How to facilitate idea workshops

ground rules

I put together these Ground rules for how to facilitate idea workshops. We are probably all aware of some ground rules for participating in ideation workshops, but not necessarily for the workshop facilitators.

Here are the ground rules for idea facilitators.

  1. Energy. Facilitating ideation workshops is the best job in the World. The energy you get from the participants can be palpable…but you can kick-start that with your energy and enthusiasm.
  2. Hold your nerve. It can be a nerve-wracking time. At the start of the workshops you won’t know what you’ll get and a little part of you will worry that you won’t get anything novel and exciting. All you can do is be confident and pass that confidence on to the participants.
  3. Protect the ideators. Sharing ideas can make us feel vulnerable – what if it’s stupid or unworkable? What if they know about the idea? If we meet (or allow the other participants to meet) an idea with derision or confusion it can kill the ideation process. It’s your job to protect the ideators by setting and enforcing the ground rule that is common across all of the ideation tools that no idea is a bad idea – indeed, “all truly great ideas started sounding utterly ridiculous so more ridiculous the better”!
  4. Continually give positive affirmation. Good idea facilitators continually give positive encouragement and affirmation both physically and verbally. Lot’s smiles, positive adjectives (“love it, great idea, brilliant”).
  5. Facilitate, don’t ideate. It’s very easy to slip into ideation mode and start to offer ideas. Resist this temptation. It isn’t your job to come up with the ideas. When you’re offering ideas you are no longer facilitating. If you have an idea that you feel is valuable, frame it as a question or prompt for someone else
  6. Don’t confuse energy with ideas. You’re likely to have some extroverts in your workshop who love to be heard and verbalize their ideas. You’re equally likely to have some introverts who are less interested in speaking-up. That no more means that they aren’t ideating as it does that the extroverts are coming up with brilliant ideas simply because they are being loud. It isn’t a contest! Ask people to write their ideas down. I strongly recommend you use the Idea Canvas tool.
  7. Before you finish, ask your ideators to choose their first and second favorite ideas. Ideas are useless (arguably worse than useless) if you cannot action them starting with some ‘convergence’ which means finding a handful of ideas to take a closer look at. We can help this process by asking the participants in the ideation workshop, before they leave, to choose a first and second favorite idea. Of course in some cases people will choose both of their ideas so you can ask them to give one of their votes to someone else’s idea. This is tremendously helpful to the Sponsor who generally has to choose which ideas to progress further. The worst case scenario is that when the Sponsor sees too many ideas they come up with a new idea what wasn’t identified in the workshop and of course the participants wonder “where did that come from, what was the point of the workshop”?