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Reimagining Client Workshops in a Virtual Setting

By Charles, August 23, 2020
Strategic North is a brand strategy and research consultancy that focuses on the pharmaceutical industry, servicing 12 of the top companies in the world, including Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Novartis. We heard from Michael White, business unit director and founder, Hiren Odedra, consultant, and Tom Morrish, senior strategy consultant, on how they used Klaxoon to improve workshops while adapting to a digital setting.

Strategic North provides an innovative approach to research and brand strategy that puts both doctor and patient needs at the forefront. They lead workshops with their clients, who are pharmaceutical professionals based all over the world, and help them develop strong, clear brands that address the customers’ needs revealed by strategic and insightful research.

The Quick Switch to Virtual

Prior to lockdowns, Strategic North team members had been constantly traveling thousands of miles between Europe and the U.S. for face-to-face client meetings. In February 2020, however, a client requested that a project be conducted virtually, a challenge which involved 16 team members across 13 different countries and several time zones. Hiren explained the issue.

We had to come up with a solution, or run it virtually, so that every person, all the 16 affiliates, had their say, they could input their ideas — we wanted it to be a co-creation exercise.”
Hiren Odedra, consultant

The concerns of switching to virtual were well-founded given some less-than-stellar experiences with attempts in the past. 

We ran our first ever virtual workshop back in 2011. It was horrid, it took two weeks to set it up. Connections dropped in left, right and center- we can all remember what the internet was like back then.
Michael White, business unit director and founder

The February 2020 workshop came just in time, before lockdowns in March, when all workshops would have to adapt to virtual. This experience gave the team confidence assisting clients to solve complex problems using Klaxoon in a virtual setting. “Since then, we’ve used a number of platforms for some virtual sessions,” Michael explained, “We’ve never come across anything that’s as easy to use as Klaxoon, as easy for people to pick up, and also as flexible and as interactive. [The transition was] very smooth. And I think a lot of that is down to the functionality of Klaxoon.”

In the last four months, Strategic North has supported over 50 virtual workshops ranging from a participant size of 8 to 70. All of these led to successful results, even the ones where participants were joining in from different countries. Click this video to see what Michael, Hiren, and Tom at Strategic North have to say about Klaxoon’s tools, and keep reading to learn how they used it to lead virtual workshops. 

Strategic North’s Virtual Workshop Structure

The first day, Strategic North uses Klaxoon to onboard the group using an icebreaker, asking participants to give examples of favorite holiday destinations. The group can quickly join from whichever device they’re using, and can answer the question using text, sketching a picture, or uploading a photo. “We get lots of input and it helps us onboard them very quickly on the platform,” said Hiren, explaining how this exercise works to energize the team while they become acquainted with the tools in a low-pressure icebreaker. 

The participants receive a Klaxoon Survey prior to the workshop, which asks them to sort their challenges by priority. This gives the facilitators a quick, well-rounded view of the team’s perspective and a heads up of challenges to be anticipated. 

From here, they use the Live Storm function (an instant visual idea consolidator) to measure the group’s expectations and reach a consensus on what will qualify as a successful or unsuccessful workshop. The facilitator can launch the Storm directly from the Meeting app, take a quick poll for clarification, and add activities as they are needed.

The body of the workshop consists of whatever activities the facilitator needs to help the group’s ideas flow and decisions reached. Klaxoon’s tools facilitate breaking up a three-hour session, normally quite draining over video conference, into pockets of 20 or 30 minutes with different apps, such as a Brainstorm, a Live Storm, or a Quiz, so the group stays engaged. Higher engagement, combined with the consultants’ ability to adapt to the group in real time by adding activities exactly when they are needed, help each session run quickly and smoothly.

At the end of the workshop, participants receive a Survey asking their input on whether or not they feel the goals they set have been met and what areas of the process could be improved. Strategic North tailored their own standard Survey to gauge effectiveness consistently in every group. It poses questions like “Do you feel you were able to bring your thinking to the workshop?” and “How easy did you find Klaxoon to use?” With this data, it’s easy to make targeted improvements wherever needed. 

Ideating to Decision Making in a Virtual Setting

A commonly accepted view is that face-to-face meetings are the way to brainstorm and reach the best decisions, and that switching to a virtual setting for ideation is a compromise. However, Strategic North found that Klaxoon allows for a method of ideating that replicates what the team would be doing in a face-to-face setting with a few key improvements. In a traditional workshop at Strategic North, the group sticks notes with ideas on three separate walls and adds colored dots to vote for their favorites. The difference with Klaxoon is that, since the walls (The Brainstorm in this case, Klaxoon’s infinite whiteboard) are virtual, it becomes faster to reorganize and group ideas as they are added. When Strategic North transitioned to a virtual setting, the sticky dots used for voting were seamlessly replaced with the “like” function, and everyone in the Brainstorm was able to switch views to see which ideas were frontrunners.

It’s fantastic for gaining quickly a very large number of ideas, and then getting the team to do an initial filtering of those ideas using the “like” function. It kind of facilitates firing off multiple ideas quite quickly. We find it is a wonderful way to start an ideation session and give you some direction.
Tom Morrish, senior strategy consultant

The other key benefit Strategic North found with the remote workshop was that going virtual democratized the conversation. The way Strategic North used Klaxoon, setting the timer and starting with a few minutes of reflective time, gave every team member the same amount of space and time to explore and share her thoughts to the Brainstorm, which she could share with or without her name attached, depending on the exercise. This gave more reserved members of the group an even platform with the one or two dominant, outspoken participants who would have monopolized the discussion had it taken place in the traditional ‘talk through it out loud’ brainstorm. 

The feedback I’ve had from some of the clients is that it’s the most inclusive workshop they’ve ever been a part of, which is an odd thing to say when they’ve been hundreds of miles away from their colleagues.
Tom Morrish, senior strategy consultant

To give a clearer picture of how Strategic North organizes ideation sessions, we can look at how they facilitated one workshop with a market access team trying to understand the needs of its customers. The group split into three subgroups, each led by a facilitator. They drew lines dividing the Klaxoon Brainstorm into sections of client needs to explore: functional, emotional, and social. In this workshop of twenty people, the ideas that flowed might have stayed buried in a traditional, verbal brainstorming session. 

From here, each facilitator worked with his group to cluster ideas to see which types of ideas or themes stood out. Team members could add a “like” to the ideas they supported while facilitators used list and column views to rapidly sort the ideas and focus on the more important ones. 

The next step was making a decision to move forward. By this point in the process, the more useful ideas were clear to the group. The Strategic North consultant could see which topics needed to be explored or abandoned, even in complex situations with many people. 

Take a recent example of a workshop Tom led with a group of 70 joining in from several cities in Europe and the U.S. The workshop was for an annual strategic meeting where everyone in the global company would normally meet for a few days to align on the strategy for the coming year. Although restrictions on global travel made an in-person meeting impossible, the company considered it paramount to include all 70 people in the alignment. They decided to go about it virtually, keeping Strategic North to help them.

For some, a meeting of 70 people in the same video chat room sounds like a nightmare. It’s often impossible to hear the voice of each individual involved and make any progress towards a decision. To remedy that, Tom began by gathering loose outlines of what the strategy should look like and adding them to a Brainstorm he shared with the whole group. He used Klaxoon’s star rating tool in Questions to assess the whole group’s opinion of the parts of the strategy on a scale of one to five, viewing the metrics at the end of the Meeting. The group took a deep dive into problem areas, listed all concerns in the Brainstorm, voted and sorted them according to priority in the Brainstorm, and avoided long-winded discussions where few voices are heard. 

By getting everyone to first rank things based on some key metrics, it enabled us to very quickly identify what the issue was that people had with the strategy that we were looking at. Sometimes we find that in a face-to-face setting, there’s a lot of discussion and a lot of opinion, and often we find lots of people saying similar things in different words. But by first doing this exercise, it enabled us to very quickly understand the areas where people were less comfortable and then have a more focused discussion.
Tom Morrish, senior strategy consultant

Everyone felt that they had an opportunity to have their critiques and opinions heard. Strategic North was able to align 70 people on a strategy in less than three hours, which is faster than what would be typical of an in-person workshop. 

Benefits Added by Klaxoon

Michael, Tom, and Hiren all agreed that their transition to leading remote workshops went much smoother than anticipated. The awkwardness of honing skills was offset by their pre-lockdown experiences with virtual workshops and using Klaxoon. The time and money saved traveling was the most obvious benefit from switching to virtual, but the group identified numerous more which emerged using Klaxoon, including: 

Ease of Use

From the past four months of Strategic North’s first workshops using Klaxoon, about 89% of participants said they found Klaxoon very easy to use. 

It’s very easy to train someone — they can intuitively start, almost in the back of their head they know how to use it very quickly.
Hiren Odedra, consultant

Adaptability

The ability to shift gears and add exercises on the fly is essential. Klaxoon is flexible enough to match the facilitator’s need to address sporadically emerging problems or questions. 

 It’s that ability to use the different tools to engage with the people involved in the workshop, but also the adaptability that as it changes within the meeting itself —as you explore new things you can actually very quickly build an exercise on the spot, and just roll it out to everybody and get them involved. It’s as seamless as putting up a new flipchart sheet, it’s that easy to do.
Michael White, business unit director and founder

Dynamism

The consultants found the more democratic approach of input helped reduce the redundancies common in traditional meetings, and made it simple to identify options, take a vote, and make a decision.

I find that [Klaxoon] enables for really dynamic meetings. Meetings where you don’t get stuck and hung up on particular ideas. Meetings where you’re able to clearly agree what you’ve agreed and move forward. . .Which, I’ve just never seen on any sort of virtual platform before. To be able to, with so much power, do expansive thinking, and then very rapidly move to more reductive building-style thinking straightaway off the back of that.
Tom Morrish, senior strategy consultant

These benefits, paired with Strategic North’s February preview facilitating a virtual experience, allowed for an intuitive, streamlined approach to virtual workshopping that helped Strategic North expeditiously meet client needs in spite of the unexpected shift to virtual.

Charles
By Charles, Head of International Marketing
Charles Kergaravat is head of international marketing at Klaxoon, an award-winning company that is changing the way businesses harness the power of teams with solutions designed to make meetings more efficient and work practices more collaborative. He has conducted multiple studies to measure how new ways of working are affecting and changing work habits at the intersection of people, places, and technology.