Online workshop facilitation rules

How to successfully facilitate an online workshop

Why you need facilitation rules

Conducting online workshops is anything but easy. Online workshops are not comparable to on-site workshops.

The facilitator must keep a number of things in mind to ensure high participation and avoid meeting exhaustion.

We have summarized the most important rules for facilitating online workshops.

The rules

Focus on one task at a time

You don't want to lose sight of the big picture? Then work on one task after the other. Step by step!

If you want too much at once, you will overwhelm the participants and and will end up missing the desired result.

Reduce group size

Prevent "social loafing" and "Ringelmann effect". The more participants, the lower the participation.

We recommend up to 10 participants per real-time session.

Keep it easy

Don't overdesign or complicate anything! Use lean and lightweight collaboration tools that everyone understands immediately.

Don't waste valuable time with long onboarding or training sessions.

Avoid distractions

Not only the screen but also the participants' attention is limited. Avoid video conferencing ("Zoom fatigue") and superfluous images so that participants are not distracted.

The eyes should be on the content and not on the form (tool, facilitator, presentation...). Now please turn off your video and mute your mic! ­čśë

Collaborate in real-time

The participants are located in different time zones and you can't find a suitable time for a meeting? In this case, asynchronous collaboration is the way to go. In all other cases: Arrange an appointment that lasts no more than 1 hour and collaborate at the same time (synchronously).

There are several reasons for real-time collaboration: The visible activities stimulates participation, increase awareness and create team synergies. It is also easier for the facilitator to engage the participants and respond directly to their questions.

Contribute silently

The normal meeting routine: Some people talk all the time. The others don't get a chance to speak... During the contribution phase, the group should definitely remain silent - for at least 5 minutes! Ideas can also be contributed silently and in writing.

Otherwise, you conjure up the biggest productivity killer: the so-called ("Production blocking") leads to fewer and lower quality contributions in comparison. That's because only one person can speak at a time. Participants spend most of their time waiting for their turn to speak.

Allow anonymous contributions

If participants can contribute anonymously, you will receive more contributions than if you display the author of the contributions.

Participants are more likely to dare to express an idea and less likely to fear personal criticism (see also "Protect ideas from premature criticism").

However, the non-anonymous setting is useful if you want to be able to track who made which contribution afterwards (e.g., to be able to ask questions of understanding).

Protect ideas from premature criticism

A participant summons up all his courage to express his idea. And then this happens: "That won't work!". A single killer phrase from another participant is enough to not only mentally block the idea giver but to cause fear of criticism throughout the group. The idea giver feels ashamed and the creativity is gone!

An idea is an intimate thought and must be protected from premature criticism. Therefore, the strict separation of idea generation and idea evaluation is the duty of every facilitator. Furthermore, "crazy" ideas can easily be broken down to something feasible. On the other hand, a boring idea is difficult to improve.

Avoid bias and peer pressure

The classic dot voting is not a good method for evaluating ideas! All participants immediately see where the others stick their dots. For example, if all other participants prefer one idea, no one wants to be the only one who thinks another idea is better. The reverse approach is not uncommon either, e.g., when a few participants want to prevent an idea favored by the majority. The worst case: everyone votes for the boss's ideas because they want to please him.

This kind of mutual influence distorts the result of a group work. Therefore, the facilitator should guarantee participants a secret voting. It should be possible for the participants to evaluate separately without being able to see the evaluations of the other participants.

Provide usable documentation of results

How do you document the results of your workshops? Do you take photos of the pinboards? Do you send these photos directly to the participants (and clog up their email inboxes) or do you type up the illegible sticky notes beforehand (that takes hours!)?

Save yourself this documentation effort! In the digital age, no idea is lost anymore. Distribute clean documentation of the workshop results to the participants immediately after the workshop. The documentation should not only be digital but also semantically structured so that it can be processed directly.

Follow-up quickly

After the workshop is before the workshop! Ideas often fall by the wayside because workshops only take place once a year (but then for days on end until all participants are burned out) and not when you need them. For a number of reasons, it's important that participants are able to attend a follow-up session immediately after the workshop:

A) You want to capture participants' ideas even after the workshop because some ideas take time to emerge in a flash of inspiration ("Incubation").

B) You want to generate solution ideas for the problem you just identified in the workshop.

C) You want fresh feedback from the participants on the workshop you just finished.

Do you want to facilitate your own online workshop?