In the management consulting business workshops are ubiquitous and it is important for a consultant to handle both facilitation and participation with ease. An interesting problem though is that there actually are two kind of workshops with diametrically different characteristics: the scripted workshop and the improvised workshop. What makes it interesting is that they share name and place in literature but require totally different skill sets to master, both from the facilitator and participant.
The purpose of the scripted workshop is for the facilitator to guide the workshop group to a consensus around an pre-existing and already defined outcome. The idea is foremost to gain support for an idea, ground an idea in an organisation, or as part of the change management process. After a successful scripted workshop every member of the group feel they have contributed and that the result is the shared view of the group. I want at this point to stress that this is by no means any form of deception. The result is actually the shared view of the group. If there are many conflicting views, politics involved, many participant, or hard questions and limited time – the scripted workshop is often the most effective. It requires a lot of preparation and facilitation skills to perform well though.
When you don’t know what the target looks like or how to get there you use the improvised workshop. This is closer to real problem solving and requires active participation from all members of the group, which should be quite small, and less facilitation. The group starts with at common understanding of a problem that needs to be solved and work together to come up with a solution. Working in an improvised workshop is harder that in the scripted one, and can take longer time.
The two workshop types are equally important and are often used in conjunction. An improvised workshop in a small team is often needed to come up with the target and guidelines for the scripted workshop intended for a larger group later on. Understanding the different workshop types will help you make better decisions of what tools to use in the workshop and who to invite.