Workshops that work! (Part 2)


This post follows from the part 1 at:

Part 1 deals with,

– identification of workshop objectives

– classification of participants

– Dealing with each category

This part deals with the preparation for ensuring a super workshop!

‘Be Prepared’, the boy scout motto applies itself well in our case! Workshops that deal with organization level changes have much higher rate of success when the participating audience is comprised of individuals across the organization. While this ensures a high quality of discussion and a wider coverage of options, this also necessitates that the workshop preparation is at an organization level. Imagine having to switch topics (production – sales – supply chain – general management – product development-…) while discussing a single idea or impact!

An interesting introduction ice-breaker that we could use to bring out the value of each participant would be to pair the participants and have them ‘sell’ their partners to the audience. The selling terms would be in terms of expertise, roles & responsibilities and hobbies – this ensures that the audience understand the value that each individual brings to the workshop while also establishing a personal connect!

From experience, 8 preparation activities that have helped me connect well with the audience and conduct a great workshop:

  • Research, research & research:

Understand the industry, the players and the latest happenings in the industry. How is your customer going to be impacted?

Ideas and the suggestions that will make the Senior management sit up and take notice (‘Wow! That’s interesting – we never thought of it that way!’) are important. The quality of interaction could make or break the senior management commitment to the workshop.

  • Who’s who?

Use LinkedIn and other social networks to really understand the participants better. Using their name as they walk-in and referencing their experience works wonders. A simple ‘Hey Mark, how’s your whitepaper on predictive analytics going?’ warrants a focused participant and a great contact!

If you can’t find them on the social network, the organization’s intranet could help you with the photos and the project details, so that you have a ready greeting for them!

  • Be value driven:

Workshops could actually result in a massive waste of time and money if not properly channelled. A 2-day workshop with 15 participants could be a massive 240 hours wasted if not conducted properly and if it fails to meet the expectations. Ensure that the expectations are set forth and the objectives clearly communicated before the start of the workshop. Time checks and course corrections are a must!

  • Be prepared:

Prepare for exigencies – non availability of meeting rooms, workshop materials, food and beverages (very important – hunger is a big distraction), reduced availability of key participants…. could all feature in your list of risks. Plans B & C really help!

  • Ensure mutual respect:

More the participants connect with each other, the easier it is to conduct and achieve the objectives. One fun way to ensure that each individual understands the importance and the value of the other participants is to conduct a ‘Sell him’ introduction. Participants in pairs, sell each other to the audience at large bringing out the best that they have to offer in terms of their experience.

  • Have Fun!

Workshops need not be morose, sullen affairs where the focus is merely on coming up with an organization strategy or defining the requirements for the next state-of-the-art trading system. The idea is to not only come up with the best of plans but to also ensure that the participants are at their creative best. You would never believe some of the great ideas that come up as a result of participant letting go of their constrained thinking.

  • Hold individuals responsible

Walking away from a workshop and forgetting what happened is a very common occurrence. Workshops should be followed up with action items and status reporting to ensure that the learning and the actions do not go waste. Institutionalizing a desired trait needs the best of nurturing and directions and of course, follow-ups.

  • Ground rules rule!

Laying down the rules for usage of electronic devices, breaks, expression of views and attendance helps in setting the context and ensures a workshop with minimal interruption.

Enjoy your workshops!

This article on LinkedIn


Chin up Chennai!



With water shortage, we prayed for the heavens to pour,
Now its time to pray – oh God! please, no more!

The houses are getting flooded,
so are our hearts with the love and gratitude exhibited!

With incessant rains, the water level does rise,
so do, our levels of patience and resilience!

Corruption and encroaching spoiled our reservoirs,
we brave out this situation, an experience fit for memoirs!

The rain water is certainly not welcome inside our homes,
but the hungry and the homeless, they certainly are!

You may be afraid concerning the well-being of a known one,
Don’t worry, for Chennai’s motto is now – One for all & all for one!

We are at war with Nature, you might say
Our brave soldiers of peace are here to save the day!

We are not afraid of any waves of a Tsunami striking us,
we only fear the fizzing out of the waves of Humanity in us!

Hold in there, chin up, help is at hand!
This too shall pass, as does the hourglass sand.

Tomorrow, when the sun shines and life moves on,
We will sing, we will dance, with our best clothes on!

Amazing people and an amazing city!

‪#‎Chennaithebest‬ ‪#‎Chennairains‬ ‪#‎Chennai‬ ‪#‎ChennaiUnites‬
Love you Chennai – My native & the best city in the world!
With Love & Prayers – Bharath Balasubramanian

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!


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 😦


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!

The un’fair’ness of it all!

Congratulations to Ms. Nina Davuluri! You certainly make us proud.

 We have always been winning spelling bee contests, but the winning of Miss America is one sting that Americans won’t forget in a hurry! The unguent for this sting would be the comments of America embracing diversity and ensuring a stage for the minorities. The American dream tends to come into the picture every now and then – all are equal and have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happy-ness! Embracing the minorities is no charitable act, especially when you have a country where the majority population is comprised of minorities!

 The backlash on Twitter and social media networks was more comic than caustic. Those who were topographically challenged and having trouble finding their way from the kitchen to their bedrooms were among the forerunners in revealing their ignorance and their anguish (ouch – it stings!). *This doesn’t surprise me though, sometimes talking about India’s geography seems to reveal just 5 states (NECWS) instead of 28 states and 7 UTs (w/o Telengana). Anything below Maharashtra is south and has one race of people – Madrasis and all they do is gorge on Idlis, Sambar and Rasam. Well, Geography has certainly been the bugbear of many a student! 

 Nina seemed to be a native of all other countries except India and i believe that further tweets would have traced her roots to a Hula-Hula tribe from the Amazon forests! Making her Arab (Rima Fakih won the  contest in 2010) proved that the person was just out of his self induced stupor of 3 years and read out the headlines from the newspaper that had induced the stupor in the first place. 

 Getting emotional about the 9/11 and comparing Nina to a terrorist was certainly uncalled for – when did terror had such a lovely face and a great smile to go with it?! Nina had tough competition and her enchanting dance and her Iam-here-to-have-fun expressions certainly stole the limelight for her. Tattoos, pretty faces and of course, the really fair skin did offer her a fair amount of competition and made her sweat – more shine for the wheatish complexion!

India is a land of make believe and exaggeration and the fairness of skin holds a very sweet spot. Derma-nomics is certainly a big word and 61% of the derma market is for fairness creams (this is despite warning that Mercury in one form or another is an ingredient!). From King Khan to Ms Padukone, we have celebrities endorsing the path to fame and glory! un’fair’ treatment you would say – but that’s how it is! This contempt for darker skin tones has always been there – i remember being teased in school over my wheatish complexion. The ingenuity of the rhymes ‘kala Kaluta, Baingan loota’ – something to do about brinjals and dacoits still brings a smile on my face . When Nandita Das (one of the ‘darker’ heroines who made it big) comes out with a statement, it usually highlights her as a proponent for the poor darker lot! Akin to people lying through their teeth on job resumes, we have scores lying through their skin on advertisements and matrimony profiles. Make-up and make-believe are getting to be two prime behavioural aspects of the Indian society at large.


Thank God that Ms. Nina participated in Miss America and won – Would this have been possible in India is anybody’s guess. Indians’ obsession with the fairness creams and the fair ones’ obsession with tanning and tanning creams – a chocolatey world anyone?