The Collaborator’s Toolkit: turning workshops into success sessions

The Collaborator’s Toolkit: turning workshops into success sessions
The Collaborators Toolkit

.Photo by Iain Farrell

Every high performing collaborator has their magician’s bag of tricks to help them create workshop wizardry.

These secret tools can transform a meeting from one where people are waiting turns (or clambering for space) to get their voice heard, to ‘collaboration zones’ where participants are on their feet and engaged.

Often I’m asked ‘what’s in the collaborator’s toolkit’?

The following list of goodies is guaranteed to give you better resources than Batman’s utility belt, and exactly what you need to run your next successful collaborative session

1. The Bare Essentials

Whiteboard markers
Have you ever started your workshop and picked up a whiteboard marker, only to find it’s 90% out of ink and good for nothing except scratching the whiteboard you want to write on.  There’s nothing better than a fresh, high-ink marker to start your session.
Permanent Markers
The truth is permanent markers are better for writing on flip charts than white board markers.  Just be careful not to get them confused :)
Laundry markers
These markers are excellent for workshop participants to write on sticky notes or do their own sketches.  Laundry markers also ensure any notes that end up on the wall can be read by everyone (as opposed to when participants use pens and everyone has to squint to read).
Colourful Pens
Even people who feel they are not creative can get inspired during a workshop to sketch and use colour.  So I always like to have colorful  pens available in the plenty.  Colour is known psychologically to evoke energy in us, and the more we use it in workshop sessions, the more vibrant people become.
These days many strategists and facilitators use their phones as cameras.  I still like to have a high resolution camera when available.  I find the quality of photography is better, and this makes it easier to write up notes after the session.
Post it Notes
Ever wonder why 3M is one of the best innovators in the world?  Likely because Post It notes are just so useful during collaboration sessions.  Use Post It notes for your participants to do exercises (eg. write down the top questions you would like answered, with one idea per note), and then have them stick them up on the wall and move them toward other ideas similar in nature.  You’ll be amazed how ‘clear thinking’ emerges.
Dots / Stars / Stickers
These stickers are useful when you want people to prioritise ideas or mark which ideas are of the greatest significance.  Rather than have people argue about what’s important, create democracy and give people 2 stickers, and ask them to use these to mark the ideas they feel deserve attention.
The old faithful, Blu-Tack does something no screw or nail can do – post things on walls without getting in trouble from the building supervisor.
Painter’s Tape
Use painter’s tape to create columns or rows of information so that workshop participants can categorise ideas.  The most common use of painters tape is to create ‘swimlanes’ for Agile workshops, however, this simple device is boundless.  For example, the same tool could be used to create columns of ‘time horizons’ (< 1 year, 1 to 3 years, 4 to 7 years).
Thick Masking Tape
I rarely use thick masking tape, but often carry it, just in case I need to stick large documents on the wall (eg. A0 or A1 size).
Flip Charts / Post It Charts
The Flip Chart is the ‘staple’ diet of the strategist.  In fact, walking into a workshop that does not have a flip chart (especially those that do not have whiteboards), leaves an uncomfortable, under-nourished feeling for most strategists.  I’m a fan of the Post It flipcharts that can be stuck directly onto the wall, as they avoid the need for an easel.
Fantastic to write on, even better to lean on after several hours of facilitation, when you just need plain support.  Many people favour electronic whiteboards, but for me, any whiteboard will do.
Plastic Tub
You’ll need something to carry your gear in (except for the whiteboard and flip charts).  The plastic tubs with compartments are best for this purpose.  You will be able to find these at your larger hardware stores, or specialist hobby stores. 




















































Handy Peripherals

Though not essential, these peripherals can come in handy in certain collaboration situations.

Great to take a quick note or lookup something online that’s mentioned during the workshop.
Tablet Display Connection
For those times I do take a tablet to a workshop, I always bring the VGA display connection.  Just in case someone mentions information that is worth sharing with others on a big screen.
Portable scanner
While photos of workshop outputs work well, occasionally there is a written artefact that you want to capture exactly as it appears on the page.  A portable scanner is great for recording a specific sketch that you wish to include in your final workshop write up.  The Fujitsu Scan Snap line is worth a look.
Laser pointer / clicker
These days, when someone pulls out a laser point, it’s a bit like watching an old Bond film.  Cool, but a little dated.  Still, I like old movies, so I still carry (and often use) my laser pointer and clicker.  The brand I use is Targus.
Voice recorder
If you don’t have a smartphone or tablet that you record onto, a voice recorder can save you time from having to write notes during workshop sessions. Be sure to always disclose to participants when you’re recording a session, and explain to them how you’ll use the material.
Label Printer
Use a label printer to have your materials or name labels look snazzy.  It always sets a good impression for participants.  Dymo makes a large range of label printers, from entry level printers to more advanced versions.
Some workshops are fluid, free and easy.  Sometimes though you’ll have to run an agenda as sharply as a drill sergeant.  A stop watch, digital watch, or even a mobile app, will make sure you’re always aware of time to keep the troops focused.


Question: Did I miss something that you recommend to go into The Collaborator’s Toolkit?  Please let me know by leaving a comment by here.

I'm a digital strategist and channel manager with 15 years experience in digital, across marketing, e-commerce, online sales, and digital and mobile strategy. Companies I've worked for include Coles, ANZ and GSK. I'm also a graduate and previous sessional lecturer of Strategic Foresight at Swinburne University.