10 steps for holding interactive workshops to gather employee insights

Change comes from within—within your workforce, that is. Follow these guidelines to set objectives, get key people on board, create a safe, inviting environment and mine vital intel.


Gathering useful insights from employees is a vital duty for internal communicators.

Asking workers for straight talk helps uncover what’s really happening in an organization—the good, the bad and the ugly.

Conducting employee feedback workshops can be time-intensive and daunting if you’ve no prior experience.


However, it’s well worth the effort. Here are 10 steps to conduct a fruitful employee workshop:

1. Identify clear, smart objectives. Before you start, specify what you want to achieve. What takeaways are you after? Mind the time as well. Slice up meetings into 15-minute chunks, and make sure you wrap up in under three hours. This gives you time for ice-breakers, contingencies and breaks. Any longer, and people’s concentration will fade. Think about how you can make each area of discussion interactive and employee-led.

2. Enlist the support of managers. Once you have clear objectives, get senior members on board. If they understand your goals, what they’ll get out of it and the role(s) they’ll play, it’ll make recruitment easier. Brief them or, at least, email them to enlist their support. Share what you’re doing and why, and ask them to encourage their teams to attend. Seek their input, too.

3. Develop your attendee list. Who should attend? Work with HR to figure out an ideal cross-section of the staff. If your team is smaller this is an easier task, but:

  • Avoid having managers and non-managers in the same group.
  • Consider also having splits by tenure—for example, non-managerial staffers who have been with the business less than two years and then a second for those who have been with the business for longer. You don’t want people to be influenced by what others are saying.
  • Involve as many relevant people as possible across all functions, teams, departments and locations. Limit each session to 12 people.

4. Choose your facilitator. Who should lead the session? Do you have employee ambassadors for the role, or do you need an external, objective mediator to ensure that you get the real picture? Avoid appointing a manager to guide a group that includes one or more direct reports. Brief them on the task, perhaps preparing a facilitator’s guide. A template can help ensure that insights are gathered in a consistent manner, especially if there are multiple facilitators.

5. Organize the logistics. Do you want to hold sessions on- or off-site? Off-site venues mitigate turf battles. You’ll need a room that’s big enough, private, well-lighted and comfortable. Also, assign a secretary to record highlights of the conversation, so the facilitator can focus on listening.

6. Communicate clearly, and invite people along. You needn’t offer heaps of detail, but share why you are conducting these sessions, who will be facilitating, where they will go and why their input is invaluable.

During the workshop

7. Before people arrive. Get there early to orient yourself and set up the session. Think about seating. A theater-style setup is unlikely to encourage meaningful conversation. Try having clusters of people around tables or, if it’s a small group, seating everyone around one big table. Provide a variety of refreshments.

8. State the ground rules up front. Generally, the only “rules” should be to respect one another’s opinion, talk one at a time and keep the conversation confidential. The facilitator should emphasize that you will not attribute any comment or views to any one individual. That helps people to speak freely and honestly.

9. Listen. The facilitator’s role is to listen. Ask questions, probe points of interest, and keep the conversation focused. Consider recording the conversation (if you have participants’ consent) so you can refer to it later in writing up your report. Refrain from sharing your own views and ideas.

Once the workshop has finished, thank everyone for attending and assure them they will receive the findings.

After the workshop

10. Analyze the sessions. Compiling and distilling what you’ve heard the intel will take time, but send out results in a timely manner. Consider who will receive the findings and how you’ll present them. Make sure employees feel their voices have been heard. Presenting results in a live setting (as opposed to just sending an attachment) provides context and allows for questions.

After that, it’s time for the most important part: using the insights you’ve gathered to develop a strategy for improvement.

Lisa Pantelli is the founder of Become Communications. A version of this post first appeared on the Become Communications blog.

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