Workshops that work! (Part 1)

Source: Workshops that work! (Part 1)


EngageLet me begin with an original quote 🙂

“The only reason that a workshop hasn’t worked, is because you haven’t!”

Workshops are a great way to bring the stakeholders together and to arrive at a consensus. One might be armed with the best of presentations and workshop activities, but you can never be sure of a great workshop until we identify and cater to the most important component – the participants!

I love workshops – both conducting and participating. It is an exciting feeling to have a roomful of audience who are waiting to,

  • have their knowledge requirements fulfilled
  • work together to achieve a whole that is much bigger than the sum of the parts
  • challenge their comfort zones and pick up new skills
  • share their knowledge and expertise
  • solve problems that have haunted them

As you can see, the stakes are quite high! Ensuring that the participants walk away with the satisfaction on a day well spent, a day that brought them closer to their goals is thus the hygiene factor. There is an amazing amount of experience and creativity to be tapped at workshops and I strong feel that there is an equal learning opportunity for both the workshop facilitator as well as the participants.

My experiences from the visioning, prioritisation and brainstorming workshops that I have conducted helped me understand/segment my participants better. Classifying and understanding the participant early on helps in faster bonding and in the deployment of the appropriate technique to ensure participation and inputs.

Here are my six types of participants:

  • The EXCItrons: ”This is the workshop I have been waiting for!”

They are excited to be there in the workshop and ready to go! They need just the direction.

  • The WALLtrons: “Should I say this, or should I not?”

They are interested in the workshop, but need a gentle nudge before they are completely in.

  • The QUIEtrons: “Let me observe and be a passive participant”

Shy/reticent, they need to be involved. They do great work, but are silent about it.

Call them out for their opinion to get them talking and participating.

  • The WHYtrons: “Why am I here?”

They are still thinking on why are they in the workshop in the first place.

Make them understand their importance in this exercise and in the implementation of the future state.

  • The DISRUPtrons: “I have been forced to attend this!”

Joking, chatting, using their mobile phones and not really contributing characterizes this group. Just spend some time with them, looking over their shoulder and ensuring they contribute. A couple of questions and the value that they could bring to the table should settle it in most cases.

  • The I-Trons: “I love ideas – especially when they are mine!”

They could be in any of the above groups. They will provide unsolicited opinion and will try to shoot down any idea if it does not appeal to them. Lay down the rules – ideate first, scrutinize later.

Nothing beats preparation and an exciting agenda/activities list!

To Summarise this post,

– Workshops mean a lot to the organising stakeholders – we need to adopt the organization’s motives as our own and become a temporary employee!

– Each participant has the potential to add a tremendous amount of value – it lies in how we can tap it

-Workshops do not have to be conventional – creativity, visioning and fun activities do just fine if not much better!

 Next part: Getting ready for the workshop + tip & tricks that work wonders for me!

This post on LinkedIn!



Getting into Shape!

A finisher...a champion!

A finisher…a champion!

Always dreamt of getting into shape,
Flaunting a figure for others to ape!
Scared whenever I look at the measuring tape,
Only if i could shed off this fatty drape!!

My dresses of yore fit no more,
Squeezing into one would be an impossible chore,
Talking always about losing weight is a bore,
Can’t take it lord…not anymore!

Started on the road to shedding a few pounds,
And after a long time, heard the early morning sounds,
one more, one more…so went my rounds,
My dream was no longer out of bounds!

The keywords were now diet and nutrition,
Couldn’t still hold back many a temptation.
I guess I needed some competition,
and looked at my old pics for some inspiration!

Sweating out repetitions the Sisyphean way,
Set to cutting away the flab come what may,
Sleep, Diet and exercise day after day,
Continually inspired by the future that was to stay.

Lost my 15 extra pounds finally,
Jumped up and down, celebrated with glee!
Gorged on chocolates, cakes and high calorie,
Maintaining myself now is another story!

© 2014 Bharath Balasubramanian All Rights Reserved

Indian Railways – The Joys of travelling without a reservation; Part 1


India’s largest employer and the 9th largest employer in the world with 1.4 million employee, Indian railways employers more than our armed forces (1.3 million) but has fewer employees than McDonalds, Walmart & the Chinese army and railway corporations (!). Still, from an Indian context the impact is huge. It is amazing to know that at any point of time more than 5 million people are on the move using Railways and more than 25 million people use the railways everyday to reach their destinations. Roughly 10-11% of the passengers (by my calculations) travel by what is called as the General or Unreserved class. This blog is dedicated to the hapless souls (such as myself) who have experienced a journey in the General compartments. Filled with inconveniences and learning, these travel experiences certainly mould one’s character and ensure significant servings of hope, patience and will-power enhancement.

It started with a last minute plan to visit my sister in Birsinghpur for Diwali this year. Birsinghpur is  a township and hosts a Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board power plant. To reach the place it takes a minimum of 2 connections. I had my ticket booked for the ‘Garib Rath’ (tr: poor man’s chariot) a train that belies its name and is comprised entirely of 3rd AC coaches. The definition of poor is a little shaky here given that its from the lower middle class that the fare becomes affordable. Booked at a waiting list of 774, prayers and addition of coaches brought it down to a teasing 50 on the day of departure! Wanting to make it at any cost, i decided to go for the unreserved travel option. Confident from an experience gained in my first year at college 14 years ago, when as a result of ragging we had to forego confirmed tickets and take the train for the next day to our home towns from Durgapur (WB).

The first alternative train was supposed to leave at 12:40 PM. I went to the station and verified the time and they said it will leave at 12:10 – i was pleasantly surprised that the train was running before time when the clerk added – 12 hours running late….ouch!

Found out the next alternative – this time a triple connection via Itarsi & Katni. confident and keeping my focus fixed on a great diwali ahead, i bought the general ticket. Knowing that i had better forget a good meal for the next 18 hours, had a good(!) lunch at the railway canteen. Attempting caution even in such a scenario, i bought a sanitiser and a couple of tablets for cold and fever and a few old newspapers (never know if you are going to be ‘floored’ for the journey!!). Thus armed and prepared (once a scout, always a scout), i began my journey.

Went to the platform an hour early and found that people had already started forming a queue for the general class. About 75 members deep, they sat in a line reminiscent of the colourful plastic pots that queue up for the corporation water in Chennai. You start at the 75th position and yet find yourself at around the 130th as a rest of people calling their kith and kin over to join them in the middle, braving the protests from the people at the back! A couple of minor squabbles over the size of a family (8-9 members) that a person was trying to insert claiming to be his immediate family had the railway police drawn to us. The family suffered a partition as 5 sullen souls made their way to the end of the line, now at least 150 deep. People in our country wield power, no matter the situation! There was this guy who was late with his family of 4 and was still making a phone call to the station in charge so as to be placed in front of the line! Howls and physical signs of protest, however, showed him rightful place at the end of the line! You know, the mob is like best thing to set things right – unless you are on the receiving end!

One thing that i have firmly come to believe in is that no matter how ugly the situation or the experience, you are never alone. There are always other who have gone through similar, if not worse situations. When i started chatting up with my neighbours in the line, i found that a couple of them wanted to reach Agra and had absolutely no idea. A few wanted to get to Jhansi and were clueless as well! Reminds me of Lao Tzu’s quote:

 “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving” 

Next part: The 18 hour Journey and camaraderie in the coaches! 🙂

The ticket to a fantastic experience – Bye, Bye #Sachin!

The Ticket to a fantastic experience!

Thanks to a friend, Namrata Gupta, I got the the ticket for the first day of the second test match at Wankhede stadium. This is Tendulkar’s 200th test and his last. Getting tickets was no easy task and had actually resorted to watching the match on telly when I got this wonderful piece of paper.

The morning’s game theory exam was spent more on visualising the game at Wankhede than the ones in the question paper! Wrapping up the exam at 10 AM, myself & Mayank Saxena (who called me with the great news of the ticket’s availability) took the local train to Churchgate and from there walked to the stadium. We reached when WestIndies seemed to have a great partnership going between Bravo and Powell with the Windies losing just one wicket for around 65 runs.

Today was nothing short of what can be thought of as a great day.

  1. We got the train quickly and that too a super fast one!
  2. I had my camera bag with me and on producing my student ID (!) was actually permitted in an unofficial way to retain my bag – everyone had to safe keep it somewhere and were not allowed to carry their bags in!
  3. The Windies seemed too comfortable and we asked for some action at least in terms of some wickets that would make it great game to watch. Mind you, I am not a big fan of test cricket – but this game was really special!
  4. Over the next 2.5 hours, the Windies lost the wind in their sails and slumped to a paltry 182 all out (3 ducks in a row)!! I not only got to see the action but also had the opportunity to see our team bat!
  5. Ok, with our team batting, obviously had the desire to see the little master play! this was a tough wish torn between wishing the best for our team and yet wanting the first two wickets down so that Sachin could bat. Prayer answered – Murali and Dhawan gave a beautiful batting display and without wasting too many balls, left the stage for Pujara and Sachin!
  6. Watched Sachin bat out at least 18 overs along with Pujara and witnessed some of his classic shots 🙂    What more can I ask for?!

The atmosphere was electrifying – did not feel like a test match at all! It was more like a T20 kind of ambience with the crowd following and acknowledging each and every ball and run! The crowd was constantly rooting for Sachin and persuading Dhoni to let him bowl. A simple fielding from Sachin drew more cheer than a catch or a wicket from the other Indian players! Seated in the Sachin Tendulkar stand (Yay!), I was thankful to Dhoni as Sachin was fielding 90% of the time near us. Wherever he looked into the crowd, that section used to go crazy!! Sachin acknowledged the crowd very well and even gestured us to keep the volume down. Looking at him at close quarters was paisa vasool! very humble and really embarrassed by all the shouting that we managed!

The gesture from the West Indies team welcoming Sachin was very good. Though they attempted to place the master blaster under pressure initially by surrounding him with as many as 6-7 players, the God did not lose his cool and rather forced them to change their field settings by dispatching a couple to the fence!

Soaking in the atmosphere was a terrific experience – a lifetime experience to be cherished. Will certainly miss Sachin 😦


Spirit of a true entrepreneur – Arunachalam Muruganantham

‘The first man to wear a sanitary napkin’ – I was wrong to assume it was another insipid article (on the lines of adult diapers or a big joke) and put It off for later reading.


I was asked by a colleague whether i had seen the video as yet. when i replied in the negative, i was urged to do so. Back from the college after presenting on starting an NGO (access to education), this was a welcome read.  I started with the INK video (here’s the link: I really enjoyed his talk. Getting on stage before a huge well read and intelligent crowd is frightening enough, but here was a simpleton with his ‘not perfect’ english (openly acknowledged in a sweet way!). Being a Tamilian, i could actually relate to his language flow. Performing an line-by-line interpretation of tamil to english, he started with his narration that was genuine, emotional and witty. 


Sanitary Napkins, as he mentioned, have always been treated as taboo. Shops usually do not display them in full view and if they did they would be wrapped and dispatched to the customers. This is certainly surprising considering that every lady undergoes the trauma and anguish connected with ‘those days’. Even family members hesitate to talk about this topic, but here was this guy on stage, splashed all over in the media for coming up with an innovation in this aspect. 


You will have to appreciate his doggedness and his methods. Identifying a better cotton variant, testing on a trial and error basis , waiting for his results patiently, getting back to the drawing board again and again – he was certainly persistent! Imagine going on the streets and asking for volunteers – i visualised it as a scene of embarrassment wherein the target group does not want to talk about it and here you are, up in arms against a most taboo of topics! The thought of approaching and explaining the work being done gives me goosebumps! 


Despite the hiccups, how to make his subjects comfortable seemed to be his topmost priority. Switching to paper based feedback was actually a great idea since writing our heart out for a person is usually easier than expressing them verbally (ah! the joys of love letters!!). A single point focus on finding a cheaper and safer alternative did turn him into a possessed individual. What was disappointing was the reaction of his family and the ‘doctor’ing of the results by the MBBS students. Here was a dilemma, he was actually analysing the existing pad materials and trying to come up with substitutes – does this term as innovation in the real sense? But as learnt in one of best guest lectures at SPJain from an inspiring innovator – if the new service/product/process differentiates itself and makes money, then it’s an innovation!  


One thing made me wonder though – is why women, who gave us the bullet proof Kevlar vests, the medical syringe, the diapers and the life raft among many others, did not take this up in full measure in countries where it is needed the most.


Bringing down an initialisation cost of Rs.3.5 crores to Rs.65000 is no mean achievement. Loved his values when he steered clear of profit and instead focussed on creating jobs – at least 1 million! Superb finishing lines. 


Sacrifices, doggedness, the courage to keep on trying and failing until you get it right – lessons reaffirmed thanks to Arunachalam. 


Workshop helper -> Inventor – > Entrepreneur -> Industrialist. Hats off to you for being an inspiring figure. 



is it so difficult to make people see reason?

is it hard for people to be sensitive of others?

is it difficult for people to keep their opinions to themselves?

is it a problem to be yourself?

is it difficult for people to appreciate the good in others?

is it difficult to appreciate others for the things they do?

is it difficult to thank people for their help?

is it so difficult to give due credit to people?

is it difficult to have a relation without an underlying transaction?

is it so difficult to call a spade a spade?

is being outspoken a problem?

do people enforce their choices on others?

do people have a difficult time differentiating professional from personal behaviour?

do people act cheap?

do i expect people to be sensible?

do i expect people to be logical?

do i expect people to be rational?

do i hope for people to change for the better?

do i care for the undeserving?

do people put money before everything else?

do people want to share their negativity with others?

do people retain incidents, as ammunition to be used later?

do people lie?

do people always have a mask on?

do people become defensive when their shortcomings are pointed out?

do people never forgive?

do people get away with BS?

do people find safety in numbers, for the wrong reasons?

do people love freeloading?

do people start strong, but wither along the way?

do people confuse arrogance with self confidence and vice-versa?

do people mistake humility & humbleness for weakness?

does relation take a back seat when it comes to personal gains?

does the truth ceases to be, the moment it is uttered?

don’t people stand up for what they believe?

don’t people pull their weight?

don’t people believe in reciprocity?

are people negatively affected from one’s positiveness and positively affected by one’s downfall?

did i even write this?

– Bharath K Balasubramanian


Mumbai Meri Jaan! – Part 2


Second blog in this series – continues on driving & mobility (please ensure you have read part 1 – for continuity’s sake!)

I remember a joke in a Tamil movie in which the comedian, an autodriver, dupes the traffic police by switching on the left indicator, uses his right hand to signal a turn and finally goes straight, leaving behind a bewildered traffic policeman! Mumbai’s drivers don’t even provide such useful clues – exhibit totally random behaviour. One thing that is common, is the urgency – every nook, every gap available is made use of. The gaps and the vehicles do not match, yet  they manage to go through! Highly protean, you will admit! The best part is the repetition of the Camel’s hump prejudice – it never sees its hump, but rather comments on the ugliness of the hump of the camel in front. Mumbai’s drivers (and so do most others) exhibit the same. Despite coming on the wrong side in the first place, this guy will berate the other hapless driver to the max extent. That the meek shall inherit the earth doesn’t apply here – the meek drivers shall invite more curses and taunts in Mumbai!

Its advisable to stand either 30 meters away or before the bus stop – the buses rarely stop in front of the stops. You will realise the right place after a trial and error experiment. The best is to ask or observe where the typical Mumbai-wala is standing, after all do in Rome as the Romans do! One good sight is the formation of queues for boarding at a lot of high-traffic bus stands. Self-regulated by the commuters, these queues stretch for quite sometime during peak hours and queue-breaking is certainly a no-no unless you want to be bashed by a mob of irate to-home-after-a-bad-day-at-office commuters.

Autowallas follow their Mann-Marzi when it comes to ferrying passengers. They simply refuse to ply and sometimes it takes an act of noting down their registration number and a threat to inform the traffic police to make them ply. Even this trick is wearing thin now!

The local trains are the lifeline of Mumbai, ferrying close to 7.5 million passengers everyday! Crowd mobility is the way to embark/alight from trains. Just ensure that you stand in the right place, in front of the right carriage and the crowd will do the rest. You are swept into the train amidst the scamper for legroom. Getting down is a lot easier and only thing that you have to watch for is the incoming crowd who push and shove their way in to get the few seats that are available. If not careful, you could get really hurt in the process.

I am reminded of a true incident mentioned by an ex-manager at Cognizant. There was this sales guy (tie, formals) who wanted to get aboard a busy local. The local trains have a vertical bar at the entrance as a divider for the incoming and outgoing traffic and to provide a hold who are engaged in footboard callisthenics.

This guy was a tad late and was in the trailing part of the crowd who boarded the train. To his dismay he could not get both feet onto the train and was left with one foot dangling, when the train started. Taking the wise decision to wait for the next one, he got down but found that his connection (read: neck tie) to the train was still there. Someone had the Tie tacked to the pole by sandwiching it between their hand and the pole. This guy now started running along with the train while shouting for the @#$%^& to take his hand off. With the train gathering momentum, you can very well imagine what the poor sales guy would be subjected to. Finally, someone yanked off his tie from underneath the cluster of hands and freed the sales guy – sending him crashing into a group of standing passengers, but safe nonetheless. Whew!

I am not sure about the rest of India, but atleast pedestrians in Mumbai understand the power of Unity. 1’s lonely, 2’s company and 3’s a crowd is followed and that’s all it takes to start crossing! There’s a battle of emotions at play here and the safety is in numbers. The oncoming vehicles don’t look like they are going to stop. The pedestrians have to be confident in their stride and in total defiance of the incoming speedos to make it across a busy street. A little hesitancy on the peds’ part would mean their taking a step back and waiting for what would be a long while before the traffic thins to attempt a crossing. Zebra crossings have become the new stop line for motorists forcing the peds to take a circuitous route around the vehicles.

With the Metro, Monorail and newer ferry routes coming up, Mumbaikars are going to be spoilt for choice when it comes to commuting. How long will these work and how soon their shiny new carriages are going to be painted red with Paan (Betel leaf + a host of other carcinogenic components) stains is anybody’s guess!

All said & done, Mumbai is a great place to explore – by foot ; at every turn and every corner there is an aspect of the city that remains to be discovered and an experience, to be treasured. Viva Mumbai!