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  • Iwona Wilson

Building Success: The Power of Lessons Learned Workshops for Strong Teams, Projects and Organization

Zaktualizowano: 31 sty

Team brainstorming using post it notes
The Power of Lessons Learned Workshops

Ever needed to learn things the hard way? – you know, those pricey lessons that make us cringe a bit. Think about it: buying something without checking it out first, rushing into a marriage, or choosing the cheaper solution over the smarter one. We've all been there, right? And these lessons tend to hit us the most – our time, money, health, career, friendships – you name it.

Now, we often look back at these moments with a bit of guilt wishing we could have avoided the heavy price that came with those lessons.

BUT WAIT! There's a different way to look at it.

Instead of complaining, let's celebrate the opportunity these lessons bring. Sure, they might have been expensive, but the real win is that you learned something valuable.

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance" - Robert Orben. So, rather than beating ourselves up over the cost, let's be grateful for the wisdom gained.

The takeaway here is not the bill you paid; it's the knowledge you earned. Learning is a reason to celebrate –but the lessons need to be l e a r n e d and a p p l i e d.

What is a Lessons Learned Workshop?

A Lessons Learned Workshop is a collaborative and structured session where a team reflects on a project, initiative, or period of work to identify key insights, challenges, and successes.

The primary goal is to gather collective wisdom, extract valuable lessons, and apply them to future endeavors.

"We waste much more time and money by repeating mistakes than by holding a short lessons learned workshop after each project milestone.”

It's like a team's personal growth session, helping individuals and groups learn from both positive and negative experiences. But to do this, you need a clearly defined process (I'll show you the ropes!) and a timeslot, ideally conducted monthly or at key project milestones.

Additionally, the end of the year presents a perfect moment for a thorough reflection.

When is a good time to run a lessons learned workshop?

You usually have these meetings when a project is wrapping up, at the end of project milestone or on a regular basis. Here are some good times for lessons learned workshop:

  • At the end of project or event

  • When you hit an important project milestone

  • Strategically, like every quarter or trimester

  • After something didn't go as planned or there was an incident

  • Regularly, like once a month

And get this, you can even kick off a project with a lessons learned session. That way, you can learn from past projects before diving into a new one. In this type of workshop, you can also throw in a cool exercise called a premortem, where you imagine what could go wrong and figure out how to avoid those hiccups. Or “Peer Assist”, where you invite a team (often from outside of the organization) to learn from their mistakes and accomplishments.

Who attends lessons learned workshops?

Lessons Learned Workshops are beneficial for any team working in a traditional, hybrid or remote space, seeking to create an environment where learning is an integral part of their process.

It is especially beneficial for:

  1. Cross-functional project teams working on complex projects, products or initiatives who are about to approach a milestone or a project completion. Invite discipline leads from each function but don’t bother to invite a boss who wasn’t part of the project.

  2. Teams seeking to evaluate end-of-the-year performance where insights can shape future strategies.

  3. Managers, decision-makers, and project leaders seeking feedback on the current state and eager to enhance teams, projects and organizational performance.

Perfect as an input for the strategic planning process!

Benefits of Regular Lessons Learned Workshops

  • Team Improvements: In a world of constant chaos, teams often miss the chance to fix the inefficiencies in their work. But fear not! With regular lessons learned, you'll be fine-tuning your team's performance like a maestro – no more inefficiencies slipping through the cracks. By involving every team member in the process, you can build trust, foster development, and encourage an environment of learning from mistakes and improving processes.

  • Positive Milestones Victory: Working towards milestones can be like a never-ending marathon. The workshop is your pitstop, your breather where you high-five your teammates for the small wins. Because let's face it, waiting for the "big moment" feels longer than a Monday morning meeting.

  • Diffusing the Tension Bomb: Unresolved tensions in a team are like an episode of a reality TV show you never signed up for. Regular workshops? They're your backstage pass to avoid the passive-aggressive drama and explosive confrontations. Your team will thank you with a harmonious chorus.

The Horror of Not Doing It

  • Stuck in the Groundhog Day of Mistakes: Without lessons learned, teams become Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day," stuck in a loop of repeating the same mistakes. Break free, my friend – no one needs a déjà vu of project mishaps.

  • Project Fatigue Strikes: Ever feel the excitement drain as you delve into the nitty-gritty details of a project? That's Project Fatigue, and it's real. The workshop? It's your secret weapon against it, keeping the excitement alive with regular celebrations of small victories.

  • The Silent Killer: Unspoken Tensions: Picture this – a team silently seething with unresolved issues. It's like a volcano ready to erupt, and trust me, no one wants to be in the blast zone. The workshop is your handy-dandy pressure release valve – keep things honest, open, and drama-free.

a picture of an old tree saying that lessons in life will be repeated until they are learned
Frank Sonnenberg Quota

How to run a lessons learned workshop?

Prepare ahead off the time
Get ready for your lessons learned review workshop! Success comes from gathering the right info, people, expectations, agenda items beforehand.

  • Start by setting a clear goal for your workshop – what you want to achieve. This goal shapes everything else we're going to talk about. Maybe it's a general project review when it wraps up, or it could be a specific mission like figuring out what went wrong during the concept select phase?

  • Think about what you want to get out of the meeting. Do you need a report for the executive team, or list of improvements for the function to address? Let everyone know what's happening with the golden nuggets of wisdom you uncover in that meeting.

  • Identify the right stakeholders, format, props, time and logistics.

Grab your props:
  • Post-it notes, dots, sharpies, a timer, flipcharts, music.

  • Online board such as Miro, Mural or GroupMap.

Total Time Needed: 3 to 5 hours (longer if you're wrangling a massive team).

Choose a Facilitator

Select your facilitator, the unsung hero who guides the ship without being emotionally attached. It's like having a GPS that doesn't judge your questionable turns. The facilitator would typically design the agenda, questions and templates, if required and he or she would advice whether we need to survey the participants before the workshop.

a bunch of people talking with one woman looking like a facilitator
Choose a Facilitator who has no vested interest in the outcome

Set the Stage – Led by the Maestro (Project Manager or Sponsor)

Start by setting the ground rules. Then paint the picture of what's about what happened. If you're on a project, toss in a timeline with key events that has taken place in the time period considered. Let them know this ain't your average team-building day – it's the Super Bowl of reflection.

Start with the Positives! – 10 MINS

Team, it's positivity time! Spend 10 minutes scribbling down everything that made you smile and had a positive impact on the team, project or an organization, e.g. client feedback.

No overthinking, just pure joy.

Present Positives – 4 MIN PER PERSON

Now, stand up and share those positive vibes. Keep it short and sweet. Tears of joy are welcome, though.

If there are a large number of post-it-notes, sort them first.
If there are extraordinary outcomes which impacted existing processes, conduct root cause analysis and find ways to incorporate new thinking into your management system.

Four people standing in front of the wall and posting stickies
Part 1 Lessons Learned Workshop: What went well?

Move to the Negatives – or the “Lessons to Learn”

Time to get real. What didn't go as smoothly as butter on a hot pancake? Brainstorm silently what did not go well or what did no go as well as you would have like it to.

After approximately 10 min (or longer), invite participants to post the stickies on the wall.

A wall full of post it notes
Part 2 Lessons Learned Workshop: What did not go so well?

Conduct Voting on Top Challenges

Sort out the stickies and remove duplicates. Vote for the MVPs of the mess-ups – the top 3 - 6 issues that need some serious analysis. Remember, this is the negativity Olympics, so choose wisely. Participants vote on issues considering an impact to the project scope, their own scope of work and the organization.

Analyze the Root Causes of the Top 3-6 Challenges

Split into groups, dissect the problems, and figure out what happened, what was supposed to happen, and the impact. Consider using templates with those key questions to help guiding the teams.

  • What is the issue? What happened?

  • Why did it happen (causes)?

  • Use 5-Whys to identify the root causes

  • What was the impact? (try to quantify the impact in $)

A template showing three columns: causes, topics and impacts
Root Cause Analysis: What happened, why and what was the impact?

Identity Solutions to Problems

Stay in small groups. Turn problems into questions with "How might we?" exercise by asking participants in each group to brainstorm for solutions that could address the key issues.

a template showing a space for how might we
How Might We Exercise to turn challenges into opportunities and generate list of solutions

Prioritize Solutions

Vote on the top 10 genius ideas, prioritize them and develop an action plan. Quick wins, fill ins and major projects are your golden tickets – ignore the rest.

a table showing x and y and effort versus impact matrix
Impact vs Effort Matrix to prioritize ideas or solutions.


Regular lessons learned workshops are gamechanger for a team and project performance. Once you've tasted the magic, there's no going back to the dark ages of endless reactivity.

However, ideas or solutions coming out of the lessons learned workshops must be agreed with decision-makers and implemented in a timely manner. Otherwise, participants lose trust in the process.

Share your thoughts on how do you think those workshops could benefit your team? ❤️💙💛

Reach out if you need a custom lessons learned workshop by emailing us at

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