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Get involved with remote workshops - strategic approach

“A bigger group should be involved but everyone is in such a hurry that they don’t have time to get involved,” one leader said.

Have you also wondered how to involve customers and staff in development projects? At what stages? Why? A development project designed to be interactive may wither into one-way communication when the joint investment of time seems to swell too large. One 50-person event, lasting 3 hours, means 150 person-hours, plus time to prepare. What is achieved in that time - compared to what three experts achieve in a week? Without involvement, the sense of ownership is exhausted and practical implementation becomes tangled. It is critical to identify which phases of projects are done with the help of a few experts, and which in larger or smaller group events.

In this article, I highlight different approaches to collaborating on projects and clarify levels of involvement. A workshop is not the only way to get involved, and there are different types of them as well.


Last fall, I realized that the field of consulting is fragmented so that some offer more of their expertise and others more through the work process. This is also reflected in organizational cultures and leadership. However, I will now focus on collaborating on projects.

In the figure above, different levels of involvement have been identified - of these, the expertise-oriented ones mainly use left-wing means and the process-oriented ones mainly use right-edge means. It seems that both extremes believe in the superiority of their own choice of means. However, it is naive to think that a big development project can be carried out simply as a series of co-development workshops. It is equally naive to involve the customer only in the role of information source. A successful (consulting) project requires the identification of different role options by which the expert, the client and the client’s client can be involved. And that the most appropriate way of participating in each situation has been chosen.

Not everyone fits into the workshop, and they run the risk of being limited to the information that happens to come to mind during the workshop. At its worst, the group hangs to fight for a sensory-level knowledge that entangles its own identity. Of course, that too can be facilitated for a common outcome. But is the end result then based on relevant data or is it mutation synthesis? To get an overall picture, I will next clarify the extremes.


- "As an external expert, we identify the customer's real problem and come up with a solution to it"
- "The customer would not use our services if he or she had enough information and skills to find a solution"
- Other people (client, client's client, staff, other experts) provide information and ideas to make it easier for the expert to come up with a solution

Levels of involvement
The work is expert-driven. It happens mainly through interviews, at the desk and in workshops. Facilitation can be applied in group discussions to highlight and understand information and, in the planning phase, to generate ideas with a wider team of experts. In the expert focus, the facilitation of group events is focused on divergence, the presentation of information and ideas.

- Provide expertise in finding, analyzing and crystallizing relevant information. An outside researcher can see things from different angles and get different things out of people’s interviews. This helps to “get out of your bubble” especially when you want to create something radically new.
- Use quantitative and qualitative research methods to obtain information from a much wider group than would ever be possible to invite to the workshop
- Discussions do not just end up in a stack of post-it notes, but the results of the workshop or research are translated into an easily communicable format

Potential challenges
- Focus on knowledge more than people: use, for example, filling in "Canvas" models without thinking about the participant's experience or group dynamics
- Focus on knowledge rather than action: the customer has to figure out how to put the proposed solutions into practice
- In the customer's organization, the implementation of the solution may face resistance and lack of ownership if there has been no involvement in the project. In this case, the lead time of the project increases.
- It is difficult for a facilitator to remain in a content-neutral role if he or she is also responsible for producing factual content. This can passivate other participants in the group situation and not get all the potential out of them. The facilitator is treated as an expert who is expected to provide the right answers.
- Not suitable for situations where data do not need to be obtained and the participants have the information. For example, agreeing on common practices.



- "The facilitator is completely content neutral. No ideas or views are shared, even if they come to mind. There is no pimp on the group's outputs."
- "All participants are treated equally, everyone's voice is heard"
- "Participants have content skills and the ability to solve their own problems, as long as the problem-solving process is well controlled"
- “However, no one does the preliminary tasks,” so the workshop starts from a clean slate
- "The shorter the expert's presentation, the better, as the presentation takes time out of the joint discussion"

Levels of involvement
The work consists of co-development workshops. Facilitation is about creating a common understanding, planning together and making group decisions.


  • Making people meet each other and experts in different fields understand each other, silos are dismantled
  • Difficult group situations can be smoothed out
  • The knowledge of the members of the group is brought to the fore, including possibly tacit and intuitive knowledge
  • Can influence people's ways of thinking and acting
  • Participants feel important, enthusiastic and committed to working together and putting solutions into practice

Potential challenges

  • Focusing on human interaction at the expense of knowledge: mutus syntheses, i.e. group decisions that are not based on relevant information, or a compromise is reached that does not necessarily solve the real problem.
  • The way of working on co-development is not ideal in situations where the topic requires data.
  • A lot is required of the participants: to get acquainted with the (extensive) material in advance, to be able to analyze and crystallize, to be able to verbalize their thoughts so that others understand them, to be able to listen to others and take the position of others
  • The workshop is thought to be the best solution for all situations. The investment of time becomes enormous if all development takes place in large group workshops.
  • Apparent involvement: The group did not have any real decision-making power. One person rolls out the group results and decides to do something completely different, pulling the rug under the whole gang.



All of these ways of involvement described above can be called “workshops”. When you invite people in, tell us a little more about what kind of occasion it is and what their role is in the project. Clarity increases professionalism and confidence - everyone's input is better utilized. The figure shows the ways of participation, especially in terms of development projects and consulting projects. As you can see, there are more of these than the two extremes I described first.

6 + 1 levels of involvement:

  • The participant is the recipient
  • The participant is the subject of research
  • The participant is a critic
  • The participant is an active designer
  • The participant is the decision maker
  • The participant is the implementer

On the left side of the picture below, the focus of the project is on studies carried out by experts, research work and working group refinements. This ensures relevant information and an appropriate level of depth. The involvement towards the right edge of the image increases. This allows for a deeper common understanding of knowledge, the utilization of participants' know-how and a commitment to work together to take concrete results forward. In other words, to put it bluntly, one could say that if we go by the means of the right edge alone, the gang commits to action, but may not do the right things. And if we go by the means of the left side alone, great reports are generated but no action. It is important that development projects make use of different ways to involve the right people, at the right stage, in the right way.

Different levels of involvement are likely to be needed at different stages of the project. It is important to identify which approach is appropriate at any given time. If the project is led by a pair of experts, one may profile more as an expert and the other may focus on guiding the collaboration of the group. This clarifies and structures the work.

Even within an individual event, there may be different levels of involvement. The opportunity can begin by reviewing the research findings and the conclusions drawn from them. The discussion creates a common understanding of conclusions, such as customer pain. It is then possible to move to a level of co-development where ideas are produced together, such as how pain could be reduced. In order to deepen ideas, benchmark stories compiled by an expert can sometimes be heard.

With the group, the most interesting starting points for designing solutions are prioritized. After the event, a smaller team will plan the solutions in more detail, test them and find out the possible effects of different choices. Such a way of working requires planning both the content of the event and the process so that the facilitator (s) think about both and not so that one expert pops up on the spot giving a presentation.

How to use everyone's time wisely? Take advantage of different ways to involve different groups at different stages of the project. For example:

  • Interviews with key personnel
  • Kick-off opportunity for a wider group: Let's tell what is being done and why. Giving the task of self-paced discussion on the digital platform.
  • Working at your own pace: Opportunity to familiarize yourself with and discuss materials on a digital platform. May also include tasks like "detect x, take photos and upload them here".
  • Team leaders hold discussions as part of regular meetings, and come to the workshop to represent the views of their entire team on an issue.
  • Workshop with representation from all teams.
  • A common opportunity for a wider group to create a common understanding of what has been achieved in the representative workshops. The discussion is prioritized in the work, because the material has been read in advance on a digital platform and in team meetings. Rotating small groups are used to allow members of different teams to meet each other and create a broader vision.
  • A smaller synthesis group that works on the things agreed in the workshop of the larger group.

The earlier a person is involved in a project at some level, the easier it is to get him excited about the implementation phase. Commitment does not happen with a one-way message and carrots. Different levels of involvement can also be applied to take the measures forward - that is why I describe this as a 6 +1 role. The left side tells you what to do.

On the right is the broadest form of inclusion: the person is involved in planning, deciding, and implementing. Not everyone can be involved in deciding everything, so it needs to be clarified what everyone is allowed to decide: The management team decides to go to China. The marketing team thinks about what they need to do to get there and create team-level goals. The team leader fits the individual level goals. The individual as a member of the team decides on their own next steps to achieve their own goals.

At what level of involvement will you involve anyone in your next development project? How can you best make use of different means at different stages to make collaboration both effective and interactive? How do you do it in practice? If you need sparring for this, I’ll be happy to talk to you.



Author: Piritta van der Beek

Piritta van der Beek (n. Kantojärvi) is one of Finland's most experienced professional facilitators, specializing in strategy and innovation projects as well as team development. He has written the book Facilitation Creates the New (Alma Talent 2012), in which he describes more than 50 methods for creative problem solving.

If you would like to discuss the ideas raised by the writing, please contact Piritta. You can book a chat time directly from Pirita's calendar here below, or try your luck by calling directly
to 0400664889 or sending a message to:

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