Recently, when designing a workshop for a large group (around 50 participants), I was picturing a particular activity that needed shared conversations and responses to specific questions.  For some reason, breaking the group immediately into 6 groups of 8 (give or take) didn’t feel quite right for this particular element.

From somewhere came an idea to build up to the break out groups.  In this case, the six break-out spaces were ‘prepared earlier’ with templates on flip charts.  The final process went as follows.

Start a conversation in pairs  – one : one.

Find another two people to become a foursome – share your views.

When you’re done, find another foursome.  Keep the conversation going and share any changes in your perspective since the discussions started.

Find a wall space and record your findings.

By starting with one on one chats, everyone got a chance to put their views into the mix from the beginning.   There are more than likely variations and different applications on this theme that are possible.  Has anyone else tried something like this as a lead up to break out groups?

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney- business and strategic planning – team conversations

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney- business and strategic planning – team conversations


When you walk into a room with a group of people who take the work that they do very seriously, it’s sometimes a  brave act to produce items that look like play things.  Yet those very play things in the hands of the same group of people can enable different levels of thinking and creativity to emerge.

Working with objects such as paddle pop sticks, modeling clay or blocks opens up the possibility of shifts and change in a process.  The first ideas are placed on a flat board or sheet of paper.  The very mobility of the objects invites movement and discussion.

Recently I worked with a group of people who used the sticks and other materials (pencils, erasers, modeling clay, coloured paper and scissors) to map all of the services they deliver.  The product of their deliberations was easily transferred (after photography to retain the map) to a matrix sheet on another table grid to identify how those services might be delivered over the next few years.

Other applications for paddle pop sticks include – project planning, task allocation and idea listing.  I’d be interested in hearing more thoughts and experience with cheap and cheerful play things.

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney- business and strategic planning – team conversations

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When designing processes and activities in any meeting or workshop, the words you select for their introduction to your group are important.

For example, it’s amazing how much competition can emerge when small groups break out to perform the same activity.  Sometimes, it may be useful to bring out that competitive streak.  Those behaviours may be evident and ‘getting in the way’ of effective shared thinking and decision making.  In these cases, a debrief is critical to allow observations and responses to be discussed.  Needless to say, such an approach requires care and an understanding of possible consequences that may emerge.

On the other hand, if you don’t want a group activity to become a competition, take care not to unconsciously set it up.  It’s all too easy to find words like best, most innovative/clever/creative falling into your introduction.

If you’re planning any new group activity,  play with its introduction on paper and/or in your head, and consciously consider what the impact of that introduction will be on the group.

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney


Here’s an idea to visually represent conversations in break-out groups.  For each group (5-7) provide a large sheet of paper, marker pens, a ball of coloured wool or twine and sticky tape.

The first person to speak takes the wool and tapes it to the paper.  The next person to speak takes the wool and tapes it down in front of them.  And so on – back, forth, across as it happens.

The ‘mapping’ opens up the possibility of a balance of contributions. The webs provide food for debriefs. In this case, the key elements were also captured by a person sitting near the current speaker.  The notes served as a reminder for group members when reporting back.

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney- business and strategic planning – team conversations


charrette_source -

I’m talking to a client about facilitating a two day workshop.  The participants need to write a large report.  One of the ideas proposed is to run the workshop as a charrette.

With apologies to any charrette experts out there, my understanding of a charrette is of a multi-disciplinary exercise designed around design.  My experience of charrettes (over a decade ago) relates to community centred urban design projects.

The word charrette is French for little cart.  Its use to describe a group design process emerged from the intensive last minute practices of 19th century architecture students at L’Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris.  Instructors would send the carts to collect drawing assignments.  Students made the most of final moments available by hopping onto the carts to add the final touches to their work before the deadline.

So I am revisiting the concept and application of charrettes, looking at potential benefits and elements of that process that might be applicable to this assignment.  

charrette wordle

There are many characteristics of this task that align with a traditional charrette.  There will be cross-sectoral experience and expertise in the room.  It has a specific task as its focus.  It will require concentration.  Participants will need to work in intensive spurts over two days.  To come to an agreed ‘whole’ outcome, participants will need to open up and learn from each other.  There will be flurries of activity.  Numerous feedback loops will be required for all of the breakout groups formed across the two days.  The cart will come to ‘collect’ their report on a date that is public, with a deadline that will not shift.

I’ve got a few questions about applying the full traditional charrette on this occasion.  They largely spring from the absolute structured agenda required.  My inclination is always to soften up the edges of process design to see what emerges from the group.  They know what they know and will respond as they need to respond.  I’ll keep you posted.

A few links courtesy of Google Scholar.  A trip to the local library for old-fashioned references proved fruitless.

The Charrette as an Agent for Change - Bill Lennertz.  2005.  Note: this is a pdf file.

Handbook for Planning and Conducting Charrettes for High-Performance Projects - Lindsay, Todd & Hayter.  US National Renewable Energy Laboratory

 A Tornado in Reverse - Mike Lamb

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