How to cultivate workshop culture for better innovation

Jackie Colburn
5 min readMar 11, 2024


Do you want your organizational culture to be more collaborative, creative, and continuously improving? Have you ever wished it felt more natural to engage teams in ideation and exploration, not just in a reactionary sense, but also proactively? Rather than wondering how to make these changes or feeling lost when it comes to improving the innovation pipeline, I’d argue that you can proactively shift the way that teams are working so that it eventually becomes natural to creatively collaborate.

But what does it take to stitch an innovation mindset into the very way teams operate? And how do you build a culture that:

  • Is willing to explore new ideas
  • Feels empowered to take calculated risks
  • Creates muscle memory around the practices that support innovation

As a facilitator, a lot of my work is focused on helping teams unlock their highest potential. Through workshops in particular, I’m able to help them make significant leaps and bounds toward their goals by employing proven methods. But a lot of the time, workshops are used when teams are already stuck, or as an answer to an immediate, pressing problem.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with either of those inroads — in fact, I specialize in helping teams get unstuck — but today’s article is about shifting our perspective on when to workshop. Here, I’ll make the case for cultivating a workshop practice as a necessary stepping stone to building a culture of innovation.

How does a workshop practice foster a more innovative culture overall?

In a world where our attention spans are getting shorter, and where distributed and fractional teams are challenging us to find new ways to collaborate, there really isn’t anything else quite like a workshop to launch an idea.

To that end, the power of strategic workshops lies in their ability to establish ways of working together. They rely on tried-and-true tools and methods that accelerate ideation, rapidly solve complex problems, and uncover solutions. And it happens within a hyper-focused, ultra-intentional timebox that keeps everyone’s brains aligned on the task at hand.

What is it about workshops specifically that have such a great impact on innovation?

  • Structured Problem Definition: Workshops often begin by defining a problem or objective, which leads to more targeted and effective brainstorming.
  • Collaboration and Cross-functional Interaction: When you bring together participants from diverse backgrounds, expertise, and perspectives, it leads to more innovative solutions that might not emerge in a more isolated or hierarchical setting.
  • Brainstorming and Idea Generation: Structured ideation activities stimulate creative thinking and allow participants to explore unconventional solutions. And an emphasis on generating a large number of ideas promotes a mindset that values innovation and embraces the possibility of unconventional solutions.
  • Respectful Communication: When done right, workshops give team members space to freely express thoughts, insights, and concerns without fear of judgment.
  • Prototyping and Iterative Processes: Hands-on activities like prototyping turn abstract ideas into tangible prototypes. It also creates space to iterate, experiment, learn from failures, and adapt accordingly. This is a really powerful tool for promoting a culture that values creativity and calculated risk-taking.
  • Continuous Improvement: Feedback from one workshop can inform the planning and execution of the next, helping the broader organization stay responsive to changing market dynamics and customer needs.

With all of these amazing perks, why limit your teams to only one or two workshops a year when instead you could design a cyclical approach that incorporates regular workshops into your ongoing process?

Doing this is the key to extending the magic that occurs in workshops to the broader org. When you cultivate a workshop culture, the creativity-boosting practices, methodologies, and attitudes start to seep into the rest of the work. And that’s the tipping point for a culture of innovation.

Sounds great, right?! But what’s next?

Here are a few suggestions for building workshop culture into your organization:

  • Craft a Plan and Set Clear Objectives: Start by outlining the frequency of workshops and resources you need to make them happen. Then, clearly define the purpose and objectives of each session to help your team understand expectations and how their contributions align with the organization’s goals. Make sure to carve out dedicated time for workshops and creative activities so participants aren’t overloaded with other responsibilities that may detract from their ability to be fully engaged.
  • Get Leadership On Board: Support and involvement from leaders will be critical here. When leaders actively participate in and endorse workshops, it sends a message that innovation is a priority for the organization (and that has a ripple effect of its own).
  • Invest in Resources: Figure out who’s going to lead the workshops. This step should not be taken lightly! You need to make sure facilitation is someone’s job, not simply “extra work” that got dropped on their plate because they lead a product team or have a certain title. Here, it might make sense to bring in an outside third party, or invest in training for your internal team to equip them with the necessary skills, resources, and tools to facilitate workshops effectively. This might include access to brainstorming materials, whiteboards, digital collaboration platforms, or specialized software. While these tools are important, experience guiding teams through proven methods and practices, and facilitating design thinking is even more critical.
  • Celebrate Successes: Don’t forget to recognize and celebrate successful outcomes resulting from workshops! This reinforces the value of innovation and encourages continued participation and creativity. You should also regularly evaluate and refine your workshop culture based on feedback and outcomes. This helps position failure as a learning opportunity rather than a setback. When team members know that not every idea will succeed but each failure can provide valuable insights, it helps encourage continued experimentation and risk-taking.

When it comes to establishing a workshop culture, it’s not simply about booking long, collaborative sessions. It’s really about generating new ways of working together that are repeatable and supportive of innovative thinking. And once you establish a workshop practice, you’ll see the benefits seep into your broader organizational culture, leading to more adaptability, a stronger competitive edge, and some truly magical innovation moments.

Leave me a comment if you have questions about what you read, and feel free to forward to a friend. My stories are never member-only, which means you can share these resources with everyone and anyone, paywall free.



Jackie Colburn

Weekly resources for facilitators and leaders. Learn tips and methods to run better workshops, accelerate teams and uncover new ideas.