, and what they didn’t know they knew, is to workshop them to within an inch of their life!

The challenge is, when is a workshop a workshop, and when is it something else? I find that too many ‘get togethers’ are called workshops for the sake of making it feel more valuable, and it isn’t a workshop at all. The outcome: expectations aren’t met.

Come to think of it, what is a workshop?

Here is my list of workshop definitions, with alternative titles should you wish to use them:

  1. The ‘briefing’ workshop

This is essentially when one party at the meeting is there to download all of the relevant information they have on to another party. We have, as you would expect, a lot of these where our clients are confessing everything they know about a particular challenge or opportunity. The aim is that the receiving party have enough information to go away and solve this on their own.

It needs tight time management, and a clear agenda so that you ensure you cover everything you need to in the time allowed. So, those capturing the information need to prepare their view of what they need in advance.

Call it…a briefing.

  1. The ‘discovery’ workshop

For me, this only works when it follows after the briefing session. Having had time to create order around the existing information, it is a wholly worthwhile exercise to revisit it, ask questions of it, make assumptions around it for testing, and essentially challenge it. This is where an external party should add most value – they do not need to be experts in the subject matter, just know what questions to ask and how to ask them, to uncover all of the valuable information you didn’t know you knew.

Responsibility for creating, managing and delivering this lies with one group – the same group that received the initial information in the briefing.

Call it…a discovery session.

  1. The ‘brainstorming’ workshop

Responsibility is shared across all attendees in these meetings. You have an issue to solve, or an opportunity to take, and you need a starting point. The idea is that everyone gets in a room and comes up with fresh and exciting ideas to meet the challenge.

The problem is that they are often run like the title of this blog. It’s a bit like asking someone on the spot to make you laugh. Mostly they dry up. So the key is preparation – ensure you send out the brief for the meeting in enough time that people can think about it in advance.

And nobody likes the term ‘brainstorm’, it creates too much pressure. If you call it ‘ideation’, anyone worth turning up won’t.

Call it…a solution workshop.

  1. The ‘education’ workshop

There’s no workshop here. This is when one party educates another party on a particular subject matter. It’s a presentation.

Call it…a presentation.

  1. The solving a problem’ workshop

To me, this is the closest to an actual workshop. There’s a beginning, middle and end. You need to set the scene; define the subject matter for discussion; construct and plan the meeting with the relevant exercises that will create the answers you need; and you need to be able to articulate the outcomes of the meeting before it ends.

Constructing the agenda and exercises is rarely given the time it deserves. I’ve been to plenty of workshops where the things we were asked to do were not thought out, and no contingency was in place. You need a contingency for every aspect of the meeting, because you don’t know until you do it how it will pan out.

Preparation and practice is key. If you are going to use an exercise you have never used, make sure it actually works before you do it.

And finally, and this is true of all types of workshop, facilitation is the single most important aspect.

Call it…a workshop.

At Gilroy, we use an established process to understand the exact starting position of an organisation and ensure we generate the most value from these kinds of sessions.

We start with disclosure where we absorb as much information as humanly possible and ask probing questions to get to the core of the information. We then move into the discovery phase, which is where we play those key pieces of information back, challenge and validate them to ensure we meet our clients’ objectives.

To find out more about Gilroy, our process and our services, take a look at our website: and email us at



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