Last updated Dec 2020
The guide to online workshops
Michael de la Maza,
Agile Coach & Pro Facilitator
Michael is an industry recognized Agile & Scrum Coach who helps companies succeed by facilitating company-wide agile transformations.

How to facilitate a collaborative virtual workshop

You’ve probably heard the saying about two heads being better than one. But what about when you bring together more than two heads? Well, that’s when the magic really starts to happen.

That’s where collaborative workshops come into play. Let’s talk about what these are, why they matter, and how you can use them on your team. 

Jump to a section:

  1. What is a collaborative workshop?

  2. The benefits of collaborative workshops

  3. 4 factors that form a great workshop

  4. How to set up a collaborative workshop in 5 steps

  5. Templates to try

  6. Workshops FAQ

What is a collaborative workshop?

A collaborative workshop is a meeting with your team members where you’ll work together toward a shared vision or goal. 

Maybe you want to brainstorm ideas for new features. Perhaps your sights are set on problem solving and figuring out how you can shorten customer wait times. Or maybe you want to bring your team members into the decision-making process as you figure out what project you should prioritize next. 

These workshops are all about team collaboration. Unlike a presentation where one person shares their ideas, a collaborative workshop requires every single one of your workshop participants to take an active part in the discussion. 

The benefits of collaborative workshops

From groupthink to social loafing, teamwork isn’t without its drawbacks. However, bringing your entire team into a workshop offers a number of different benefits.

1. Better team cohesion

Cross-functional cohesion can be a struggle in a lot of organizations. Departments have different ways of getting their work done, and that causes some rifts. In fact, a whopping 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. 

Inviting everybody to a collaborative workshop allows them to better understand where the other is coming from, leading to more effective collaboration — even long after the workshop is over. 

2. Increased trust

Trust at work has been linked to numerous benefits, including better financial performance, improved employee retention, and greater innovation. But, trust isn’t something that happens on its own. 

When you give team members more regular opportunities to work closely with one another in a workshop setting, they naturally build more trust. 

3. Greater understanding 

Everybody on your team has their unique strengths, but those are difficult to recognize when they’re working in a vacuum. In collaborative workshops, people work together as a team and can identify where they excel and where their team members thrive.

This helps them play to each other’s strengths while simultaneously filling in perceived gaps or weaknesses on the team. 

4. Improved brainstorming

One study that asked participants to make decisions about images (first alone and then together) found that two heads really are better than one — provided we’re able to competently discuss our ideas with one another.

If you build a collaborative environment that supports idea generation and psychological safety, your workshops will lead to innovative solutions and top-notch suggestions. 

5. Boosted creativity 

When done right, brainstorming leads to greater creativity. This is because team members all bring unique perspectives and experiences to the table.

Even further, they can build off each other’s ideas (something called piggybacking) in a way that would be hard to do on their own. So, a collaborative workshop can enhance ingenuity on your team. 

6. More engagement 

One in three people admit that they’ve fallen asleep in a meeting. Ouch. We get it, though. Listening to one person drone on and on about a topic can get dull after a while.

Collaborative workshops require that your team members are participants rather than attendees. This keeps them way more engaged in the topic — not to mention awake. 

4 factors that form a great workshop

There’s no doubt that collaborative workshops have their perks. Think you can pull everybody into a room and watch as the brilliant ideas blossom? Think again. 

Much like any other type of meeting or group discussion, workshops require strategy and planning — starting with getting these four nuts and bolts elements in place. 

1. Facilitator

If anything is going to make or break a great workshop, it’s your facilitator. Workshop facilitators are the ones who lead the session from start to finish. 

They don’t squelch creativity but instead bring some structure to the discussion with team-building exercises, brainstorming activities, and more. Rather than making the meeting a free-for-all, they unite the team, foster effective collaboration, and offer takeaways for team members. 

As Nielsen Norman Group explains, workshop facilitators should:

  • Always be listening

  • Create an inviting space

  • Welcome improvisation 

  • Be authentic 

  • Avoid giving advice

  • Embrace constructive conflict

2. Teams

Next up, you need to decide which team members should be included in that session. Should everybody on the team chime in? Should you split into small groups for more targeted discussions and ideation? 

Regardless of which way you go, make sure that you aren’t inviting a completely homogenous group to your workshop. Get people from different departments, backgrounds, skill sets, experience levels, and more. That deep-level diversity can boost your creativity. 

Additionally, as you’re selecting participants, make sure you’re mindful of your timeframe. Some collaborative workshops are an hour while others span two days or more. In general, tighter timeframes are more feasible with smaller groups. 

3. Goal or problem

Every single collaborative workshop should start with a clear goal to achieve or problem to solve. Ask yourself this: What specific thing are we trying to do? 

For example, perhaps you want to host a workshop to brainstorm strategies to reduce your customer wait time. That’s your goal. 

Once you know what your sights are set on, don’t leave your participants guessing. Loop them in on the objective ahead of the workshop so they have time for some independent brainstorming beforehand. Put the goal at the top of your agenda or on a whiteboard so that it remains a point of focus throughout your discussion. 

4. Tools

It’s tough to host a great workshop without the right collaboration tools. Especially for remote workshops, you need to have the right platforms in place to support team building, problem solving, and ideation — even if your team isn’t co-located.

Exactly what you need in your arsenal will depend on your specific setup and goal. However, some basic tools we recommend include:

  • Video conferencing solution (for remote collaboration)

  • Whiteboard (Miro is an online whiteboard that’s perfect for distributed teams)

  • Cloud file storage (so your team can access the same assets and information)

How to set up a collaborative workshop in 5 steps

You’ve covered the basics, and now you’re ready to pull together your collaborative workshop. But, where do you start? Here are five steps to take you through the process. 

1. Plan

Remember, your workshop shouldn’t be something that’s thrown together at the last minute. As counterintuitive as it seems, the best workshops happen as a result of careful planning.

Make sure you think through the following:

  • When will your workshop be hosted?

  • How long will your workshop last? 

  • Where will it be hosted?

  • Who will attend?

  • Who will facilitate?

  • What’s the goal of your workshop? 

  • How will you measure the success of your workshop? 

2. Schedule

One of the trickiest parts of planning a collaborative workshop is finding a time that works for everybody — especially if your team is spread across different time zones. 

First things first, you need to find a time that works with everybody’s schedule. A tool like Calendly or Doodle will help you find a mutually-agreeable time.

However, beyond those basic logistics, it’s also worth asking for feedback from your team. When do they feel their most collaborative and engaged? Gathering those insights will help you avoid scheduling your workshop for a time when your team is checked out — like at 8 a.m. on a Monday or 2 p.m. on a Friday. 

3. Find your tools

From a scheduling platform to a whiteboard tool like Miro, you’ve already thought through some of the physical tools you’ll need for your collaborative workshop.

There’s one more thing you should sort out: activities. To foster better collaboration, you’ll want to be prepared with some different activities and exercises that your team members can do.

Have no fear — in the next section, we’re sharing some different templates you can use to get your team in the collaborative spirit and make the most of your group discussions. 

4. Invite attendees

Inviting your workshop participants is a lot easier when you’ve already surveyed them on which times work best for them. So now you just need to make sure that you’ve reserved that time on their calendars.

In addition to blocking off that meeting time, it’s helpful to equip your participants with some information ahead of time. Make sure to send them:

  • Some context around the goal for your workshop

  • Your agenda, so they know what they’ll be participating in

  • Any other supporting materials or information that could help them

This allows them to prepare early, and saves you from having to get everybody up to speed at the beginning of the workshop. You can all roll up your sleeves and jump into collaborating. 

5. Host the workshop

You’ve made it to the best part: hosting your workshop! With all of the groundwork in place, you’re set up for success. But, that doesn’t mean your workshop will be flawless.

Remember, every single workshop is a learning experience. Take note of what went well and what didn’t work out the way you hoped. That will help you host even better workshops in the future. 

Templates and tools to help your next remote workshop

When it comes to planning and hosting a winning remote workshop, you don’t need to go it alone. Here are a few of our favorite templates.

1. Workshop preparation canvas

This preparation canvas will help you make sure you’ve checked all of the boxes when planning your workshop: purpose, practicalities, participants, products, process, and principles. 

Grab the template here

2. Icebreaker templates

Get your team ready to collaborate by warming them up with an ice breaker. This one in particular challenges team members to share a picture of something on their desk as well as something they learned recently.

Grab the template here

3. Brainwriting 

Brainwriting requires that your team shares ideas by writing them down, rather than saying them aloud. It’s been shown to be highly effective for collaboration and productivity and is worth trying in your next workshop. 

Grab the template here.

Common questions about collaborative workshops

We’ve covered nearly everything you need to know to get started with your own workshop — from planning all the way to execution.

Still have questions? Well, we have answers to a few more common questions about these collaborative discussions. 

1. How do you start a collaborative workshop?

Kick things off by reiterating the goal for your workshop. What are you trying to achieve or what problem are you trying to solve? This will ensure your team is aligned and ready to tackle that shared objective. 

2. How do you conduct a virtual workshop?

You’ll need the right tools — including a video conferencing solution like Zoom and a whiteboard solution like Miro. As the facilitator, it can be helpful to use two monitors if you have the option. This will help you handle numerous tasks at once, including staying engaged in the conversation, monitoring questions that come through chat, and taking any necessary notes.

3. What are some techniques for collaborative workshops?

There’s no shortage of techniques you can use for a collaborative workshop. What you go with will depend on your specific goal. Need some inspiration? Check out more of Miro’s workshop templates right here.

Learn more about Miro's collaborative whiteboard tool!

Looking to read more about remote collaboration? Start at Chapter 1 of our guide!

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