I like workshops. I’m signed up for one in May and another in June. And I love designing and teaching them.

But too often, workshops end up being a waste of time. We walk out the door with a bunch of handouts (or maybe even a fancy book) and promptly go back to doing exactly what we were doing before.

So, if workshops don’t work, why are they so popular? 

I think they’re popular because most people do like to learn, and are at least open to change – if only they could figure out how to make change stick.

Apparently a lot of people know this already or have suspected it, because this article blew up big time in my biz Facebook page: Why Leadership Training Fails

“Training is an event, but learning (including leadership development) is a process. Leadership development is a process. As long as we confuse those efforts as events, the return on those investments will be modicum, at its best.”

This is the key. Workshops can be useful, but we can’t expect more from a freestanding workshop than what a short-session format can reasonably deliver.

Too often, workshops are mistaken for leadership development or professional development. They just can’t serve that purpose – at least, not as stand-alone, one shot deals. Workshops typically run for just a few hours. That’s a very limited amount of time, during which you can do a lot of positive things: provide new perspectives, give a refresher course or go deeper into something previously explored, give people a power boost, or set up jumping off points for future learning.

So, while workshops can be very valuable, they’re not a substitute for a development plan. Workshops can be a crucial part of that plan – but not the whole plan.