Professional development workshops are important for the growth of the person, and the team. The purpose of a workshop is for the participants to either acquire a new skill or improve on their existing skill set. They are performed typically in a small group (five-ten people) or slightly larger classroom (ten-twenty people) setting. The workshop concept typically has three separate and important elements:
- A subject matter expert (SME) will provide the tools and a process. The tools will include descriptions on how and why.
- The participants will perform a series of exercises. These exercises should be designed with the specific learning in mind, and will provide the participants with hands-on learning.
- The group will come back together for a debrief and discussion of the process. Participants will discuss what was difficult, what they learned, and interact with other participants, as well as the facilitator, to further the understanding, and create synergistic learning.
While all three steps are necessary in order to create a successful workshop, we find the third step to be the most valuable portion of the workshops we facilitate. The reason is simple; we believe in a concept of collaborative learning. Collaborative learning was described by Pierre Dillenbourgh from the University of Geneva in Switzerland as, “a situation where two or more people learn or attempt to learn something together” (1999). Why is this important? What are the benefits?
By obtaining multiple perspectives on any situation, the participants are exposed to the potential of synergy. Synergy is the concept that two or more (we prefer more) people come up with ideas that are greater than the sum of their individual ideas. We believe that small groups benefit from synergistic thinking and that the sharing of ideas between group members stimulates new and more creative ideas than any one person in the group (including the SME) could come up with by themselves. In this vein, it is imperative that the debrief include all participants and not just the SME or facilitator providing feedback. The participants in the workshop will provide great feedback, and new insight, while at the same time learning through sharing ideas.
That is not to dismiss the importance and value that a professional facilitator or SME brings to the workshop. They are important, and frankly, trying to operate a workshop without one, would be much like trying to have a group of students teach their own chemistry class. The facilitator provides the framework for the learning, but is not a lecturer. The SME is there to inform, and guide the participants through carefully selected exercises that facilitate the learning.
With that said, we believe that the success of a workshop should be measured through the eyes of the participants. We are careful to learn and grow with every workshop we put on, and gauge future sessions based on a series of questions we ask of each participant in two stages, the first is at the end of every workshop, focusing on:
The participant’s reaction;
- Was the program well-planned and meaningful?
- Was the space appropriate to facilitate the learning? Was it comfortable?
- Was the content useful?
- Was the facilitator/SME knowledgeable about the subject?
- Was the facilitator/SME approachable?
The participants learning;
- Did you find the information useful?
- Did you leave the session with some key takeaways?
Typically, a month later, we will reach back out to the participants and ask them if they have been able to apply any of the new skills they learned in either their professional or personal life.
All of this, is why workshops work. Workshops work if you work them, and they don’t if you don’t. That includes not only the participants, but also the SME/facilitator and the organization running them. We work hard at Lead2Goals to not only provide top quality workshops, but also to learn and grow with each new cohort.