TLDR; Workshops can be powerful tools but require thoughtful collaboration, accountability, personality and no small degree of diplomacy to succeed.
Strategy planning is a team sport.
Pharma organizations are a complex web of functions including medical, clinical, marketing, market access, technical and more. It may be extremely rare that some of these teams interact due to physical or operational barriers.
However, developing winning strategies requires us to bring these groups together in a way which leverages and respects their expertise and authority.
Strategy is also too often seen as being developed in an ‘ivory tower’. Well-intentioned action plans may be developed independently by Global teams with little on-the-ground input or dialogue with their counterparts in-market. These plans are later shared with affiliates for implementation, and likely promptly shelved, as not co-created with them.
Workshops are an essential arena for connecting functional and affiliate teams to develop such strategies, but too often they run into familiar challenges.
Designing and facilitating a workshop is not easy.
Depending on the situation and objectives, a workshop may include 20-30 attendees or more, all representing different markets and functions, and each with their own views, interests and agendas.
The stakes are also high. The scale and significance of these events often mean senior leadership will be attending and contributing to discussion, or even actively involved in the design of the workshop itself. These sessions are also often months in the planning, and command significant time and effort from all those involved.
Workshops are precious opportunities for competitive insights and strategy planning teams to demonstrate the value they can bring to a broader set of stakeholders, and build bridges which can help elevate their influence.
As such, selecting an agency partner to support with the design, facilitation and implementation of your workshop is a high stakes business.
The pharma industry is undergoing intense restructuring, making the ability to forge effective cross-functional teams more important than ever.
At the start of 2023, J&J quietly announced it would undertake a global overhaul of the infectious diseases and vaccines units, resulting in sweeping layoffs across multiple countries. Elsewhere, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is following through on plans to cut a staggering 30% of the workforce through layoffs and spinouts, intended to merge its pharma and oncology units and reduce operating costs.
There has also been a recent changing of the guard in senior positions. Industry stalwart Severin Schwan stepped down as Roche CEO after a remarkable 14 year stretch at the helm to be succeeded by former diagnostics chief Thomas Schinecker. Roche veteran Bill Anderson was tapped by Bayer to become their new group CEO, replacing Werner Baumann who led the German conglomerate since 2016.
As leadership priorities pivot and many pharma companies adopt leaner operating models, ensuring cross-functional teams work effectively and think creatively will be paramount for success.
That’s where great workshops come in.
At Eradigm, cross-functional workshops are a core part of our services. We cover everything from competitor simulation, brand messaging, portfolio strategy, medical communication and advisory boards. We’ve worked with leading pharma companies and pioneering biotechs, with products at every stage of their lifecycle from early development to patent expiry.
From our diverse experiences, we’ve defined five practical principles to deliver engaging and effective workshops in any scenario:
- The workshop is a milestone, not the finish line.
Interrogate your business objectives. When clients come to us, the typical ask is ‘we need to do a workshop on X’. This may be triggered by external factors such as a competitor readout, or a request from leadership. The workshop should be a means to an end, not an objective in and of itself. Why does the business need this? Why now? How will this help us achieve our objectives over the near, mid and long-term? Visualize where the workstream and business should be within 3, 6 and 12 months after the workshop.
Ensure accountability for follow through. An engaging workshop and action plan means very little if the responsibility to actually deliver on follow-on workstreams dissolves once the session is finished. Be sure to put names next to workstreams, and have a project manager or steering committee follow up with those accountable individuals to facilitate follow through to different departments and markets.
- Prepare the soil before planting the seed.
Design the workshop in collaboration with your stakeholders. Bring your attendees along for the ride and let them input into the process. At Eradigm, we often perform short working sessions with different departments pre-workshop to introduce the objectives, allow them to contribute to the workshop design, and for us to understand their own individual goals for the session.
Make pre-reads intriguing. As much as we hope our attendees will diligently pour over 20-slide decks ahead of workshops, typically schedules are packed and attention spans are limited. Find interesting ways to engage your audience. Make the content more digestible through visual executive summaries, podcasts and videos. Make the issues feel more tangible and urgent by sharing recent news in the run up to the workshop.
Build advocates within your audience. Are you expecting resistance to certain ideas or insights? Is there a topic that is likely to cause heated debate? Do you expect certain members to be cynical or to disengage? Knowing your audience is central to an effective workshop, but go one step further to leverage your attendees to support and amplify your messages. Prepare selected attendees to vocally support the aims of the workshop, present content in their subject areas, and facilitate the right discussions in breakout groups.
- Clarify team roles and lean on your agency partner.
Plan roles meticulously. A clear plan for how the delivery team will work together is the foundation of a smooth workshop. Who will speak when? Who will take notes? Who will coordinate the technology? Who will facilitate the breakouts? Each step on the agenda should be considered, and each scenario prepared for.
Your agency partner should be a utility player. An agency can play multiple roles in the workshop, with the flexibility to adapt to what the team and business needs. At Eradigm, we play a different role for different workshop scenarios, including host, external expert, notetaker, facilitator, logistics, project manager or provocateur. At the most basic level, the agency should ensure everything runs smoothly and productively. For teams that are open to it, an agency partner can also help to actively challenge internal bias and groupthink.
- Personalize the design to your unique team dynamics.
Know where your team is in its development journey. Different teams approach problems with different levels of context, history and personal bonds within the group. At Eradigm, we think in terms of Bruck Tuckman’s famous forming-storming-norming-performing framework to understand what each teams needs to be productive.
Design breakout groups thoughtfully. Understanding your attendees individually, and the contribution they are likely to make, will help you plan for balanced and productive breakout exercises. Who is likely to be more dominant or passive in breakout groups? Which team members are likely to take opposing views? Which members need closest collaboration and alignment for the strategy to succeed?
Inject some personality. Developing life-changing medicines is a serious business, but workshops can benefit from a bit of light-heartedness. As the host, welcome your attendees to the session, play some backing music in between breaks, and provide souvenirs. Relaxing your attendees is essential for great engagement.
- Don’t miss the chance for specific and actionable feedback.
Collect learnings, good bad and ugly. It is easy to accept the praise for a job well done. It is harder to dig deeper and get to what could be improved. At Eradigm, we will often host a post-workshop survey to collect client and attendee feedback on what worked well and (more importantly) what needs improvement for next time.
If you or your colleagues have a specific objective for a working session in mind, we’d be happy to provide a consultation on how we would design and deliver workshops that can help drive meaningful change within your business. Please contact our Co-Founder and Partner Patrick Romano email@example.com to learn more.