What we learned about facilitating workshops online
At ForChiefs, our work consists of the facilitation of workshop journeys in the areas of purpose, vision & strategy, culture, and leadership as well as the coaching of leaders and leadership teams. Sometimes one-to-one, other times with groups ranging from a handful up to 600 people, our goal is to create rich, engaging, and challenging yet supportive in-person experiences where our clients have the chance to connect with one another on a deeper level and to connect their mind with their hearts.
To continue to act as sidekicks to our clients (you’re the Bat(wo)man, we’re your Robin), a few weeks ago we faced some big questions about how we could turn the Corona crisis into an opportunity for our clients and ourselves. Some of the questions that emerged where:
- How do we ensure that the workshops we designed for an in-person experience have the same quality and outcome when facilitated online?
- How do we create the right energy that is needed for the day and the group without being in the same room?
- How do we keep participants engaged, focused, and energized throughout an intense day in front of a computer screen?
We work with some great and courageous clients that are used to embracing a challenge and turning it into an opportunity. With them, we started new or continued existing journeys, moved them online, and experimented and learned along the way. Collectively, we’ve facilitated more than 20 workshops online, such as:
- Created a vision and defining a strategy for a company
- Created a set of company values and defined leadership principles and mindsets
- Facilitated feedback and courageous conversations with senior management teams
In this blog post, we want to share some of our learnings. We’re definitely still learning a lot every day—as with everything, it’s about starting, experiencing and improving along the way.
The first task was to assess and select the tools available that could support the methods and exercises of our in-person workshops: a mix of silent brainstorming, small group work, and plenary sessions. We selected Zoom mainly for its Breakout Room feature which works well for creating subgroups and as a facilitator lets you move around the rooms to provide guidance and engagement.
The second key tool we selected is Mural, an online collaboration tool that is easy and fun to use and gives participants a visual to focus on and collaborate in. Those of you who are used to working with us know that we love using and filling up flipcharts and Mural is a great substitute to make this work online.
After selecting the tools that enable online facilitation, we needed to assess our existing workshop programme designs, redesign them to work online, and in some instances design new ones from scratch.
Thanks to the tools we selected, we were able to create a very similar experience to our in-person workshops with a mix of creative and thinking exercises, small and large group work, discussion and debate, all while capturing the outcomes in real-time for everybody to follow.
Packed and full-day workshops can be intense and we learned that sometimes breaking a full-day workshop into half days and shorter work sessions can offer a good alternative to manage energy and efficiency.
Engagement & Interaction
Those of you who in the past weeks have spent countless hours in video calls will have experienced how exhausting this can be.
To address the video call overkill, we experimented with different types of breaks and increased their frequency:
- Short breaks: 5-10 minute bio or coffee break
- Longer breaks: 30-60 minutes for lunch breaks and to go for a walk
- ‘Commercial Breaks’: just like on a television, our programmes are interrupted with some short mental breaks to show a funny video that makes everybody laugh and that helps close an exercise and move onto the next one. These are even more fun when the videos are shared in advance by your colleagues so you learn about their sense of humour. One of our favorites is this scene from Parks & Recreation.
To keep the energy and engagement high, we alternate between plenary and small group sessions, moments of silence to think and reflect, voting and creative collaboration in Mural or on paper.
Visual cues also help people stay engaged so we frequently ask everyone to use their thumbs (and facial expressions!) to provide feedback. Our little mascot ELMO (Enough Let’s Move On) is present too, sometimes as a virtual background or on a phone.
And finally, a great way to bring fun and lightness into an intense day is to play with props and costumes. Our record so far is the use of 8 different costumes in a one-day workshop.
Some of you know that we often bring one or more co-facilitators to our workshops to increase quality, use different styles & strengths, and to better manage group dynamics.
Moving our workshops online let us experiment and play with new or different roles, for example, the role of a ‘scribe’. The scribe is a great complement to the lead facilitator and ensures that the essence of what is being discussed and shared gets documented while the main facilitator can fully focus on the group and participants.
The scribe can also fulfil the role of a co-facilitator and support the subgroups in the breakout rooms to ensure clarity and engagement.
After 6 weeks of experimenting with many fun and intense sessions, we’re pleased about where we are, and the feedback from our clients has been fantastic.
Some say that the sessions have been more efficient, focused, and productive compared to in-person sessions. Others have said that even though they weren’t in the same room, they felt surprisingly more connected to their colleagues and often discovered new sides to people’s personalities. And almost everybody shared that the sessions went by so fast and often would have loved to go on even longer.
We’re grateful about having the opportunity to learn together with our clients, help them keep moving forward, and learn about how they discover their hidden potential.
So if you too are looking for a sidekick to support you on your vision, purpose, culture, and leadership journey, then please reach out to us: firstname.lastname@example.org