What is the value in stakeholder workshops?

Numiko facilitates workshops in many of our projects to enable stakeholders of an organisation, both internal and external, to collaborate together. We have supported clients with workshops including:

  • Creating a common vision
  • Defining Business requirements
  • Gathering insight
  • Generating ideas
  • Website design

They require time and care to design and deliver well, organising the diaries of those invited can attend is a mean feat in itself! So why do we recommend them?

Why consider running a workshop?

People are replacing products as the competitive advantage for business, because of what they know and what their networks know. The value of ‘social capital’ is not new, it’s the actual realisation of the benefits of it that’s the gear shift.

We can thank the emergence of social networks both as facilitators and news platforms for this change. Not only are we seeing the fruits of collaboration’s labour more transparently, people now expect participation.

But why collaborate in the first place? What is gained by drawing on a network of knowledge? Because in the knowledge economy it’s less about what you know, than who you know:

Collective intelligence refers to a situation where nobody knows everything, everyone knows something, and what any given member knows is accessible to any other member upon request on an ad hoc basis. Henry Jenkins

Businesses and organisations always have knotty challenges to face, not least how to present themselves to the wider world in marketing and communications. By working together to tackle such challenges the reward can be surprising and innovative ideas and strong stake holder buy-in.

Innovation is born out of conflict (easier with at least two in the room, surely?) and ownership of something, or autonomy, has long been recognised as one of the key factors to motivating a team in today’s workplace. But when it comes to how we feel about the ideas we generate we can go further to explain.

Defined following experiments by clever people at Harvard and Yale, the Ikea Effect describes the bias people place on things or ideas the played a part in creating. Essentially if you put a significant measure of effort into creating something you are more likely to place a higher value on it than something you put little or no effort in. And that’s even if the outcome is a falling down Ikea wardrobe, which is only propped up by its place in the corner (for the Ikea Effect on TedTalks click here).

The flip-side, has been described as Not Invented Here syndrome, when managers disregard good ideas developed by someone else, in favour of possibly inferior ideas they’ve thought of themselves. The first secret to success? Ensure those who will be delivering on the outcome of the workshop are in the room when you generate ideas but the process is inclusive enough for everyone to feel ownership of the output.

What stakeholder workshops are not:

A spectator sport

Attendees should be prepared to roll their sleeves up and get involved. There will be individual and group exercises on the journey to solutions and a good facilitator will ensure everyone has a say – not just ‘the usual ones’.

Ruling by committee

Workshops aren’t about everyone agreeing in a committee meeting style. In fact it’s generally a more productive session if there are opposing ideas! The ownership of the output will always be with the challenge owner.

Focus groups

Workshops tend to host attendees with a vested interest, whereas those attending focus groups often have been offered an incentive. Workshop design includes diverging and converging techniques guided by a facilitator to reach a conclusion, it is the conclusion that counts for follow up work afterwards. Focus groups are usually led by the attendees’ discussion providing lots of ‘raw data’ for analysts to process afterwards.

A soap box

Please don’t think, if asked to attend a workshop, that it is an ideal platform to deliver your many gripes with an organisation, its processes or people. Workshops are about finding solutions and negatively commenting on what your co-workers say or do such as, ‘That idea’s ridiculous’, ‘We’ve tried that before’ or even a damning eye roll can limit productivity. You may be asked politely to ‘park’ a thought or even leave the session.

Setting the challenge

The time taken in understanding what is to be achieved in a workshop varies enormously. It may be easy to define – such as forming a website’s business requirements from a new corporate plan – or take time to refine – idea generation for a new digital product.

You’re not alone, your facilitator will help you, but you should have an idea what outcome is your ‘ideal state’ before looking to arranging the practicalities of a session.

The challenge should not be too broad, We want to create a new toy

Or too specific,We want to create a new toy that looks like a teddy bear, feels like a teddy bear, behaves like a teddy bear

One extreme leads to ‘blank-page-itis’, the other leads to lots of ideas generated with little to differentiate them.

The challenge could impact the length of the workshop, the kind of stimulus created (or invited!) and whom should attend – the next biggest question.

Who should be the stakeholders in the room?

A stakeholder is simply ‘a person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business’.

So by definition it could mean anyone connected with your organisation, your co-workers or business partners, your consumers or supporters and I’ve even run a workshop before when competitors were invited! (How brave do you feel?)

Wherever you begin with the list of attendees remember a person is more than the title on their business card. I appreciate asking everyone and anyone to attend is impractical, but careful consideration should be given to who should be invited.

Are they people who have the ability to effect change in the organisation, make decisions in their area or have experience in customer service providing valuable insight to the more office bound? Do you need some ‘wild cards’ in there? People who, on the surface, seem not to be relevant but because of their interests outside work give them a fresh perspective. (Who knew Dot in the photocopying room sky dives and races rally cars at the weekend? Ideal for that adrenalin junkie campaign). We are all naïve experts in something, even if it’s how we feel whilst enduring automated customer service calls with our banks.

Sometimes it is beneficial to have a combination. A good facilitator can advise you who to invite but it’s fair to say the majority of the effort in running workshops is in the planning and preparation - getting the right people in the room is paramount.

The one person who it is absolutely necessary to include is the challenge owner; that could be you, or someone you work with who will be responsible for the outcome. They can be identified before or even during the workshop – so long as they know a new project could be on the horizon and it’s not a surprise on an already buckling workload.

The fact you are asking for someone’s involvement will already make them feel engaged in whatever challenge you are addressing. Now the hard work is done it’s time to have some fun and get the workshop started!

What happens next?

Well that’s up to you, but the value of stakeholder workshops surely lies in how you use them and where you take their content and outputs.

Whenever you improve a group’s ability to communicate internally, you change the things it is capable of. What a group does with that power is a separate question.

— Clay Shirky

Get in touch if you would like to arrange a workshop, you would like more information or just to understand if a workshop is right for you.