Running workshops from your project management office (PMO) can be a successful way to solve issues and resolve roadblocks in your projects. They don’t always go to plan, so when a PMO workshop goes off-track you can use these five rescue tactics to bring the session back to topic.
If your designated the workshop role of being the facilitator, you will sometimes depart from your workshop agenda. A debate can break out because you’re dealing with a tough issue within the project or because you have strong personalities among the participants.
Whatever causes your project to go off-track, there are different ways you can handle it, depending on what direction the conversation has gone in. We’re going to look at:
- How to deal with each problem to get back on schedule
- Things to do to prevent your workshop from going off track
1. Know your plan
During your workshop, if you happen to miss a beat, you can leave the floor open to conversation. When you are well prepared and know what is coming next, you can make sure that there is little room to go off-track.
If a conversation between people does break out, it’s important to listen to the topic. If the issues being discussed are being raised, you can let the room know that there will be time and activities dedicated to their topic soon.
2. Look for a resolution
There may be issues that can be resolved during the session as part of the wider remit. Take some time to understand the concerns being discussed and debated and see if they can be built into the rest of the day.
If the issues are too tangential to be able to be rolled up into the session, you can also assure the people in the discussion that you’ll work on the issues at a later, specified time. Make sure this is then covered in the notes and follow-up for the workshop.
3. Have a parking space
When you can’t address the topic that is derailing your PMO workshop there and then, you need to give people the assurance that you will circle back to it. This is where your parking space comes into play.
Have a section of the whiteboard, a flipchart, or anything else that is visual, that you “park” important issues. This gives a constant reminder to everyone in the room that their issues are noted and are going to be looked at, but that your workshop isn’t the right forum.
4. Offer a choice
There can be pressing issues that come up during a workshop that could be beneficial to tackle. Whether you choose to engage will be a choice to take in the moment, and you can also offer that choice to your participants.
At the beginning of your workshop, you’ll have outlined your goals and what you want to finish the workshop having achieved. Ask the participants if they think working through the debate will help them achieve your collective aims or if it does need to be dealt with separately.
5. Let the debate run
Without offering a choice, you can take the decision to let the debate run. It will depend on whether there is time to do this or if you think you can adapt an activity to facilitate the debate – you also need to be sure the topic that has taken your workshop off-track is relevant enough.
Be clear with people if you do choose to let the talk run and why you’re letting that happen. You want to make sure that everyone is aware that the schedule you’ve given them is being adapted but that there is value in their discussion.
How to prevent a workshop from going off track
Even with strong personalities and controversial topics, you can keep your PMO workshops on track by:
- Having a strong structure that is well-communicated to everyone ahead of time
- Making sure everyone knows the reason for the workshop and is fully bought-in, making them less likely to want to tackle other topics
- Knowing where the debates and derailments could come from by having a detailed chat with your PMO team and project managers to be aware of issues before they get raised
Bring an off-track workshop back to topic
It can be a daunting challenge to facilitate a workshop, especially when you have leaders and experts in front of you. Be sure to understand your task at hand, and you will be able to handle when a PMO workshop goes off track.