So you want to do an away day, or some kind of workshop session. You probably have a reasonable idea of who should be there. But you may not have thought through the specifics. One of the most important things to work out at the planning stage is who you want to be there. It sounds pretty obvious, but the question of how to choose workshop participants isn’t always straight forward. 

  • If you leave some people out you risk offending them or making them think they are not wanted or important enough.
  • If you invite too many people – throw the net wide – you may not get the results you need.
  • Head for something in the middle and cover all bases? You might still not be hitting the mark.

It can be a tricky balance and it takes time and energy to craft a day that will enable you to get what you need from it.

How to choose workshop participants – points to consider:

One of the best places to start is by deciding exactly what you want from your workshop or away day. If you can nail down the objectives you will know what you want to achieve. Are you creating a plan, making some important decisions, solving a problem, or simply generating a lot of new ideas? Are you building relationships in your team or across teams, trying to improve communication or addressing some changes? The possible list of whys is almost endless which is why this first stage is so important.

Once you have taken the time to outline your objectives, you can work out what you need to do to get there. This is the place to start considering who should be there. In this respect, it’s a bit like writing a strategic plan…start with the end in mind.


Here are some specific factors to help inform your decision:

Consider the following:

What value do different people bring?

Are they needed because they have great ideas, because they are positive disruptors or because they hold certain knowledge?

Or is it more about the group dynamics where you need everyone there to build relationships and connections?

So who’s input is critical from a knowledge point of view? If you can’t move forwards without particular data or information it might be wise to involve the people that know about it.

Some people don’t have any specialist knowledge, but they may be in a position to share their opinions and experiences.  Such experience may be just what you are looking for.

Whose presence is vital to make sure you have buy-in and add validity to any decisions made? Their input may be more about being an active part of the conversation so that they don’t feel excluded. 


Too many?

Conversely, involving too many people who don’t need to be part of certain decisions or who haven’t been part of other conversations may come across as tokenistic. If you are going to to bring in a wider group you need to ensure everyone is included in the conversations.

The more diverse the group is from a job role, position or knowledge point, the more time and effort will be required to bring them up to speed. It may take time catching people up so that they are all in the same place. If half the group has in depth prior knowledge of a project or idea but the other half don’t, you will need to leave space to address this gap so that everyone can input effectively.

The more people there are in the session, the trickier it will be to come to conclusion or make a decision. That said, volume of people and group diversity is a real plus if you are looking to generate new ideas and stimulate new thinking.

What happens next? Away Days should rarely be stand alone events without any follow up otherwise people end up feeling cheated. So where will these people be afterwards and what do you need to do to make sure it wasn’t just a nice day?

Last but not least:

Not inviting someone because they have a reputation for being demanding or tricky in a group is not a good reason to leave them out! If handled well, some of the greatest conversations come from some kind of conflict and challenge. Deliberately avoiding this risks alienating people. Likewise, not handling it properly risks a disrupted group and no concrete outcomes. So invite the people that should be there, not just the ones you like!

How to choose workshop participants is a real skill. If it sounds too much like a tricky balancing act, that’s because it is!

Which is precisely why you may need a facilitator either to help you plan the workshop, to run the workshop, or both. Someone like me, for example!

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