Facilitation: Design

There are many great guides to good workshop design. This is ours!

Well – when we say ‘ours’ – it is modified from a general intervention design workflow Paul picked upduring his year long NTL (UK) OD Certificate Programme, and we have been using and tweaking it as a design starting point for more than a decade.

Why does it work well? In a nutshell it ignores the question of “What workshop METHOD or TOOLS shall we use?” until the end – after you and the client have properly understood the nature of the workshop and indeed, why you are bothering to hold it at all. The other reason it works is perhaps the WAY we use it. We open this as a shared document with the client and after an initial session when we lead them through it – it stays open and both we and the client add comments, thoughts and ideas as we gradually move towards the event. We freeze it (and tidy up) shortly before the event and use it as a reference and source for the final design.

It is simple. It works in a wide range of contexts. And lots of our clients steal it after using it with us (with our encouragement). Feel free to do the same. Here’s the WORD template. Maybe add a reference on the bottom about where you got it.

Workshop Design Process Template

(Expand each item to see tips on the meaning and intent of each question.
To see everythng at once – use the WORD template linked above)

  1. PURPOSE: What is the situation that calls for an intervention.
    • Talk about why you are doing SOMETHING (as opposed to doing nothing) and then
    • Why a Workshop? Why not another approach?
    • What is the context?
    • What else matters as we design this thing?
  2. DESIRED OUTCOMES: What does the system want/need to achieve through intervention?
    • Talk about what you want to have at the END of the workshop, that will not exist at the start. Keep it down to just few things.
    • It can include hard outputs (facts, written actions etc) but also relationships, understanding, trust and softer stuff.
    • Oh, and this is what you tell the PARTICIPANTS you are aiming for: in your invite to them and probably again in the first 3 mins of the event.
  3. What do I want/need to achieve with the intervention?
    • This is really 2b – and it is other stuff the client wants to achieve by doing the event, but is NOT stuff you would stick on a slide and show everyone.
    • Often it is things like engagement of particular stakeholders or the client ‘getting a feel’ of how the group sees an issue. Not public, but worth noting down within the group designing the event.
  4. FOCUS: Who are my targeted individuals / groups?
    • What organisations, views, voices need to be in the room for this?
    • Who else needs to receive the messages that come out of it, but might not need to be present?
    • This starts to give some criteria for who really needs to be invited and who really needs to be there for this workshop (or later, to be aware of the outputs) to meet the Desired Outcomes.
  5. SYSTEM LEVELS: How many / which levels do I need to aim at?
    • Not always an issue – but in a hierachical organisation or system – how many levels do we – need to influence for this event to have any impact?
    • Can the people coming ‘in the room’ execute actions they decide are needed – or wil they need to then influence levels above/below them?
    • Should those levels be in the room as well?
  6. TYPE / STYLE of intervention – what will be best:
    • e.g. Structured vs. emergentPersonal vs Group Level (Intra, inter, individual, group, society)
    • Is this a technical, or subject focused event, where we can structure some questions and exercises and we can say up front, roughly how it will go? Or does this need to be emergent – where perhaps only a few opening questions and steps are well defined and what follows could go in any direction the group takes it?
    • What sort of conversation is needed? Is it all subject based, or is it about the group looking at itself (intRA-group) or links with other groups (intER-group)? Is it about person to person links (inter-personal) or deeper self-reflection (intra-personal)? Is it bigger than the group – an industry, society?
    • What is the client assuming/expecting?
    • Is that what is actually needed?
  7. What is the READINESS and CAPABILITY level of the system?
    • Where are the people coming to the event starting from, in relation to the subject and what you need them to do? Are they ready (stuff they know) and capable (is this group is capable of doing this work?)
    • Readiness determines how much pre-briefing or preparation you will need in your design (before the event it in the first steps)
    • Capability determines how ambitious you can be – although be careful not to underestimate what people and groups can stretch to. 
  8. What LEVEL of intensity / risk can the system bear / was contracted:
    • NB: Not always relevant, but very important where you are addressing either:
    • A topic where the client already knows there are profoundly differing views (where you need to talk about whether the intention is to bring those views out, or that they are a distraction)
    • Relationships and personal reflection. If you are asking people to come to an event where they need to work through these issues – they need to know that in advance and you need to be sure (a) it is needed (see Q1 and 2) and (b) you and the client gauge the intensity/risk appropriately and (c) you ‘contract’ with attendees for that – before he event and again during.
  9. SPEED / PACE and other parameters:
    • Based on all the above – how fast can this event run? How much work can you realistically build into the objectives, without losing the value of any outputs and outcomes, or just exhausting the group.
    • This is about how many steps you can plan, how long group discussions need to be, how much time you need to capture outputs.
    • It’s the point at which both client and facilitator need to take a decent ‘reality check’ about how much work can be done in the time available with this specific group.
  10. RESOURCES available and what HELP do we need?
    • Duration:
    • Number of people:
    • Core team: Who has a role in delivery on the day?
      • Room size, venue options, room layout, room access time (how early can you get in to set up) Where can you post stuff (on walls? if not where), Audio-Visual requirements, catering, parking, accommodation.
      • and… who from core team is helping set up!
      • Video: ZOOM/TEAMS/Other Audio: ZOOM/TEAMS/Other or phone in
      • Shared Working Space: (Office doc, MURAL, MIRO etc)
    • Materials to prep: Before the event – for pre-event comms or for use on the day (Slides, pre-designed flip charts or table materials, etc)
    • Content capture: very important!
    • Pre-workshop comms / info to participants:
    • End/post workshop feedback link:
    • Outputs from meeting – by whom and for whom?


Once you have got to at least question 9 you can start designing the agenda, the use of space, what tools or methods you think will work for specific steps, detailed timing – and so on and so forth. You can use whatever you already know, or are ‘stuck with’ in question 10. Decide WHO IS PREPARING / DELIVERING each item on the agenda.

Get a rough first version down, either in the design session or very rapidly afterwards. Sometimes we do the 10 questions in a hour and then draw up a first ‘scratch’ design (something really rough) in the following 30 mins We post the design somewhere for everyone to comment (if working remotely) or on a wall (when in person).

Hints on using this format
1) These are just questions to guide a design conversation – not rules – use it flexibly
2) These are just questions you MIGHT need to consider. Some you will need for every design (e.g. 1 and 2 are pretty essential) but some may not be relevant – just note that and skip them (8 is a good example – really important when doing intra-group or culture shift workshops – but not so much in technical events)
3) These questions are not a linear single-pass – be open to going back up the list and changing stuff as your design conversation emerges
4) Do the questions first BEFORE you do your first sketch design of what the workshop looks like (steps, specific tools or methods, timing etc)
5) We normally ask for an hour to do the first pass with the core client team. But we have done it in 20 mins when we had to! Sometimes we ask for 90 mins. It can be done live on wall charts – or remotely on a shared document.


When doing a virtual or hybrid meeting, we then have one final design element – which is the Tech Design Sheet. It’s the equivalent of the ‘stage management script’ or ‘production agenda’ in a stage show or TV show. See the last page of the WORD template – it lists the detailed TECH steps that someone needs to follow alongside the main agenda. It lists what needs setting up before the event, points at which information needs sharing with participants (and it is ready and screen sharing actioned), and any special audio arrangements, etc.

Then for an event of any size beyond a small group with very simple tech requirements – always, always, always – have someone else run the tech – not person who is, at any moment, facilitating the live session.

For some specific thoughts on remote meetings and especially Hybrid Tech – see our main post on those topics from our faciliation home page

Find out more about Risk Solutions Facilitation