Using Working Sessions to get Things Done

by | Jun 2, 2021 | Leadership, Operations

Have you ever had a project in your business that was stalled?  I’ve seen this happen with projects that require the engagement and alignment of multiple departments.  In an effort to get the requisite collaboration, the project leader tries to cajole all of the stakeholders into completing their tasks on time, and yet the project still languishes. Out of frustration, the company may have even turned to one of the modern collaboration tools like Slack, Teams or Trello, with the hopes that a communication aid will speed things along.

I’m not writing this article to critique those tools.  I’m sure that there’s a time, place and method to get the most from them.  What I am advocating for is the use of an in-person, hands-on approach called a working session.

What is a working session?

“A working session is a highly organized, structured meeting with people who have a stake in the project with the purpose of ‘working’ – wrestling through issues, making decisions, and documenting results – toward the production of a specific work product.”[1]

I have seen working sessions that are only two-hours long, and there are others that can last for several days.  In all cases, the working session has dislodged the project logjam and dramatically compressed the time to complete the project.

Key Ingredients to a Working Session:

I have found that there are six keys to a successful working session:

  1. Objective-driven: the team has clear goals.
  2. Structured – the session has a disciplined approach, not ad hoc
  3. Collaborative – everyone has a voice
  4. Facilitated – there is a strong facilitator to create the session structure and keep the team moving forward
  5. Empowered – the working session has decision-making authority
  6. Output-oriented – the group exists to create output and results

At the end of a working session, I often ask the participants “If we hadn’t gotten together, how long would it have taken to get this far on the project?”.  I will get answers ranging from weeks to months, but the most common answer is “never”.  Breaking through the stall required a face-to-face team effort with everyone working for the common goal.

I love facilitating working sessions and teaching others how to be great facilitators.  Give me a call if you’d like to discuss this further.

[1] Means, J. & Adams, T. (2005). Accelerating your project using facilitated work sessions. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2005—North America, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.