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How to run an OKR workshop (+ agenda & checklist)

If you’re wanting to get the absolute most out of your team, facilitate an incredible OKR workshop for them. In this article I’m going to cover what you need to do before, during and after your OKR Workshop. I’ve broken it down for you as it is a little bit different depending if you’re setting a Company OKR or Team OKR.


Preparing for your OKR workshop

Set your OKR workshop up for success by getting the foundations right. Here’s a few things you’ll want to do in advance, regardless of whether you’re running this workshop to set a company or team OKR.:

  1. Ask each team member to draft their OKR prior to the session
  2. Get the team familiar with supporting material, such as the OKR Cheatsheet
  3. Have everything set up to facilitate, with either your virtual facilitation space or sharpies and post its for something in person.

If doing this across the business, check out the OKR Setting Checklist to make sure you have everything in motion.

High impact facilitation principles

On top of the usual pre work, you’ll want to get yourself ready. Be in the zone ready to lead a killer workshop. Here’s my 5 principles for running an incredible workshop:

  1. Prepare for success – Be organised and make sure the team has done the pre-thinking.
  2. Bring energy to the room – Your role is to lift everyone up and get them engaged.
  3. Invitation to contribute and balance power – For some people, speaking in front of a large group can be pretty terrifying. Your role as the facilitator is to encourage open discussion and be conscious where power imbalances get in the way of good discussion.
  4. Equal contribution and share of voice – It’s also critical to ensure everyone gets a say and are actively participating. Ask powerful questions to have everyone contribute. If an individual really doesn’t want to talk, sit with them or buddy them up to ensure their ideas are captured!
  5. Consensus without solving everything – Time is limited and we can’t action everyone’s idea. In any workshop, move fast, capture deeper discussions for follow up afterward and regardless of personal opinion, align on the path ahead. Amazon do this best with their “Disagree and commit” approach to differing of opinions.


Running a company level OKR Workshop

If you’re running this session with your executive team to create an overarching OKR for the company, you’ll want to focus on having the right discussions in advance.

Here’s what you’ll need to consider for your Company OKR workshop:

  • Determine who needs to attend, whether it’s just the exec team or some other strategic roles across the organisation.
  • Ask for each attendee to talk to their teams in advance to understand priorities. If they run a large team, consider running a survey to capture the priorities.
  • We’ll want to spark as much creativity as possible, so see if you can run the workshop off site. Getting everyone out of the office will make
  • The OKR Setting Workshop agenda outlined below is designed for the company level OKR setting. You’ll want to tweak it to suit your needs, but it’s good to go.


Running a team level OKR Workshop

If you’re running the OKR workshop for your team, you’ll need to take a slightly different approach, but the agenda outlined below is basically the same. You’ll want to make sure the team is clear in their head regarding what is most important to them.

Here’s what you’ll need to consider for your Team OKR Workshop:

  • Ask your team to review the company OKR in advance.
  • Prompt them to consider how the team can contribute to this OKR, and whether there are other priorities which need to be considered.
  • Follow the agenda outlined below, with one two key changes.


The OKR Workshop Agenda

Here’s an agenda for you to use at your next OKR Workshop. For this to work for you, you really need to tweak it to suit your needs. The core of the OKR Workshop runs for about two hours. This is where you set the OKR for you company or team.

What’s most important is you get to the end of the OKR setting activity in session. Coming out of the session with a draft OKR will feel more tangible and successful than a perfectly crafted Objective with no Key Results to show for it. Keep the pace moving!


Example OKR Workshop Agenda

  1. Score previous quarter and discuss outcomes (20 minutes)
  2. Retrospective on lessons learned (20 minutes)
  3. Break – 15 minutes
  4. OKR for the next cycle – ~ 2 hours 
    • Create “What we need to achieve” statements – 20 minutes
    • Vote on the most impactful statement – 5 minutes
    • Write the top voted statement as an Objective – 5 minutes
    • Objective story exercise (optional) – 20 minutes
    • Ideate measures and targets for the Objective – 15 minutes
    • Vote on the best metrics – 5 minutes
    • Draft OKR – 15 minutes
    • Identify activities (initiatives and ideas) needed to achieve this OKR – 20 minutes
  5. Communications plan – 20 minutes
  6. Close & retrospective on the day – 20 minutes


Breaking down the OKR setting

This activity will generally take about two hours. It seems like a large time investment, but remember: You’re engaging your people with purpose. This will engage your people and cut noise, saving a huge amount of time throughout the quarter.


1. Create “What we need to achieve” statements

These are your objectives. If each team member has done this in advance, you can move pretty quickly. Ask each team member to share their objective one at the time. Be clear about what a great OKR looks like (see our OKR Cheatsheet) and make sure they’re time bound for the next cycle. Keep them moving fast and avoid going into detail.

Asking them to A powerful question to ask them is “If nothing were to be achieved, except one thing, what would it be?” This is much more powerful than asking what is most important as it forces people to take pause. Everything is important, but this question makes us ask what really is important.

Ask them to write it on a post it note or digital whiteboard if remote. Ask them to group common objectives into themes. This is a technique taken form Design Thinking (an innovation framework) known as affinity mapping.


2. Vote on the most impactful statement

Give everyone 3 votes to choose on which Objective has the biggest impact and is most critical. They can vote how they wish: spread their vote across cards or put it all on one topic.

Allow the group to vote on affinity themes rather than specific cards. As long as the outcome is clear, we only need to be clear on voting for intent.


3. Write the top voted statement as an Objective

Make this a fast activity. Don’t try and wordsmith the objective, that’s an activity a few people can do after the session. If you’re choosing a group of objective statements in an affinity, simply choose the topic which best resembles the intent.


4. Objective story exercise

This may seem a little left field, but stick with me here. OKR is intended to connect us with purpose. This requires clarity of the why behind the OKR and our work. Bringing meaning to your objective with a story is one of the most powerful ways to do this.

There’s many ways to do this activity, but here’s the simple version using the template below. We’re using a format called Think, Pair, Share:

  • Think: Individually, reflect on the template below taking a focus on who this OKR will benefit. Ideally this is the customer! What they’re trying to achieve, what’s getting in the way of this and how the OKR will address this problem or opportunity.
  • Pair: Ask the team to discuss their thoughts with the person next to them, and fill out the template below. This will spark some creativity and help bubble up the most engaging stories.
  • Share: Now each pair has had a chance to discuss, it’s time for them to share their stories to the broader group. Simply have each pair share their story with the broader group. Keeping the pace is critical here, so make sure you limit the pairs to share their story in one or two minutes.

Now we’re connected with the why behind our OKR, let’s create some Key Results


5. Ideate measures and targets for the Objective

When it comes to writing good quality Key Results, there is a real art and science to it. It’s probably the second biggest mistake when it comes to OKR (the first being failures in change management).

We’ve spoken about what it is create a high quality Key Result, so here’s the really really short version:

  • Make sure they’re measures, ideally from a baseline and going to a target. Example: Increase the reorder rate from 45% to 70% for San Fran Small Business.
  • They should be about challenging ourselves, but achievable. You’ll want to achieve about 70% of your Key Results on average.
  • Indicate progress with leading indicators, it should be a metric you can move throughout the quarter. This is how you know you’re heading down the right track.

Ask the team to write down Key Results ideas, making sure they follow these guidelines to write the best possible Key Results. We’re also want to capture how we’ll measure the Key Result. It may sound obvious, but so often we see Key Results set, with no way to measure them. Simply capture the data source or report where the metrics can be derived from. It’s ok if that source doesn’t exist. We just need to call that out!

The aim of the game here is to draw out as many good Key Result ideas as you can. Keep prompting the group as to write good quality Key Results, but also ask for volume. Once we have a bunch of options, we can choose the right Key Results for us!


6. Vote on the best metrics

Using the same method as voting for the objective and grouping them into affinity maps, give the team some time to vote on the Key Result. If there is a lot of varied ideas and groups, give them some time to review and ask any questions they might have.

Once everyone has voted, you should have a pretty good idea of what you Key Results will be. The risk here, is that during the exercise group think has kicked in an we’ve missed some good ideas. Ask the group if there is anything we’ve missed or anything they think we should add. Remind them we’re setting the tone for the cycle ahead, so we’ll want to get this right! It needs to be exciting, engaging and meaningful!

Let’s capture all this as our OKR!


7. Draft your OKR

We don’t want to spend too much time on this during the session, but we do want to come out with the best OKR possible for the time we have. So take a moment to draft the OKR and discuss whether it reflects what’s most important and passes the pub test.

What’s the pub test? Well if you’re at the pub sipping on your favourite beer, and you tell a friend within the company what your OKR is, do they get excited? Does it sound interesting and inspiring? If not, back to the drawing board! If it does hit the mark, the final step is to work out what we’re going to do to achieve the OKR.


8. Identify activities (initiatives, tasks, anything else)

This is where you capture all of the key activities you think is needed to achieve the OKR. It can include projects, tasks, actions or anything else which is needed to deliver on that OKR.

Remember, the OKR represents the outcome. If the work we’re doing is not delivering on the outcome, then we need to revisit the plan. Adjust your approach needed to achieve the OKR.


Once the OKR Workshop is finished

You might as well give up on your OKR right now if you don’t have buy in. Time to build up this good will! After the OKR workshop, make sure you’re ready to communicate out the OKR and seek feedback on it.

Be sure to make changes to the OKR based on the feedback you receive. If you’re setting the OKR as a team (rather than for the company) make sure you connect with other teams you’re working with.

You’ll want to have your OKR in a relatively final / stable state by 2 weeks into the OKR cycle. Yes, it doesn’t need to be perfect at the start of the quarter! Once you’ve kicked off your OKR, you need to embed it into your operating rhythm by checking in on it weekly!


Embed your OKR: Weekly confidence score

You need to be living and breathing your OKR if you’re going to achieve it. You’ll want to be checking in on your OKR as a team by doing a confidence vote on each Key Result on a weekly basis. This is where each team member gives a score against each Key Result on how likely they believe we are to achieve each Key Result. This can simply be emojis

😊 = Looking good,

🧐= It needs focus,

😣 = Not looking good – we need help!

or done on a scale of 0.0 to 1.


Bonus: 5 tips for making your workshop a load of fun

The outcome from the workshop is obviously the top priority. The reality is if you want to be invited to facilitate in the future, you’ll want to make the session a lot of fun. Here’s our top 5 tips:

  1. Bring energy to the room! It’s your role as the facilitator ⚡ 
  2. Run an icebreaker and bring the learning back to the purpose of the day
  3. Use virtual breakout rooms to stimulate discussion (format: Think, Pair & Share)
  4. Use a prop (physical item) to make a point or remind people of something (eg a troll as a reminder not to talk over each other)
  5. Have live polls / quizzes & temperature checks throughout!


Taking this further

This should give you the foundation for running an incredible OKR Workshop. All it takes is the right preparation, a clear agenda and following up with an operating rhythm that scores your OKR weekly.

If you’d like to learn more about facilitating OKR for teams, then check out our Free Online OKR Training or if you’re looking for additional support, check out our 8-week OKR Quick Start to get rolling with OKR quickly or Contact us for OKR coaching.