Meetings vs Workshops: Workshops are for Working

I chuckled recently when I heard 2 colleagues discussing the purpose of our workshop. “What’s a workshop anyway,” asked the colleague. “Workshops are the new meetings,” responded the other. It’s a great question but one that got me thinking about the differences. Despite sounding like the same thing, they are not.

Simply put, meetings are about getting people together to “meet” while workshops are about working. There is a correct time and use for each. In this post I explore six key differences between these two methods of getting a group together for a purpose.

Difference #1: Meeting Leader vs Workshop Facilitator

A leader is the person that runs the meeting. This person may be a manager or a person in charge.

Workshops are run by a facilitator who is a neutral party that ensures the group stays on track and meets their objectives.

Difference #2 Purpose

Meetings involve exchanging information. Their purpose is to communicate with an audience.

The purpose of a workshop is to discover and create information collaboratively. They are highly collaborative by design and involve a group specifically selected to perform work.

Difference #3: Decision Making

A meeting may share results of decision-making or announce that decisions will be made but those decisions are not made in the meeting.

Decision-making is an expected product of a workshop. Participants with the authority to make decisions are specifically invited when decisions are needed. Workshop planning should determine how decisions are made. (Check out this great blog by Ellen Gottesdiener on deciding how to decide) The facilitator then guides that decision-making process.

Difference #4: Pre-work and Preparation

Meetings may have an agenda or may have no preparation other than an invitation.

Workshops take time to plan and often run longer than meetings because they include a number interactions between the participants. Key features of workshop preparation include:

  • Selecting participants carefully for their expertise or decision making authority who can perform the work (see my post on how to select participants),
  • Planning activities that produce the intended results or outcomes,
  • Drafting materials in advance that will be used as inputs or outputs,
  • Sending pre-work to participants in advance of the workshop to prepare them for the work

Difference #5: Interaction

Meetings have some interaction between participants. The leader and/or the participants may present status or information to the attendees.

Workshops use a variety of interactive methods and tools to achieve their goals. Interactive components may include:

  • activities performed by the whole group, sub-groups and individuals to perform work and develop trust and teamwork while solving problems
  • games that break up the work while having fun and building team purpose
  • visual methods for capturing and sharing information (whiteboards, post-its, visual models)

Difference #6: Deliverables

The takeaway from a meeting is generally the information that was shared but additional outputs may include notes or action items.

Deliverables are always expected to come out of a workshop. Some of those are tangible, such as drafts of documents or models but they can also be intangible, such as decisions, trust, and teamwork.

Workshops and meetings have appropriate uses. Consider these differences as you plan which you will need when you meet with a group.