Working with lots of type of participants in participatory workshops is almost always enjoyable. Well, if you can control their behavior. Fact is: you can’t.
Suitable participants are key to the success of a participatory work. However, I wasn’t always lucky. Certain type of participants are challenging (read: difficult) and they risk the lower rate of workshop productivity. My client usually gave me clues on which participants were likely to be challenging. However, mostly, these challenging participants were identified during the workshop.
Steve Blash identified seven type of workshop participants who potentially break OR make your participatory workshop. Numerous methodologies and techniques are also available to handle challenges rising from these challenging participants.
However, the key is: give different role and portion to different type of participants. Good luck!
Blue-Sky: Blue-Sky participants are progressive and optimistic people who believe they can accomplish complex tasks. They tend to view their objective as part of the group as a mission to seek out new information, to discover new ways of doing business and to venture where no other team has ventured before. This type of person wants to take on as much as possible, to change as much as possible and to totally re‑engineer the business often using new and advanced technology. The problem is that the organization may not be ready for such drastic changes. The intent of this type of participants is good but the facilitator must rein in this person by directing questions to all of the other participants. The facilitator should determine if the ideas in the discussion are realistic and achievable within the boundaries and the budget of the project scope. The facilitator should involve the team in determining the direction of the conversation rather than trying to cut off the discussion point.
Snowball: This type of participants likes to continually add one more item to the discussion. They usually say, “While we are doing that, let’s also do this…” The difference between a blue sky and a snow ball participant is that the blue sky participant will talk about doing everything at once, while the snow ball participant adds one thing at a time. This technique can add quite a bit to the discussion points over the course of the meeting. The facilitator needs to recognize that the added item identified in this manner is not directly part of the effort. The facilitator should validate with the group if the discussion point is within the team’s scope and a part of the team’s objectives.
Wanderers: This type of participant likes to meander during their discussion point or talk about something that is not related to the topic nor follows the dialogue that was in progress. Wanderers enjoy tangents and digressions. They tend to begin to speak before they have thought out their ideas. The facilitator must stop the wanderer before too much time has been wasted and/or as soon as the facilitator recognizes that the discussion point is not relevant to the topic. The facilitator should consider if it is a digression or not in order to get back to the topic. Often these points can be put on a “parking lot” to stop the discussion and return to the points at hand.
Philosophers: This type of participant likes to inject academics into each discussion topic. This person’s language skills are advanced and often speak using a large vocabulary of difficult and often unrecognizable words. Participants who are more practical will find it difficult to work with the philosopher. The facilitator will need to rephrase, or summarize, what the philosopher has said in order for all the participants to comprehend the discussion point. The facilitator needs to verify with the group if the ideas expressed in the discussion point are practical and feasible for the organization. The facilitator must not allow the philosopher to carry‑on without the idea being documented in the group memory.
Conversers: These participants are usually more social and tend to seek out other participants who share the same characteristics. Most of the ideas they express are not related directly to the topic, although it may appear that way as they begin their discussion. They are similar to the wanderer, who also like tangents and digressions. However, they are not as far off from the topics as the wanderers are. The facilitator needs to listen to the converser’s idea, assess if it relates to the topic and limit that person’s time to speak. The facilitator should determine their ideas are a part of the topic or relate to something else. The facilitator must monitor this person’s contributions more closely than others in order to keep the other participants from becoming frustrated with what appears to be unnecessary and time wasting discussions.
Devil’s Advocates: This person is always negative when expressing their ideas. They tend to state that things will never work, that things can’t be done or that the technology is too complex. These pessimistic people can become a real downer to the other participants because they will be viewed as being against the rest of the team. The facilitator must request that this person keeps an open mind to the ideas that are expressed and only when there is a negative aspect that others haven’t identified, should they point this aspect out. This type of person can become very harmful to the overall team’s motivation. Too much negativism can turn the meeting process into a frustrating experience for all participants.
Followers: These people like to follow the lead of the others, especially others from their own department. They always align themselves with their manager or an influential person in the group. They are always in agreement with that person and are reluctant to express their personal view. This may be due to previous experiences when having been in meetings with their manager or this influential person. The facilitator needs to recognize that this person is continually repeating what others have said and should try to ask a specific question that will enable them to express what they really feel about the topic. The facilitator may need to stand between the follower and his/her manager to block his/her view.