Explore the most common types of sessions

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TL;DR recommendations
No matter the format, ensure you always have: —A clear objective and clear expectation setting at the start —A set basic backbone structure to follow, and also room to adjust and adapt on the spot —A toolbox of engaging activities that match the scope (don't reinvent the wheel…) —Room for conversation and reflection —Always start small and build momentum as you go

Ok, this is a meaty one. 😅 Are you ready?

Workshops and virtual sessions come in many shape and forms, based on the client's needs and the desired objectives. Strategic planning, leadership development training, problem-solving sessions, product development workshops, project management meetings and the list goes on and on. We've focused on detailing five main virtual session formats we're pretty confident you'll be asked to facilitate as a facilitator. 😅 

For each one of these types or formats, we shared our top tips, as well as our favourite tools and methods. Enjoy!

Brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming can be a great way to generate new ideas and spark creativity in your participants. Here are some practical tips and techniques to help you facilitate successful brainstorming sessions:

👉 Tip 1: Set the stage: objectives and rules

Before you start a brainstorming session, make sure you have clear objectives and goals. Communicate these to your participants and encourage them to stay focused on the topic at hand. Across the thousands of brainstorms IDEO has run—both with internal teams and with clients—they follow these seven important brainstorming rules to set the stage before each session.

👉 Tip 2: Warm up the brain

It's often challenging to come up with GOOD ideas out of nowhere. Especially when people might not consider themselves creative enough, or they had experienced unsuccessful brainstorming sessions before. We like to start with a “hot start” or a warm-up activity. It's usually fast, fun and silly, and its purpose is to welcome dear in any shape and form and showcase how leaning into the process can lead to creative insights. Have a look at the toolbox below for some great examples from our community!

👉 Tip 3: Encourage participation

Encourage participation from all participants, not just the loudest voices in the room. Use techniques such as round-robin brainstorming or ask participants to submit their ideas anonymously to ensure everyone has a chance to contribute. A great tip is to allow everyone a couple of minutes to ideate alone, before opening any breakouts, or opening the conversation.

👉 Tip 4: Use online whiteboards

Online whiteboards are a great tool for brainstorming sessions. They allow participants to share ideas in real-time and collaborate on a visual platform. Some popular online whiteboard tools include Miro, MURAL, Google Jamboard, and Microsoft Whiteboard.

👉 Tip 5: Set a time limit

Setting a time limit for your brainstorming session can help keep participants focused and on track. This will also help ensure that you have enough time to review and discuss all the ideas generated.

If your brainstorming session is not going as planned, don't panic! Here are some ways to counteract when brainstorming sessions are going badly:

Option #1: Take a break

If your brainstorming session is not going well, taking a short break can help. Use this time to regroup and refocus before continuing.

Option #2: Change the format

If you're not getting the results you want, try changing the format of your brainstorming session. For example, you could switch from group brainstorming to individual brainstorming or use a different online whiteboard tool.

Option #3: Review the objectives

If you're not generating the ideas you need, review the objectives of your brainstorming session. Ensure they are clear and achievable, and consider adjusting them if necessary.

🧰 For your toolbox:

  • Pointstorming, not brainstorming: How to spark creative ideas—This super fun ideation technique comes to us from Mónica Fajardo, a Learning Experience Designer based in Bogotá, Colombia, with a background in Industrial Design.
  • Many ideation sessions are derailed by negative attitudes. If you anticipate this being a problem, you can use this activity we found in Kevin Duncan's "The Ideas Book" to surface them at the very beginning and turn them into something positive.
  • Crazy 8 Reloaded by Sabrina Goerlich is here to help you think outside the box and come up with creative solutions faster than ever! Step into this variation of Design Sprint's famous activity, where each participant has eight whiteboard areas prompting them to quickly sketch 8 concepts in just minutes.
  • Rapid Ideation Stimulus Enhanced is a short and effective ideation method which uses prompts to stimulate creativity every 30 seconds for 5 minutes. After each prompt, participants have time to capture ideas on sticky notes using the whiteboard. The aim is to collect any idea related to the topic, and as many as possible, in a short time.
  • 30-circles Brain Warm-Up is a quick, simple exercise to get creative muscles warmed up. David Kelley from IDEO learned this activity from his mentor, Bob McKim, back when David was a product design student. The goal is to push people to test their creativity by turning circles into recognizable objects in a very short period of time.
  • The Sunset Activity is a great warm-up or energizer to help people thing about challenges or questions from different perspectives. It helps get your participants to think in different ways. Even a small change in how you frame something can help broaden the creativity and perspective in responses. Created by Rachel Davis, originally inspired from a technique heard on an IDEOU podcast!

Learning focused sessions

They can take many shapes and forms, from workshops, to peer-led sessions, to training sessions, or cohort-based courses. Their structure is highly dependent on the content, and the goal in behavior change they are aiming to create for the participants.

Here, we’ll be focusing on social learning and peer learning sessions, where participants are sharing insights, ideas and best practices amongst themselves, guided by a facilitator.

👉 Tip 1: Manage expectations beforehand

We are so used to training or “sage on the stage” sessions, that most of us are caught by surprise by a peer-centered learning experience. To set yourself up for success, ensure participants come prepared by providing pre-session reading materials or questions related to the topic. This primes them for contribution, and ensures everyone has a baseline understanding of the topic so that they can deep dive into the conversation.

👉 Tip 2: Plan for interaction

What makes these sessions special is the exchange that takes place between the participants. Your design, your facilitation style, and even the tools you are using will need to support this flow of ideas and insights. Use interactive tools and techniques such as breakout rooms, polls, and interactive whiteboards (e.g., Miro or MURAL) to facilitate collaboration and sharing.

👉 Tip 3: Design a conversation

The core of the session is the conversation. Your role is focused on asking thought-provoking, and open-ended questions to guide discussions and encourage deeper thinking. While the structure of these sessions is relatively loose, be prepared to steer conversations back on track if participants diverge too far from the topic.

👉 Tip 4: Include reflection and debriefing

If the session is centered around conversations and sharing, it is easy to get lost in all those thoughts and be overwhelmed. As a facilitator, you want to prepare moments of reflection and debrief throughout the session. That’s when you land some of the discussions into reality, drawing conclusions, practical and concrete action points and takeaways. Have a look at this collection of debriefing and sense-making questions.

🧰 For your toolbox:

You can experiment with the formats below to get a taste of the power that peer learning has.


A retrospective is a regular, structured meeting in Agile where a team reflects on their work to identify what went well, what could be improved, and how to make those improvements. Their frequency depends on your project length, but the most common cycle is every two weeks. They can be also hosted quarterly, or annually.

The basic structure typically includes "Set the stage," "Gather data,", "Decide what to do," and "Close.”

Here are some common pitfalls teams face with retrospectives:

—Finger-pointing instead of focusing on the improvements needed —The same issues keep surfacing, in the absence of action to change —Lack of equal participation due to poor facilitation

Now, luckily, there are some practical tips we can share with you, to help you run useful retrospectives. 👉 Tip 1: Don't underestimate the need for psychological safety

Retrospectives follow a pretty straightforward structure, and once you start hosting them, it's easy to forget that these are spaces of vulnerability. Participants are expected to genuinely share concerns and wins and to find solutions to their struggles. If they don't feel safe to speak up, the purpose of the retrospective is compromised. Have clear ground rules, try to use anonymous polls for feedback, respect any emotions when they show up, and ensure the team follows through with the actions they say they will do.

👉 Tip 2: Bring variety

Hosting the same format every two weeks will eventually bore everyone. Beyond the standard formats, experiment with other activities to keep things fresh and interesting. Why not try some games? Maybe some creative activities? Check out the Miroverse and FunRetrospectives for many different formats you can use and adapt.

🧰 For your toolbox:

Here are some Butter templates you can use straight away in your retros:

Team-building activities

Team retreats and team-building activities are important because they provide a dedicated time and space for teams to break away from their daily routines and immerse themselves in focused, intentional activities.

Beyond the obvious benefits of relationship-building and improved collaboration, these events offer a unique opportunity for teams to deepen their understanding of one another's strengths, weaknesses, and working styles, leading to enhanced trust, empathy, and a more cohesive team dynamic.

By stepping outside the traditional work environment, team members can gain fresh perspectives, develop a shared sense of purpose, and engage in meaningful conversations that ultimately foster creativity, innovation, and a stronger sense of belonging, driving the team's overall effectiveness and long-term success.

These virtual team experiences bring in the perfect mix of fun, and connection, so let's have a look at four tips you can apply to lead them impactfully.

👉 Tip 1: Set clear expectations

Team-building activities are different from your usual type of meetings. They sometimes take people out of their comfort zone, and it is your role to ensure everyone feels safe to participate. You might be tempted to keep the activities a secret and not ruin the surprise, but this might harm the level of engagement. Share the purpose and an agenda outline beforehand, so everyone knows what to expect and can prepare to make meaningful contributions. Equally important is to provide context and relevance: Before introducing a game or activity, explain how it relates to specific challenges or dynamics that the team faces. Discuss how the skills and lessons learned during the game can be transferred to their professional roles. When participants understand the relevance and applicability of the games, they are more likely to participate with enthusiasm.

👉 Tip 2: Create a safe and supportive environment and reinforce it throughout

Some participants may resist playing games or engaging in team-building activities due to concerns about judgment or embarrassment. As a facilitator, you can set ground rules that promote respect, encourage active listening, and foster a non-judgmental atmosphere. You can lead with something like: "Feel free to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. This is a space where we try new things and explore different approaches.", "Our differences make us stronger. Let's embrace diversity and actively seek out perspectives that may differ from your own." or "I invite you to embrace vulnerability. Sharing your experiences and perspectives can create deeper connections and foster a sense of trust within the team."

👉 Tip 3: Ask them to opt-in

If you have planned something a bit more playful that is different from the gathering culture of the group, be mindful of the invitation you are crafting, and invite them to opt in. To manage any potential resistance, you can frame the session as an experiment or a learning opportunity, and ask them if they are willing to join you and lean into an activity that's different. If someone is still on the edge, invite them to participate as an observer at first, and ask them to share what they noticed at the end.

👉 Tip 4: Start small, and build momentum

Starting with smaller activities helps warm up participants and encourages them to actively engage in the team-building session. These initial activities serve as icebreakers, breaking down barriers, and helping participants feel more comfortable with each other and with you. As the activity complexity level increases gradually, participants are already in a mindset of active participation, ready to engage in more complex activities. This incremental approach minimizes resistance and keeps participants engaged, energized, and invested in the team-building process, leading to a more impactful and fulfilling experience.

👉 Tip 5: Incorporate reflection and alone time as well: Team-building activities often focus on fostering interaction and collaboration among team members, but it's equally important to include moments of reflection and individual processing time. Allow periodic breaks or dedicated moments for participants to think independently and reflect on the insights gained or the activities they have been involved in. This individual processing time encourages deeper introspection and personal connections to the learnings, enhancing the overall impact of the team-building session. Encourage participants to jot down their thoughts, insights, or action points during these moments, which they can later share and discuss with the group.

🧰 For your toolbox:

Here are some of our team's favorite team-building games and activities you can steal:

  • Collaborative Online Art Project using virtual whiteboards. Assign each team member a portion of the artwork and have them contribute their unique artistic touch. This activity promotes teamwork, communication, and creativity while resulting in a collective masterpiece that symbolizes their collaboration.
  • Online Storytelling or Improv Sessions: Conduct virtual storytelling or improv sessions where team members take turns adding to a story or participating in improvisational exercises. This activity fosters active listening, spontaneity, creativity, and teamwork. It encourages individuals to think on their feet, support each other's ideas, and collectively create engaging narratives. Here are some Butter Templates you can experiment with right away: Improv Story Time, Fortunately, Unfortunately, Improv Cards, and Lip-Sync My Story.
  • Virtual Team Games: We love a good game, and it's even better if it comes with some healthy competition. Some games we've played in the past are Gartic, Jeopardy, Virtual Puzzle, and Escape the Boom.
  • Playing with Intent is a brilliant article written by Susanne Heiss from The Texturialists in which she shares practical tips and get inspired to design and facilitate playful activities that help your teams be more effective.

General meetings

Meetings have been getting a bad reputation for a long while now. You know: “This meeting could have been an email”. Ideally, you are hosting a meeting when you want input from your team, want to take a decision or want to make productive steps towards specific goals.

If done well, meetings can improve collaboration, lead to faster decision making, increased accountability and fostering connection, so it's worth investing in getting them right.

Here are our top 6 tips to plan and host effective meetings: 👉 Tip 1: Be clear on the meeting purpose and agenda

Sharing the purpose and agenda of the meeting in advance will give participants the chance to prepare insights and thoughts beforehand, so you can maximize the time spend together. Plus, if you cannot land on a purpose, that's your cue to consider whether the meeting is needed or not.

👉 Tip 2: Mind the clock

A meeting that starts late, is running over the scheduled time, or is going off-topic, might lead to frustration and disengagement. When you meet with a clear goal in mind, you want to ensure you keep the agenda focused on the outcome. Timebox your agenda so you know how much time you can spend on each item, and use a parking lot for any topic that diverges from the goal.

👉 Tip 3: Include everyone

With sync meetings, you should be aiming towards collaboration, so hearing everyone's ideas becomes crucial. Ask open-ended questions, use pools, Flashcards, or bring in whiteboards for capturing everyone's ideas. Ask yourself: How can I invite ideas, questions, arguments, and healthy debate within the team. If you are planning a meeting to go over a bunch of slides and expect everyone to listen in, consider recording a Loom video which everyone can watch in their own pace.

👉 Tip 4: Meetings won't facilitate themselves

We would never imagine hosting a workshop with no facilitator, so why do we assume meetings can run effectively with no facilitation? Meetings can be derailed by dominant personalities, conflicts, or power dynamics within the team. As the meeting owner, you'll need to wear your facilitator hat and create an atmosphere that supports creativity, trust, and effective problem-solving. How can you do that? Apply the tips you've learned so far in this course and you're off for a great start!

👉 Tip 5: Have fun!

Yes, meetings are important, but they don't need to be boring. Each meeting is an opportunity to foster connection within the team, build trust, and live your company values. Create opportunities to have fun as a team with a silly game, or bond over a thoughtful check-in question. We've shared out favourite check-ins below, so you can pug-and-play!


👉 Tip 6: The ending is not the end

If you're done a good job, your meeting has generated action items or decisions, and these require follow-up. If there is a lack of clarity regarding assigned responsibilities or no system in place to track progress, all that god work won't lead to any concrete change. Document action items, assign ownership, and establish a mechanism for tracking progress and holding each other accountable.

🧰 For your toolbox:

Designing a productive meeting doesn't have to feel like climbing a steep mountain. It can be easy! Here are our most popular meeting templates and three template collections you can use with your team today:

Meeting templates:

Template collections: