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Former Member
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At the Design & Co-Innovation Center (DCC) at SAP, our team members have facilitated a number of workshops, especially Design Thinking (DT) Workshops. We learned that preparing and presenting the workshop content is only half of what is required to deliver a successful workshop. The other half is managing different types of participants to make the workshop experience pleasant for everyone.

Last week, I had a chance to sit down and speak with a couple of our resident Design Thinking facilitation experts, Sally Lawler Kennedy and Muhammad “Mashhood” Alam. I learned a lot about different types of personalities that they have met in the workshop and their tips on how to interact with them effectively. I would like to share my learnings with you guys, and hope this will help support you when working with diverse teams.


The Enthusiast
Characteristics: They are the perfect participants: eager to learn new things and open to new ideas. They follow the rules and participate in the best manner.
Facilitator’s tip(s): Make the most of them. These participants are like role models who can fill the room with positive energy. However, workshop experience can be like an emotional roller coaster ride; it’s not easy to stay energetic and optimistic all the time. Sometimes people get tired, especially after lunch or in the evening. Sometimes people lose confidence and want to give up when they are challenged. The key is to encourage them and keep them going until the end. When they look back at the challenges that they have overcome, they will be proud of themselves and the workshop will be rewarding for them without a doubt.

The Know-It-All
Characteristics: They want to show you (and everyone else) how much they know. They make a point to share examples of things (even if they are not really relevant) as proof that they are “in the know”. They also may come out and say that you are not doing something correctly and offer their advice on how to do it better.
Facilitator’s tip(s): Sometimes giving them an opportunity to show-off their knowledge can help. For example, ask “How would you do it?” Sometimes the best strategy is to accept their input as long as it doesn’t distract from the experience of other people in the workshop.

The Killer
Characteristics: They try to show that what you are doing, presenting, or teaching is wrong. They will likely challenge your examples and try to discredit them. They may randomly come and go during the workshop. And of course, when they pop back in, they will tell you that you are doing something wrong.
Facilitator’s tip(s): Usually there are some politics and/or reasons why they do not want to agree. For example, what you are presenting to them might go against their current practice or core value. Don’t spend all of your energy on them, because there are still other participants in the room. You likely won’t get these people on the bandwagon, a strategy is to manage and minimize the impact of a Killer-type for other workshop attendees. If they end-up being too distracting, then you may discuss mitigation strategies with your customer contact, since they may know the person and the background behind the behavior.

The Observer
Characteristics: These are your passive-aggressive Killers: people who are more comfortable sitting around watching others do the work, or wanting to just sit around discussing everything versus actually doing something. You are likely to get some “I’m not going to participate” attendees when you have an executive or manager who has signed-up their whole team for a workshop. While most are excited or interested in the workshop, there are some that are not on board with the “Why do we need to do this?” attitude.
Facilitator’s tip(s): Get them involved. Assign them something to do. Ask them questions. If some people can sit in a workshop and just be an “observer”, that can sometimes become contagious. These people usually come around by the end of the workshop.


The Talker
Characteristics: Blah, blah, blah…They commonly volunteer to go first and then no one else gets a turn. They have an opinion on everything and want to make sure everyone else knows their opinions.
Facilitator’s tip(s): Emphasize that everyone on the team has an opportunity to share in the time that is allotted for the particular activity. For example, if you are doing a team introduction and people get one minute each, you can’t let them talk for 3 minutes, otherwise the last person won’t have time to share. If the person cannot show restraint, redirect the conversation to someone else in the team. You can also request their attention if they are keeping you from moving on with their talking.


The Analyzer
Characteristics: They must analyze and question everything. They don’t do well with the time-boxing since they need to question and analyze why you do everything.
Facilitator’s tip(s): Push (or drag) them along. You can entertain some questioning as long as you can complete the activity within the allocated time. You can also list questions in a parking lot and/or suggest that you discuss them during lunch or after the workshop. Sometimes, giving the Analyzer time to ask questions during lunch can enable them (and you) to make it through the activities for the remainder of the workshop.


The Skeptic
Characteristics: They are not fully convinced of the approach and have a skeptical view in the beginning. Depending on what their personality is (open or closed), they could either transform into an enthusiast, or a killer.
Facilitator’s tips: During introduction, have them express their concerns and clarify expectations. Tailor your engagement with them to steer them towards the enthusiastic route. But don't focus too much energy here, otherwise you run the risk of derailing the flow of the workshop.


The Distracted
Characteristics: Their devices always distract them. They can be distracted by other meetings and have to step out of the workshop (sometimes, multiple times per day). They may also be the people who start side conversations.
Facilitator’s tips: Depending on the severity of interruptions, and the environment, you could have a playful penalty (e.g. $$) for each distraction to be collected, so that the team can use the penalty pool for a team activity later on or even donate it to a charity. You can optionally let this behavior continue as long as they do not interrupt other participants or the workshop flow. If they start side conversations, politely request them to avoid side conversations. If the side conversations continue, pause the workshop and shift the focus to the distractor and invite them to share their thoughts with the entire group. That typically puts that distraction (and future ones) to rest.


The Latecomer
Characteristics: These guys typically arrive several minutes after a break has ended.
Facilitator’s tips: Depending on the group, you could establish a rule at the beginning of the workshop, such that any person who arrives late has to do something for the group (e.g. sing a song, do a dance, etc…). If the person comes after the instructions have been given for the next exercise, have one of the facilitators quietly explain to him the instructions for the exercise. If the person comes in half way into the exercise, have them observe the rest of the team doing the exercise.

Please let us know in the comment section below if you have any questions or feedback.

* Illustrations done by Amol Deshpande, Design & Co-Innovation Center (DCC) at SAP.

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