7 fail-safe tips for productive creative workshops

Our Senior Strategist, Liz Hatherley, has run workshops for a wide range of organisations that include the British Film Institute, Argos, UBS, Zurich Municipal and the Royal College of Surgeons.


We’ve all felt it – that heart-sinking dread when someone drags you by the metaphorical collar into three hours of workshop hell. The awkward role-play scenarios, the just-about-under-control bickering, the sad custard creams…
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Planned and facilitated well, workshops can be super-productive in getting the best out of your team and generating knock-out ideas.
At SevenC3 we run creative workshops with clients to help solve all sorts of challenges – from getting clarity on strategy to solving creative conundrums and developing better ways of working (as well as running them for our own internal projects).
Here are our seven fail-safe tips to make sure your next workshop delivers on its potential.
1. Set one clear objective
Not lots of them. Be single-minded – but if you really do need to cover a few different objectives, do split the session into clear portions per challenge to keep things focused.
2. Vent frustrations at the start
People always have a few axes to grind, whatever the topic, so allow a moment at the beginning to talk briefly about negative issues – then put them to one side. A workshop should be a safe space where everyone can be honest, so this bit is essential. And when senior management people in particular are open about their frustrations, it can be pretty transformative. 
3. Try some exercises (but don’t be scared to abandon them)
Interactive exercises can provide structure and energy. They should be fun, quick and minimally cringey – so simple creative worksheets, sliding scales and word games are in; pretending to be wild animals is definitely out… The most important thing with techniques like this, however, is to continually read the room and not be afraid to abandon it and move on if it isn’t working for the group.
4. Get up, stand up
Benevolently forcing everyone to regularly get up from their seat is the best way to inject energy back into a flagging room, especially if the workshop lasts more than 90 minutes. There are lots of ‘stand up’ group exercises to achieve this – for example, sticking print-outs of competitor examples on a wall, then asking everyone to annotate with Post-it notes (the workshop facilitator’s ultimate power tool) then discuss.
5. Go off schedule
We believe that a good creative workshop rarely sticks to its agenda. Seemingly random off-topic discussions and unpredictably weird tangents are often when some of the most exciting thinking happens. As long as the really important things are all covered, a bit of freestyle-schedule flexing is fine.
6. Start and finish with progress markers
Everyone loves feeling a sense of progress. Top and tail the workshop by asking people to log how they feel at the start and the end to (hopefully) show improvement – and also as a prompt for live feedback about what they’ve learned, and what they want more of. This could be something as simple as asking everyone for a score out of ten about how confident or how excited they felt at the start versus the end of the session.
7. End with a clear output
It's really important to finish with a sense of conclusion to deliver a positive experience where everyone feels a sense of achievement and is buzzing for what’s next. Flipcharts are key for this – aim to collaboratively write three or four big points or actions that everyone can agree on.
And a bonus tip? Take photos of everything you work on. It really helps with re-capping on everything you covered throughout the process.
Contact us to find out how a workshop could benefit your organisation.