Many businesses fall into one of two buckets. First, there are large, long-standing legacy companies that feel intense pressure to innovate to keep up with the pace of change; customers demands are more than ever and they can no longer rest on their size and power alone. They have to change the way they have been doing things, and quickly.

On the other hand, you have start-ups that are actively trying to disrupt the competitive space (from mattresses to cabs to healthcare) who also rely on innovative ideas to get ahead and breakthrough and win the hearts and wallets of consumers.

With either party, innovation is absolutely fundamental. And, one way to spark the creative spirit in your team is to conduct an innovation workshop.

What is an Innovation Workshop?

Many people have heard of or participated in, a design thinking workshop. You can think of an innovation workshop as a slightly broader term, but the two have a lot in common. An innovation workshop is where you gather key stakeholders or team members together to generate novel solutions around a particular business problem.

Often, innovation workshops are led by a professional workshop facilitator who creates an agenda and set of activities that allow you to collaboratively work on your goal. Your innovation workshop might be a half-day, a week, or even a few weeks long depending on your needs and the time you’re able to commit.

What Should I Expect in an Innovation Workshop?

Because there is no one “cookie-cutter” approach to innovation workshops, agendas, activities, and the methods used will vary. A well-planned innovation workshop is tailored to your challenge and problem space. At my company, Voltage Control, we don’t use one set of activities or methods in our work. We like to leverage all types of methods to design innovation workshops that match exactly what our clients need.

But, these are some common activities that you might expect to see in your workshop:

  • Discuss hopes and fears about your project.
  • Review data, customer research, or information that relates to your company or challenge to immerse people in the problem space.
  • Identify key opportunity areas for your business challenge (i.e. we really have an opportunity to capture more people at the sign-up moment).
  • Work as a group or in teams to brainstorm on new ideas and then refine them.
  • Rate or rank ideas against desirability, viability, and feasibility.
  • Agree on next steps and/or make a roadmap.
  • Create light prototypes of potential solutions.

When Should I Consider an Innovation Workshop?

There are a lot of good times to bring together a team for an innovation workshop. Companies are often looking for help and the clarity that an innovation workshop can bring, when the following occurs:

  • When you’re starting a project or initiative. The innovation workshop can start the work off on the right foot and ensure that the key people who are involved are all working towards the same goal and vision.
  • When a project is stalled out or needs new momentum. Maybe you started strong, but now your team is struggling, at odds, or confused about the next steps. An innovation workshop can give you a renewed focus.
  • When you need to evolve your current offering or change course. If you know you need to do something different, but you don’t know quite what, an innovation workshop can surface all of the potential next steps or paths forward and help you find a way forward.

Are There Different Types of Innovation Workshops?

I like to build custom innovation workshops for clients; depending on the time they can dedicate and their goals, I’ll draw up the activities and timeline to match. However, I’m also a big believer in the Design Sprint, which is a clear-cut, five-day formula that moves you quickly from problem framing to prototyping and user testing in one short week. It’s definitely a great way to kick off an innovative project or initiative.

What I love about the Design Sprint is that it jam-packs a ton of activities and action into five days. It’s a great ramp-up for a project and you’ll typically accomplish months of work in that focused week. The key is finding five days when you can get about seven essential people from your team to set aside their work and dedicate it to the Design Sprint.

What Do I Want in an Innovation Workshop Facilitator?

When you’re ready to seriously consider running an innovation workshop, most people will reach out to a professional facilitator to help them craft, organize and lead their workshop. If your company doesn’t have an internal innovation team that runs workshops, consider looking to a consultancy to help you shape your innovation workshop. Some of the things to look for in your facilitator are:

  • Obviously, experience running many workshops for many different types of companies.
  • Someone with a broad set of skills and industry expertise. (Usually you don’t want a facilitator who is overly-focused on one industry; you want them to bring perspective from many businesses and challenges.
  • Someone who isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions of the group during the workshop.
  • Someone who will collaborate with you before your workshop to understand your needs and build an agenda based on what you need to get out of the workshop.
  • Someone who is open to working with you after your innovation workshop for coaching, additional workshops, or other ways to keep the momentum going.

I hope this was a helpful introduction to the what and whys of innovation workshops. Taking the time to think differently as a team can be truly transformational to the way you work and the things you put out into the world.