How to Plan an Executive Workshop that WON’T Fall Flat

Workshops in general are designed to inspire the people that attend them. They foster an environment where you can tear apart ideas and try to figure out how they work. In a sense, a corporate workshop allows you to tinker with ideas and—if everything goes as planned—with the preconceptions and assumptions of the people who are involved.

Even the word ‘workshop’ itself hints at the concept of tinkering. In fact, Google has taken the corporate workshop back to its roots by opening up the Pi Shop. Google employees who can demonstrate a minimum level of tool competency are allowed to step into the Pi Shop, where they have access to everything from Legos to plasma cutters.

Okay, so we’re not going to recommend that you should place power tools in the hands of your executives. (It’s probably better if you come to that conclusion on your own). Instead, we’re going to offer a few tips on how you can plan a highly effective executive workshop.

Participants of a workshop

Participants of a workshop

Image credit: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, license Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

For starters, let’s consider why corporations are so eager to host executive workshops. Presumably, an effective workshop for corporate leaders is going achieve some combination of the following:

Preparing executives for a milestone event that may change the company culture (such as a merger, acquisition or reshuffling of senior executives)

  • Developing leadership skills that will be of benefit to the company
  • Encouraging the development of breakthrough strategies of new levels of innovation
  • Preparing executives to interact with overseas clients and customers
  • Fostering an environment of learning and the acquisition of new ideas

Those are just a few goals, and your company almost certainly has many more to add to the list. You may even find that your goals are wholly and entirely different. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you create a workshop environment in which your executives are encouraged to process new ideas and effectively implement them as new and novel strategies when they return to the workplace.

A workshop at a conference room

Image credit: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, license Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Here are some specific ways to create exactly that type of environment at your next executive workshop:

Mercilessly stoke passions

Most executives have hosted workshops of their own for the employees that work under them. They know the drill, and they’re not going to be easily impressed. In a sense, it’s like you’re hosting a formal dinner that is going to be attended by chefs. No pressure or anything, but you had better be prepared to deliver some of the finest material you can muster. It’s a good idea to prepare by enrolling the person who will be heading the workshop in a course designed for people who pursue motivational speaker jobs.

Make efficient use of your time

Executives are busy people, and their employees are probably going to be trying to get in touch with them during the workshop. Keep it short, impactful and highly engaging. Otherwise, you’re going to lose everyone’s attention when their respective smart phones start sounding off. To be fair, every workshop should be engaging, but you’re going to need to set the bar higher when your audience are executives.

Look for opportunities to deconstruct common lines of reasoning

In the process, you’ll be training your attendees how to force themselves to innovate. To accomplish this, strive to design exercises that are rooted in overcoming problems that often go unresolved in the workplace. You may want to create a sort of case study with another company (imagined or existing). This gives your executives a chance to innovate outside of their normal fields. Do you work in the IT industry? Try solving a logistical problem in a manufacturing context. The problem solving that ensues will involve lines of reasoning that beneficial to practically any sector.

Pull executives out of their respective bubbles

It’s only natural, but being an executive often equates to living in a bubble. You’re surrounded by people who work for you, listen to you and (hopefully) believe that you’re excellent at what you do. The problem with bubbles is that they resist the introduction of new information, alternative strategies and potentially constructive criticism. Encourage your attendees to step outside of their typical environment and to open themselves to new concepts and strategies.