Workshop Planning



This is a guide for planning long-format (one day or longer) workshops that promote maximum group participation and result in clear outcomes.

Workshop Design[edit]

This section on workshop design borrows heavily from methodologies presented by Sam Kaner et al in “The Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making” [0]. The goal of this design step is to develop a realistic and effective agenda allowing for maximum participation in order to drive towards strong decisions and sustainable agreements. Meeting design is one of the most important, difficult, and crucial steps of the workshop planning process. [1]

The methodology used to design an agenda for a long-format workshop is broken into two sections- clarifying desired outcomes and process design:

Clarify Desired Outcomes: Obtain a list of the most important topics for the meeting, and associated overall goals and meeting goals.[edit]

  • Identify the "person-in-charge" and schedule time to discuss meeting/workshop topics [2]
  • Facilitate the identification of topics for the meeting
  • Choose a topic, and facilitate the identification of an overall goal for the topic ("What final result do we want to achieve to be completely done with this topic?")
  • Identify meeting goals that drive towards achieving the overall goal for the topic ("What narrowly-defined, specific objective do we want to achieve for this topic at an upcoming meeting?"). Note the different types of meeting goals, above, described by Kaner et al
  • Repeat steps above for each topic
  • Ask person in charge to prioritize topics ([3, 4])


[1] Planning for planning rule of thumb: budget as many hours to plan as you have budgeted for the workshop or meeting

[2] Note that a whole team could be be involved in agenda design, or different people could contribute to different topics in the agenda design

[3] This could be done closer to the beginning of the process (after initial topic identification); however, going through the exercise of developing meeting goals can be useful for rethinking priorities

[4] Example of a topic, meeting goal, and overall goal: Topic: Figure out the team processes that the team wants to use to work together; Overall Goal: Team understands the processes they want to use, understands how the process works, why it works, and what their role is in it, and we have a measure success of how well the process is working; Meeting Goal: Develop a shared understanding of how the team wants to work.

Process Design: Using the prioritized list of topics, overall goals and meeting goals, design an activity sequence to drive towards achieving meeting goals.[edit]

  • Lay out a generic agenda outline for the scheduled meeting time [see Agenda subsection below for an example]
  • Determine appropriate activities and participation formats for each meeting goal for highest priority topics (see Activities subsection below for examples)
  • Map activities to agenda outline in a logical order; evaluate how many topics can realistically be covered, and communicate with person in charge [5]
  • As you refine the agenda and timing, you may note that the priority order of topics as defined by the person in charge does not flow well when broken down into specific activities; revise as necessary and communicate with person in charge
  • One rubric for setting goals, and prioritizing them, is the Success Spectrum. This categorizes outcomes of the workshop into desired and/or likely results. The 4 suggested categories are:
    • What does Failure look like?
      • E.g. "We leave without a shared understanding of anything"
    • What is the Minimum success?
      • E.g. "We have shared understanding of existing challenges"
    • What is the Target success?
      • E.g. "We not only have a shared understanding of existing challenges, but a plan for dealing with them."
    • What is the Epic success?
      • E.g. "We have a shared understanding of our challenges, a plan for dealing with them, and have started already."

[5]  It’s useful to have a pretty solid and detailed plan for Day One/earlier activities; later days/activities can be rougher as they are (and probably will be) subject to change.

Workshop Implementation:[edit]


The facilitator is there to support the team and individuals to do their best thinking by employing facilitation skills that

  • encourage full participation
  • promote mutual understanding
  • foster inclusive solutions
  • cultivate shared responsibility

Additionally, it may be useful to document and share any values that you, as a facilitator, bring to the workshop and will employ in your facilitation. For example:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Responding to change over following a plan
  • Involvement in workshop design
  • Inspecting and adapting


Recommended best practices for creating an environment of participation and clear expectations:

  • Display a clear agenda that is visible to participants throughout the duration of meeting
  • Begin by framing the agenda and an opening activity (check-in) and end with a closing activity (eg meeting evaluation, closing remarks, or next steps)
  • Schedule regular breaks for longer meetings
  • Use chart writing whenever possible (clear, large format charts, notes, diagrams, and other visualizations that are visible to all participants)
  • Mix up activities and participation formats to keep the energy fresh
  • Offer a clear description of activities at the outset of each activity, including duration
  • Clarify the roles of facilitator and participants
  • Communicate overall goals of meeting or workshop
  • Communicate any ground rules for the workshop
  • Describe any values or principles that are in play for how the workshop is conducted
  • Enlist a co-facilitator for chart-writing, thought partnership, and facilitation support

Sample Agenda[edit]


Sample agenda format:

9 AM-12 PM: Team Workshop

  • Check-in
  • Today’s business
  • Main Activity 1
  • Break
  • Main Activity 2

12 PM-1 PM: Lunch

1 PM-5 PM: Team Workshop

  • Main Activity 1
  • Afternoon Break
  • Main Activity 2
  • Meeting Evaluation


This is a list of some of the activities, tools, and participation formats that have been used by WMF facilitators in long-format workshops:


Name Prep


Length (Short/Medium/Long) Description Purpose Virtual-friendly?
Check-ins Minimal Short Examples: Structured (“Share something that happened on the way here and your mood today”), 3-word check-in (share three words that describe what’s on your mind or how you’re feeling) Establish participation as a group norm; develop understanding in the group about how others are feeling or what’s on their mind. Yes
Gradients Light Short Set up a station at either end of the room, representing ends of a spectrum of opinion or belief. Ask participants to position themselves physically within that spectrum according to their position on that topic. For example, you might put up sheets labeled "Introvert" and "Extrovert". Doing 2 or 3 in a row gets people moving and thinking, and only takes a few minutes (so works well as a checkin for a large group). Avoid spectra with "right" and "wrong" answers, or answers that might be embarrassing for someone who differs from the rest of the group. Get groups to recognize the diversity of opinion or values of participants. Start people thinking ahead of work conversations. Move around and wake up (if in-person). Yes
Ranking Preferences Medium Short Create a list of related categories and ask participants to, in rounds, walk to the station they prefer, with each round either for reflecting their ascending or descending preference.
  • For example, the SCARF model can introduce a group to a method of understanding neurology as it relates to collaboration, and each acronym (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) can be a station. In this example, the participants can also create "name" tags that track their individual acronym. This method is flexible depending on the categories chosen.
  • Another could be the Trust Equation, translated into categories for the activity (specifically, areas for Intimacy, Reliability, Credibility, and Self-orientation).
This activity gives participants the opportunity to see their preferences for collaboration relative to their peers, which theoretically enhances empathy. Yes
Tournament Light Short In one variant, Rock/Paper/Scissor, participants pair up and play classic Rock/Paper/Scissor, and with each decision the loser becomes the winner's cheerleader. The number of combatants shrinks over time, and as victors with cheerleaders are beaten, they become cheerleaders themselves and the new victor inherits the cheerleaders. Eventually, there are 2 combatants in a final match, with the rest of the participants divided between them as cheerleaders. This activity is for getting energy up, and pits participants against one another (and celebrate one another) in a short and fun way to wake up. No
Zip Zap Zop [Boing] Minimal Short A "hot potato"-style game to send energy to one another using nonsense words.
  • Form a circle with participants
  • One person starts. The should clap their hands together towards a random person and say aloud, "Zip!"
  • The receiving person then repeats this towards another person and says aloud, "Zap!"
  • The third person repeats again, with "Zop!"
  • Repeat throughout the group until everyone has had a couple of turns and energy is up.
  • [Optional] Introduce "Boing!" If a player says "Boing" then the sender must repeat their word with a new target. For example, a player sends "Zap!" but is met with "Boing!" In this case, rather than the receiver saying the next word, "Zop!", the sender must say "Zap!" towards someone else.
This activity is for getting energy up and lower inhibitions by leveraging silly interaction. No
Switch -- The Interrupt Game Minimal Short An improv game that encourages interrupting participants. Can be done around a table or in a typical standing circle.
  • One person starts by telling a story or giving a monologue.
  • The other listening parties wait to hear something that triggers something else they want to say or talk about. When they identify that, they say "switch!"
  • The "switcher" takes over as the speaker and continues to talk about their subject (or whatever they want related to the original word) until someone else finds a triggering word to which they relate.
  • Continue until everyone has had a chance to interrupt.
This activity is for getting energy up and encouraging interaction and, ironically, listening. It can sometimes also highlight the challenges of interrupting others, and may also get interruption out of the participants' system. No
Meeting Settings Light Short The facilitator leads the group in setting up the control panel for the meeting, including both serious and non-serious topics. First, the facilitator explains the tool and describes a few possible slider types. Then, people in the group can add (either with discussion, or just walking up to a whiteboard) more sliders. Finally, the group agrees on which sliders to use and what they should be set at.

Example sliders:

  1. Purpose of meeting. Sharing information vs problem-solving.
  2. Depth of meeting. Cover all topics equally vs get to completion on the first topic(s).
  3. Conflict style. De-emphasize or defer conflict vs escalate and resolve conflict.

More parameters:

  • Complex vs simple
  • Immediate vs eventually
  • Ideal vs pragmatic
Prepare a group for working with each other and with a facilitator. Yes
Could've Said Light Medium An improv game in which participants quickly share the first thing that comes to mind, in a structured way.

One simple way to do improv is to pair off participants. One gives the other a phrase that will elicit an emotional response in the first. When that phrase is said, the receiver responds with the first thing that comes to mind. The deliverer then says, "could've said" and the receiver is prompted to reply with an alternate response. Do this 10 times, then switch roles.

This wakes people up, forces them to think about how they really feel about something (and different ways to think about it), and just generally let go of thinking too much. Yes
Hopes & Concerns Light Medium At the beginning of the workshop, participants share hopes and concerns that they have about the upcoming workshop. These are documented on a flip chart.

This can also be done asynchronously, with the "ice-breaker" part being a review.

A channel to share and diffuse anxiety about the upcoming workshop; tacit acknowledgment of concerns by the group and facilitator. Information that the facilitator and the group can use to mitigate concerns and work towards hopes; can be used at end of workshop for facilitator or group reflection. Yes
Explain/Explore Minimal Medium (From

You need a piece of paper and pen per person. It’s probably more fun with more people. 8 or more participants would be good.

In the Explain round, everybody writes down a word or phrase that is true for them. Then they team up with someone else, preferably someone they don’t know yet. The partners exchange names and then explain to each other, why their description is true for them.

Example descriptions from the session: “foodie”, “mom of a Golden Retriever”, “hiker”, “dad of a 4-yr old”, …

Then you mix things up. People walk about the room and swap their notes for someone else’s at least 3 times. After swapping, the Explore round begins with finding a new partner. Everybody checks the description they got via swapping and explore in what respect that might be true for them, too.

"The outcomes here is to point out two mindsets. The Explain mindset is easy for us: we can explain something true about us easily to others; but the Explore mindset encourages us to push through surface resistance and connect things that aren’t obvious. For example, I might get a card that says, “Mom” but I’m not a mom. How might that be true for me? Well, perhaps the traits of a mom — giving structure, loving, teaching — reflect how I interact with my team. Maybe I’m the team mom!"
"As teams are going through agile transformation, or even routine self-improvement, we want to encourage them to live more and more in the Explore mindset."
Getting to know each other, and taking on a new perspective. No
Name Game Medium Long Interactive game that illustrates the principle of limiting work in progress and multitasking: A game that can be used when energy is flagging or a change of pace is needed. This is a topically specific activity (Lean principles, Little's Law, etc), not a general purpose activity. No
Build a Sandwich (SandwichBot) Light Long A game that highlights the challenges of communication and interpretation, using a human "computer" that builds a literal sandwich as instructed by a group. Encourages collaboration, thinking outside the box, and possibly healthy programming practices and debugging. No

Paired-off Discussions

Medium Long Participants form small groups or pairs and discuss a simple topic.

One example is Communication Styles that Bug People. In this variant, each pair is given a list of common communication styles that irritate others. There are four rounds: First, one person spends a minute telling their partner what on the list bugs themselves; the partners switch roles after a minute, so each has a minute; second, the initial person then identifies items on the list that they themselves do; after a minute, they switch again.

This helps create awareness about something once the event begins. In the above example: communication styles and preferences. Yes
Groan Zone Review Medium Long This activity involves sharing a diagram that illustrates dynamics that teams commonly face when grappling with difficult decisions. Reveals the group’s dynamic to itself and helps to normalize the frustration of difficult dynamics. Read more: Yes
Feedback Activity Light Long An activity for helping people give and receive feedback, either to set the tone for future conversations in the same workshop, or to increase skills long-term.

This activity is often supported by having a feedback style introduced beforehand. For example, the group could be introduced to the 4 basic steps for non-violent ("collaborative") communication. Once ready to begin the activity...

  • Participants should pair off and sit back-to-back.
  • For 1 minute, each of the people in each pair will silently draw the first thing that comes to mind, such as a house or a dog.
  • After 1 minute of drawing, they will then take turns spending 2 minutes, without showing their drawings, instructing the other person what to draw in abstract terms ("draw a square with triangle on top" rather than "draw a house").
  • After both have done instructed drawing, they will take turns giving feedback on the experience to their instructor, and the instructor will listen silently.
To give one another perspective on the different ways each of us communicate, and to gain a better understanding of high- and low-context communication. Yes

Interactive Video Games

Heavy Long A way to use a platform designed to engage people to learn skills relevant to work, such as collaborating on software development. Examples:
  • Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a bomb-defusing simulator where one person must defuse a bomb without a manual, and the rest of the group has the manual but can't see the bomb. The two sides must work together and communicate to defuse the bomb. It can be played with keyboard and mouse (external mouse recommended), or VR. Separating people into different rooms with walkie-talkies also adds a twist.
  • Overcooked! is a game where up to 4 players must work together to cook and serve food in a restaurant, and can be a proxy for a Kanban simulation. It's particularly useful for teaching "fail fast" as a mentality, as well as roles and responsibilities, communication, and just-in-time development. It can be played with gamepads, keyboard, or both.
  • Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime requires up to 4 people to coordinate a cartoon-y spaceship, with different roles for pilot, shields, gunners, etc. It can be played with gamepads, keyboard, or both.
A fun break to get energy up and also learn or reinforce some relevant skills. No
Online Games Light Long Light-hearted games that are easy to add people to and learn.
    • A Pictionary-like game where one person draws and others guess for points.
  • Codenames
    • A team vs game where one person gives clues for words for the rest of their team to guess.
A way to take minds off of work and bond as a group, sometimes for celebratory events. Yes
To Plan or Not to Plan Heavy Long (From

The game is organized around two activities, drawing a picture and telling a story. In both of these activities, the group will be split into separate teams, with one team given specific time and instructions to plan ahead. After both activities have been completed, the facilitator assesses and leads discussion around the team’s work, and the teams will have a chance to compare their experiences. You should notice a difference in the two different activities and how the teams handle them. The drawing activity is specifically designed to be trip up people if they don’t read all the instructions first, whereas the story activity is more straightforward. Just like in software projects, sometimes planning is important and sometimes it only provides minor gains, and the team should reflect on these things if possible.

To illustrate the benefits and pitfalls of planning too little or too much, and get the participants engaged with one another. Maybe
13/25/Now Light Medium Participants pair off, then take turns inhabiting who they themselves were/are at the ages of 13, 25, and the present. One person asks the other questions as: "Who are you?"; "When you look out at the world what do you see?"; "What matters to you?"; "What can you not yet see?". This activity is for learning about each other personally, and exploring how much personal growth a person has made. Yes
Journey Lines Light Long "Arts and graphs" approach to getting to know one another, or alternatively, retrospecting on an event. The group is given synchronous, individual time to chart their personal journey from Point A to Point B on crafting supplies (paper, marker, etc), and then shows their creation to the others in the group. This is possible via presentation, "gallery tour," or any form of sharing. Creations can take the form of highs-and-lows line graphs, gantt chart, comic strip, etc. Whatever supports the telling of the story. To get to know one another, share perspective and skills, and help settle in with one another. The intention is to learn about the skills, experience, and knowledge that this background gives you to bring to the team. Maybe
Personality Test Medium Long Examples: Strengths Finder, Meyers-Briggs, etc.

These tests are not meant to be definitive, but can be a fun and pseudo-science-y way to get to know one another in a group, particularly if the group is together long-term.

To bond with one another, and provide a reference point for empathizing with another person's preferences for engagement, as well as discover a better understanding of one's own strengths. Yes
Haiku Handshake Light Short Intro
  • Haikus are a type of short-form poetry originally from Japan. The style emphasizes directness via constraints, and haikus were often used as the opening stanza of a larger poem. A haiku takes a 3 step syllabic format: 5 syllables on one line, 7 syllables on the next, and 5 syllables on the last.
  • For example:

“Max asks teams to think ← 5 syllables

how we work with each other ← 7 syllables

so we work better!” ← 5 syllables


  • Design a haiku that describes your role with the team. This could describe your literal job, such as “software developer” or “user experience designer,” or it could be something more abstract, such as “team parent” or “people wrangler.” However you see yourself, and would like others to see you, is a perfectly valid approach for this exercise. :)
  • Wake up our brains (because it’s either the start or the end of our days)
  • Express ourselves (because the next 3 days will ask you to be creative and honest)
  • Get to know each other (because not everyone knows everyone well, or as well as they might think)
  • Respect one another’s perspectives and expertise (because we are all here for a reason)
Word (or Emoji) Cloud Light Short Using a facilitator can prompt a group to express themselves, and the result will be made into a wordcloud. Ideally, this is projected. The activity is designed to be virtual, but theoretically works fine in person with phones/laptops. Gives the group a chance to acknowledge their state of mind, and that of others. Yes
Countup! Minimal Short Ask a group to count to the number of people in the room. Each person can only say one, unique number from "zero" to the maximum (and no other words), and the numbers must be in order. If these constraints are not followed, the count resets, with a new person starting each time.

This works best with larger groups, because smaller groups have an easier task, but the activity can be modified (such as asking the group to "countup" twice in a row, but with each person required to say 2 unique numbers non-consecutively).

Rapidly acquires focus from participants, and encourages each to communicate non-verbally. Yes
Read Something in Your Native Language Light Medium Assumes a diverse group of linguists (i.e. works best when not everyone speaks one language only).

Each (willing) person chooses something (short) to read or recite in their native language. This could be a poem, a speech, a song, a phrase, etc.

Allows non-native (typically, non-English) speakers to feel at ease. Encourages everyone to recognize diversity in the group, and the challenges of communication around language barriers. Feels good. Yes
Artreach Minimal Short Make a piece of art with whatever you can reach. It can be a drawing, a sculpture, origami, performance art, etc. A lighthearted way to loosen up. Yes
Ask Me Anything Light Short One person answers questions from everyone else.

A variation: If you want to ask a question, you also have to answer the previous question asked. Questions can also be pre-planned, or come from a library if this exercise is used frequently (such as when a team welcome a new teammate).

A quick and easy way to get to know someone. Yes

Generating ideas[edit]

Pair Brainstorming: Breaking into pairs to generate ideas

Purpose: Idea generation; a useful format when group brainstorming or discussion is getting bogged down or the energy is low.

Small Group Brainstorming: breaking into groups of 3 or more to generate ideas

Purpose:  Idea generation; a useful format when group brainstorming or discussion is getting bogged down or the energy is low.

Workflow mapping: teams map the ways that work moves through their system

Purpose: Developing understanding of the way groups or teams work by visualizing how work gets introduced and processed; raise awareness of what’s missing in the workflow or pain points in the workflow; helps different subgroups within a group understand more about the work of others.

Small Group proposal development: small groups break out from larger group to come up with a plan or proposal

Purpose: Useful when there are different stakeholder groups within a group, or the group wants to generate a number of proposals about a topic, idea, or decision. Another “breakout” activity that can help shift the group energy if it is getting low or stale.

Large group proposal development: group works together to come up with a proposal; may or may not include structured facilitation or guidelines

Purpose: The group collectively develops a proposal together. Works best after a decision is made or agreement is reached.

Open discussion: facilitated group discussion

Purpose: A forum for balanced participation in a supportive environment. The facilitator can set a non-judgemental, supportive, and balanced tone by using stacking, mirroring, paraphrasing, summarizing, and drawing out. Sets a tone of participation, engagement, and presence. The techniques of mirroring and paraphrasing can help clarify thinking and understanding by allowing participants to hear ideas a second time, creating a pace that allows participants to digest information, and allows the speaker to clarify the intent of their statement.

Organizing ideas[edit]

Large Group Categorization: group categorizes items together (categories can be pre-determined or generated by group)

Purpose: Helps the group organize ideas and see patterns or trends; can make large amounts of information more easily digestible.

Prioritization by dot voting: group prioritizes a list by using sticky dots; groups can use a set number of dots per participant, one dot per item for as many items as participants want to vote on (to indicate which items have unanimous support), or other group determined methods.

Purpose: Helps the group narrow down the most important things to focus on.

Getting agreement[edit]

Voting by dot voting: group votes on a list item, proposal, etc by using sticky dots. Participants should choose whether they want "approval" voting, in which anything of interest gets a vote (and no more than one per voter), or "budget" voting, in which voters get a set amount of votes to distribute (and can vote on something more than once).

Purpose: Visualize where the group is in agreement.

Gradients of agreement: a decision-making tool that can be used to denote individual support of a proposed decision, and visualize where the group distribution is on a scale of agreement

Purpose: Helps the group understand that there are many shades of nuance between ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’; can be quite valuable for sparking conversation about the exact nature of disagreement, which in turn can help the group refine a decision or proposal and ultimately have a stronger agreement.

Sharing information[edit]

Trade show: small groups present a proposal or idea to the rest of the group

Purpose: A less boring format than one person standing in front of the group talking!

Open discussion: facilitated group discussion

Purpose: A forum for balanced participation in a supportive environment. The facilitator can set a non-judgemental, supportive, and balanced tone by using stacking, mirroring, paraphrasing, summarizing, and drawing out. Sets a tone of participation, engagement, and presence. The techniques of mirroring and paraphrasing can help clarify thinking and understanding by allowing participants to hear ideas a second time, creating a pace that allows participants to digest information, and allows the speaker to clarify the intent of their statement.

How others see us/how we see ourselves: involves a fair amount of pre-workshop preparation. Consisted of structured half-hour interviews with each team member as well as several individual stakeholders. Key quotes from the interviews were pulled out and visually displayed in the workshop space for the duration of the workshop. Teams did a “gallery tour” activity on day one to read and absorb the quotes.

Purpose: Provides a “360” perspective that can help the group expand their understanding of themselves and their self-awareness. Underscores that the groups perception may not be in line with how others see them, or provide validation that an issue that the group perceived is also perceived by those outside the group. Can help the group see strengths and pain points. Can help the group understand that where there is diversity in the group and where there is convergence.

Strengths and improvables: end of day meeting evaluation to celebrate what worked well and identify potential improvements

Purpose: Group has a feedback channel for their experience and an opportunity to identify areas to improve, rather than being meeting captives. Facilitator can act on “improvables” that are a.) within their power to improve on, b.) make sense for the participants, agenda, and time-frame, and c.) are morally sound.

See also[edit]