Why you should never run a full day workshop ever again

As many companies shift into strategy planning mode over the summer months, workshop facilitators are inadvertently killing the effectiveness of their workshops through ignoring what science tells us about how to maximise impact. Here are four practical and easy-to-implement strategies to instantly improve the effectiveness of your next workshop and avoid the most common pitfalls.

1. Don’t make big decisions after lunch.

Have you ever participated in a full day workshop, in which the first half of the day was dedicated to idea generation, and the afternoon was reserved for making decisions as to what to do next? This is a fairly standard structure, and in my pre-Inventium life, I have participated in many of these workshops.

However, research into Decision Fatigue shows that our brains make poorer quality decisions in the afternoon, compared to the morning. Essentially, every single decision we make over the course of the day eats away at our decision making “battery”, so by the end of the day, our battery is running on empty. And the implication of decision fatigue is that when making decisions, we will take the easy way out. And of course, no one ever changed the world through taking the easy way out.

If you are designing a workshop, insist on breaking full day workshops into two half days. Refuse to facilitate full day workshops where decisions are required to be made after lunch. Instead, come together on the first day from 9am-1pm, generate lots of brilliant ideas, and then meet up again the next day at 9am to make some decisions as to which ideas to progress.

2. Obsess over your venue.

Venue selection for workshops is often an after-thought. Other times, it gets delegated to an assistant that views the task as a “tick-box” exercise rather than an opportunity to find a space that actually promotes creative thinking. Scientific research clearly demonstrates that the physical environment has a big impact on our ability to think creatively. So if creative thinking is important to the success of your workshop, find a venue that has loads of natural light, has elements of the natural environment (such as pot plants or views of nature), and has plenty of diverse stimuli. All these things have been scientifically proven to enhance innovation.

If you happen to be in Melbourne, Inventium has it’s own custom-designed venue called The Odd One Out, which is the only workshop space in Melbourne that has been scientifically proven to boost creativity.

3. Take advantage of people’s unconscious mind.

Too many facilitators make the mistake of hoping that all the great thinking should happen on the day of the workshop. However, the best facilitators let people know the challenges they will be solving days (or sometimes weeks) prior.

We know from research that our unconscious mind is excellent at thinking creatively – it just needs to be told what to focus on, and then to be given a bit of time to do so. So at least one week prior to a big workshop, the facilitator should frame up the big challenges or problems they want people to contemplate and encourage participants to write down any thoughts that come to mind in a notebook. By doing this, you will start workshops with hundreds of ideas ready to go.

4. Hire an independent facilitator.

Given I run a company that has a team of amazing Inventiologist facilitators who make (science-based) magic happen at workshops, this is probably not a surprising recommendation. Bias aside, senior leaders will often become the default choice to facilitate important workshops, which makes no sense at all. If you are charged with facilitating a workshop, you can’t participate. So by having a senior person play the role of facilitator, their great thoughts get left on the bench. Great workshop facilitators are a rare but very important find. The best ones help extract far more value out of people’s brains that an inexperienced one will ever be able to achieve.

Best of luck heading into workshop season, and please promise to never run a full day workshop ever again.



Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium (www.inventium.com.au), an innovation consultancy that only uses tools that have been scientifically proven to work. Her latest book, The Innovation Formula, tackles the topic of how organisations can create a culture where innovation thrives.



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