The aftermath of innovation events and workshops

The morning after your innovation sprint. Pic by Fred Mouniguet

Your head is spinning around.

You don’t know where you are. As you open your eyes, things start to look familiar. But you feel disoriented.

Everything went so fast and felt so exciting last night. You recall random images but can’t tie them together.

Your hands pat down the other side of your bed. “Hello, stranger” — a voice says. As you turn around, a good looking piece of paper full of post-its, doodles and one-line ideas, smiles at you.

Yesterday everyone left the room excited. The innovation workshop was fast and furious. Especially the brainstorm. The team came up with lots of game-changing ideas. You were onto something big.

Now you feel overwhelmed and lost. It’s not just the headache, you don’t know what to do with all those post-its…

How does everything seem so confusing and threatening now?

You are experiencing the innovation sprint hangover 🙁

Innovation Sprints Side Effects

Feeling nausea or a headache are just symptoms.

The worst side effect of a hangover? Not reminding what you did the night before or regretting for something you did.

And that’s exactly how most teams feel after an innovation workshop.

The “party” was great. The facilitators did an amazing job setting up the environment. “This is not your daily kind of work, this is not your office.” — they’ve encouraged the team. “Break the rules, be creative, don’t judge.”

There’s nothing wrong with setting up a safe environment. The problem is not connecting the “workshop party” to the normal work.

A safe environment, as I wrote here, is critical for teams to succeed. But it needs to be encouraged every day, not just during an offsite.

The problem with most Innovation Sprints or Design Thinking Workshops is that they are disconnected from the morning after.

92 out of 96 Fortune 500 CEOs are interested in learning the business impact of development programs, but only 8% of those companies measure ROI.

Most innovation events lack accountability. Their focus is on making the events memorable and exciting rather than creating real impact. Their jobs end when people get back to their workplace.

The same applies to team outings or management offsite events.

They fail to bring the magic into the real world.

How to Avoid Workshop Headaches

1. Start with an objective:

What’s the purpose behind your Design Thinking workshop or Innovation Sprint? Are you trying to test the water or to take the plunge? Are you trying to solve a real problem or simply unleashing your team’s creativity for a day?

Paraphrasing Alice in Wonderland, If you don’t know why are you doing an innovation workshop, the outcome doesn’t matter.

Set short and long-term goals. Focus on the behaviors you want to stop, ignite or accelerate. Be realistic.

Define how an specific workshop, training or outing will help you achieve those. Don’t expect one “event” to fix everything, though.

2. Be clear on your current state:

Building on the above, if you don’t know what you team is suffering from, you could take the wrong medicine.

Assess your team’s behaviors. Have some initial hypothesis of what’s holding them back. “I want my team to behave like a startup.” — I get this answer very often.

Unfortunately, many organizations try to instill behaviors that are far away from their current reality. A company that is limited by strict rules can hardly dream to behave like a startup. There other aspects that need to be unleashed before that.

Also, trying to behave like a startup is a solution, not a problem. Before recommending a solution, I want to understand what the organization is suffering from.

I don’t want to attack the symptoms, but help my clients solve the real problem, as I explained on a previous post.

3. Focus on the morning after:

Having fun is always good for team morale. But make sure your workshop’s amusement doesn’t overshadow its real purpose. Your “innovation party” is a means to a end. And not one you want to regret about.

There are over 1.8 million event in the US per year. That number includes team outings, management off-sites, team building, workshops, sprint among other corporate and association-specific events.

Before you spend your money, go back to your objectives. What behaviors do you want to stop, ignite and accelerate among your team? Prioritize.

What would success would look like? What outcomes would justify your investment?

4. Changing behaviors is not a one-off effort:

I see this over and over. Organizations hire a consultant to run a workshop and then expect things to change overnight.

As I wrote on Part III of my book Stretch for Change, building a culture of experimentation is a journey. It requires building a foundation of transparency and trust and to develop resilience among team members. Building

Starting small it’s just the beginning. It requires to take more risks, to accelerate initial pilots. Develop the right cadence by continuously launching new initiatives. One-offs change nothing.

5. Set metrics but don’t became data-driven:

Have clear and realistic goals of the impact you are looking for. I see many organizations changing innovation projects for the wrong reason. Don’t expect a new product to offset sales for another that has been declining for years.

Share the goals with the team and, most importantly, monitor the evolution and be ready to adjust. Innovation is uncertain. It require an open mind and adaptability to know when and how to pivot.

Avoid the post-event survey. They tend to be very superficial. Also, post-event excitement inflates results.

Ask your team which new behaviors they want to start putting in practice and which they want to abandon. Monitor adoption and accelerations of those.

How are you going to follow-up? What internal or external coaching support will the team have?

6. Design a behavioral change experience, not just a workshop:

Workshops, sprints, innovation day are great to spark curiosity and to challenge the behaviors that are making your team stuck.

They are an effective way to assess the team. It’s a fast-paced and live way to understand more about what’s holding the team back and to identify early adopters.

But, once the workshop is gone, nothing will happen if you don’t have a plan. I always make sure that we end with “experiments” that can be put in practice on the workplace.

Experiments must have clear leaders, dates and metrics. Once again, accountability is what matters.

On top of that, follow-up is critical. Not just to see how the experiment is doing but to better understand the resistance that the team is facing and provide them with the right tools to keep projects move forward.

7. Prepare to deal with hangovers:

In the end, there are always going to be headaches. Driving change is never easy. You need to prepare your team for facing resistance both internal and external.

The Enemies of Innovation, Dealing with opposition, corporate rules-among other constraints- are realities that every changemaker has to overcome.

But there are some headaches that you can avoid.

Be honest. Be flexible. Be tolerant.

Self-inflicted Hangovers

What’s the purpose of encouraging your team to be creative only when they are out of the office?

What’s the point of workshops that promote speaking-up freely if you don’t provide a safe place at work?

What’s the need to promote experimentation but don’t allow your team to take risks?

Most “innovation parties” are just a nice experience. But then, the morning after, nothing has changed.

Avoid self-inflicted hangovers. Prepare for the morning after.


The Innovation Hangover: How to Deal with The Morning After was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.