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How Workshops Help eCommerce Businesses Grow

“Couldn’t this meeting have been an email?”

We’ve all had that thought at least once, haven’t we? And with meetings on the rise – apparently up 13% since the pandemic started – we’re willing to bet you’ve wasted more than a few hours in meetings-that-could-have-been-emails over the last year.

Ok, but you aren’t seriously suggesting we should scrap meetings, are you?

Well… Sort of. Look, we know that face-to-face time with your team is valuable – especially in fostering great communication and company culture – but it’s expensive getting all those smart people in the same place at the same time, and that’s exactly why we’re advocating not wasting it on status updates. Those Zoom calls with your team should be about idea generation, problem solving, and team building – and yes, maybe even a rant or two. 

What we’re proposing is – stop wasting time in meetings, and use workshops instead.

Planned, interactive, exploratory workshops that engage the team, gather contributions, uncover problems, and develop solutions to all your pain points. Solutions that can be implemented internally, briefed to your agency partners, or taken out into the world to find the person with the right expertise.

Why workshops?

Look, we know it’s a tough ask to change your entire day-to-day routine. And an even tougher ask to make a business case and convince your boss it’s a good idea.

But we’ll hazard a guess that at least one of the following is an ongoing issue for you:

  • Getting input or signoff on projects over email is impossible
  • Your calendar is constantly crammed full of meetings but you always feel like you’re not getting enough done
  • You’re worried about the lack of employee engagement and nothing you do seems to change things
  • It takes days to get everyone together on a call and when it finally does happen you don’t get all the answers you needed
  • You have concerns about team morale, enthusiasm, communication, or feedback processes – especially when working remotely

Well – workshops can help with all those things – and more!

Gathering multiple opinions from different business areas

Most decisions within a business will impact on more than one area – so when you’re deciding what to do, it’s often worth gathering opinions from different people within the business.

Whether you’re planning a project or deciding on a new workflow, getting early buy-in from, say, logistics at the same time as sales, marketing and finance, could help you avoid any bumps further down the road – or at least prepare for them in advance.

Getting everyone into an organised workshop and asking them directly is much more likely to result in helpful opinions and input than setting up a communal spreadsheet will! With everyone in the room, they can listen to each other, empathise, and achieve mutually agreeable compromises – rather than a manager having to pull rank and make the call. That regimented time slot for them to share their concerns should help to focus and incentivise input from all areas of the business.

Helping to foster a ‘speak up’ culture

Most businesses want their employees to feel empowered to speak up – no matter what the problem is. Not only that they can speak up – but that they should, as it benefits everyone around them. Hosting regular workshop sessions where everyone feels listened to and able to share their opinions, feedback and concerns is really helpful to build this kind of environment within your workplace. 

Adding an element of democracy to your decision making also enables you to benefit from the wisdom of the crowd, without fear of bosses ‘shouting people down’ or steering decisions to benefit themselves. Whether these things actually happen in your business or not, it’s still a valid fear that can stop employees not in management positions feeling empowered to share their ideas and opinions.

Creating environments that welcome feedback

What do high performing teams in successful businesses have in common, no matter what industry they work in? They take the time to develop and uphold a working environment that feels open, honest and welcomes genuine feedback, all with the goal of improving both the quality of work and the skills of the team.

And you know what one of the best ways to build this is? Hosting workshops! They are the perfect place to ask for feedback, and once your colleagues get into the habit, they’ll likely start sharing feedback more openly elsewhere as well. Your first critic is always yourself, and once you break that barrier and develop the discipline to share and develop ideas openly – without agonizing over the details or worrying about external judgement – not only have you developed a more efficient process, but you’ve actually developed a key skill that will serve you well throughout your career. It’s great for employees – but it’s great for managers too, who can learn the fine balance between asking for ideas without putting team members under pressure.

Working together on projects – like screensharing your actual work in process, whether that’s a piece of design work or a brainstorming document – does make you vulnerable, and this approach requires developing additional skills and understanding. However this is all valuable in creating a healthy work environment where feedback is always welcome, and while it might be hard at first, the more you and your team do it, the better their skills will become.

Deliver productive feedback and critiques

Being able to deliver constructive feedback and critique is a skill – but so is being able to take that critique on board constructively and turn it into action. A lot of people struggle with separating themselves from their work, especially early in their careers, and this can lead to confrontation or unnecessary upset when changes to or development upon an idea is required.

But getting into the habit of doing this constructively within a workshop can really help to foster a good growth mindset. Instead of firing off an email with a list of changes – which the recipient has to read alone and deal with – consider turning feedback into a face-to-face discussion, where tone is more obvious and clarification can be given in real-time.

There are plenty of specific strategies for this too – we like the Two Stars and a Wish approach, which asks you to point out 2 things you are positive about, along with one that they could do better or improve for next time. Highlighting the positive elements within a project is always important to remember, so whoever you’re delivering the feedback to doesn’t just face a barrage of negativity and ends up scrapping all the good aspects of their work – but doing this in a workshop environment lets you adapt your approach or language in line with the reaction of the recipient. Sometimes you will need to be softer, and sometimes you can be a bit more blunt, but the workshop gives you the environment to feel out the best approach.

Energise and strengthen your team

This one is definitely needed when working remotely for long periods! Without the usual team building exercises an option, switching some of your solo work into workshop form really gives the opportunity for your team to work side-by-side and form stronger bonds. 

Especially when working remotely, we find it works best when you plan in some open chat time at the beginning of a workshop – colleagues can catch up and connect with each other without disrupting the main agenda. Then, giving your team a bit of energy with a fun exercise to do together goes a long way to get them thinking positively and injects a shot of energy into the day.

We’ve found our clients get excited to do workshops with us – it’s something a little different in their day and they are always coming away with new learnings or ideas – but our internal colleagues also find it gives them an energy boost. We all spend so much time working alone – more so in the last year or so – that the face-to-face time with the client, end user or even our internal colleagues has become even more treasured and integral to keeping the passion flowing. Taking the time to be reminded of the end goal we’re working towards is so key – and workshops present a perfect opportunity to do just that.

Improve efficiency and structure collaborative time

Workshops can turn unproductive Zoom calls into genuinely structured collaborative time, full of idea generation and decision making. Getting everyone in the same place at the same time in your business – whether virtually or in-person – is most likely the most expensive part of your week. Don’t you want to get the very best results out of it?

We’ve all gone into a meeting with an agenda or action points (and even sometimes without!) only to have the entire thing derailed – but with a structured workshop, with a good facilitator, timelines and a script to follow, this is much less likely to happen. And the best thing is – you don’t even have to write that script or structure. There are so many workshop tactics and strategies out there already, that no matter the goal you’re trying to achieve, there’s one that’ll fit the bill. Figuring out which tactic to use and how to apply it isn’t always easy, but working with an experienced facilitator or agency can help you navigate through the noise and achieve your business goals.

Structured workshops also help to put power dynamics to bed – because they’ve been designed so everyone gets to share their input, rather than looking to the boss for guidance. Letting everyone share their ideas not only results in more well-rounded thinking, but it helps all members of staff feel heard and empowered to drive change.

This is especially true when working remotely, and stops calendars being clogged with endless Zoom meetings – which we’re sure you’ll agree becomes absolutely exhausting. There’s no hard and fast rule for this, but we like to think of it this way:

  • All the ‘work time’ is done in solo time (by the most suitable person or people)
  • Status updates are communicated in emails or reports
  • Collaborative time is used to decide what to do about the status updates

Opportunities for training and development

We don’t want to pretend that hosting workshops is easy – it isn’t! But the core skills that hosts and participants learn during the process are really helpful in the workplace (and life in general), making them a brilliant training environment for internal staff.

Some of the skills that can be learned and developed in workshops:

  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Visualisation
  • Asking for and listening to feedback
  • Constructive criticism
  • Collaboration
  • Problem solving

A well-rounded team continually develops and improves new skills – and giving them the tools and opportunities to do this will help to reduce employee turnover and create a happier, more productive working environment. Good news all round!

Join our workshop?

If you’d like to learn more about workshop tools and techniques that can help grow your business, we’re running a series of invitation-only workshop events designed specifically for eCommerce merchants. Email to request a space and date.

Right, now that we’ve sold you on workshops – you’ll want to come back to read our tips on how they can help different areas of your business flourish, right?

Awesome, because we’ve got several more blog posts in this series coming right up. Subscribe to our mailing list to be notified when they’re ready to read!