Meet Cecilia: a service designer and professional workshop facilitator. While working in market research, Cecilia observed the power of workshopping—and recognized the level of skill and expertise it requires. She vowed to one day master it herself and become the go-to person for workshop facilitation. Here’s how she got there.
When I catch up with Cecilia, she’s about to start an exciting new job as a service designer. This marks a complete career pivot—up until now, she has worked exclusively in market research.
So how has she managed such a dramatic shift? And what inspired her to do so?
Let’s go back to where it all began…
Originally from Mexico, Cecilia fell in love with Europe when she spent a year in Germany after high school. It was always her dream to go back, and she’s now been living in The Netherlands for the last 7 years.
Before moving to The Netherlands, Cecilia completed a bachelor’s degree in marketing and then a master’s in marketing analysis. However, she found that the master’s was too heavily focused on data and analytics. Cecilia wanted to get into consumer research with a more “human” touch, so she got a job in qualitative research.
While working as a qualitative researcher, Cecilia got her first insight into the power of workshopping:
“I spent some time working as a qualitative researcher, and I would say that, in many ways, qualitative researchers are the original workshoppers. You use a lot of projective techniques when running focus groups, as well as games and ice-breakers and energizer activities.
I was fascinated with how the senior researchers were sometimes asked to run workshops for clients. I could see that this required a high level of expertise; not just anyone could run a workshop. At the same time, there was a lot of demand for this skill and a lot of money behind it. Clients were willing to pay extra for workshops and they wanted something really special. That really stood out to me and stayed with me.”
For a long time, these workshops were something that Cecilia was only able to experience from afar. Still, her fascination grew, and she eventually had the opportunity to take part:
“There was a 3-day event where clients flew in from around the world to observe the research we were doing in the office in Mexico City. It was really cool; I remember that, besides the actual focus groups, we also had working sessions with the clients to help them turn their research learnings into something actionable pretty much immediately.”
Cecilia describes how energizing it was to sit with those clients and have open discussions. She felt first-hand the power of working as a group to exchange ideas and move together towards a common goal, regardless of hierarchy or seniority level. As she recalls, it was intense but extremely rewarding—a feeling that would stay with her and eventually shape her future career choices.
When she moved from Mexico to The Netherlands in 2015, Cecilia found herself back in the world of quantitative market research. While the work was interesting, Cecilia missed the direct interaction with consumers she’d so enjoyed with qualitative research.
And, when her company—a market research agency—was bought by another corporation with a qualitative research department, Cecilia grew increasingly nostalgic for her old line of work. She observed that there were lots of workshops going on, and this resurfaced her longing to explore workshop and facilitation as distinct skillsets.
Feeling like her career was at a bit of a crossroads, Cecilia decided to take matters into her own hands. She recalls:
“There was a particular training session about workshops that, for some unknown reason, I wasn’t invited to—especially as one of my clients at the time was asking me about this particular topic. I don’t know why I wasn’t invited but I made it my mission to learn everything about workshops. It was all so fascinating to me, and I finally wanted to understand workshopping as a practice in its own right. That’s when I came across AJ&Smart and the amazing Design Sprint Masterclass.”
Unsure what to expect, Cecilia attended a free webinar to learn about the Design Sprint Masterclass. It would turn out to be a pivotal moment in her career.
In her own words:
“Everything Jonathan said clicked—all the stories about long, complicated projects and misalignment and everything feeling like a mess, and how design sprints could help to solve these pain points. At the time, the promise of a rewarding career really resonated with me, too. I saw the opportunity to not only forge a career I would enjoy and be great at, but also one that had high potential to be lucrative. It all made so much sense to me, so I signed up for the Design Sprint Masterclass.”
Cecilia completed the Design Sprint Masterclass in December 2019. Initially, she was considering quitting her job to become a design sprint consultant and workshop facilitator, but she wasn’t in a position to build out a business while working full-time. She needed to stay in her job a bit longer in order to get her permanent residency permit in The Netherlands.
In the meantime, Cecilia focused on applying what she’d learned to her current role and positioning herself as the go-to person for workshops in her company. She ran several lightning decision jams, and introduced the management team to things like the impact/effort matrix.
“In my company, I positioned myself as the go-to person for workshopping, and this eventually gave me a lot of confidence. I started off assisting with workshops, but soon I was fully in charge of them. This was a great way to get experience without taking the risk of quitting my job and starting from scratch.”
Further down the line, Cecilia wanted to learn more about workshop facilitation and how she could use it to shape her career. She decided to sign up for the Workshopper Master.
“The Workshopper Master helped me feel much more confident in my ability as a facilitator. I found the core exercises really valuable, and the notion that, with some adaptation, you can use the same core exercises to address most challenges. This doesn’t just apply to tech and digital products; the course really shows you how workshops can be applied to any company, and to many different types of challenges.
I felt very empowered by the knowledge that I can really design my own workshops. There is no right or wrong, and there are no rules; workshopping isn’t a scientific method. The most important thing is that the client or team has a goal, and as the facilitator, I get them closer to that goal faster than they would have gotten there themselves. That’s really powerful.”
Once she obtained her permanent residency, Cecilia had a little more stability behind her to make some professional changes. She landed a new job at another market research agency and, although she was happy there, it wasn’t long before another opportunity came up—an opportunity that aligned much more closely with her passion for workshopping and her newfound skills.
“A friend put me in touch with one of her colleagues who was looking for a service designer. It was a hard sell at first because I have no formal experience in design, but it soon became clear that, because of the courses I’d taken with AJ&Smart, I actually could add a lot of value to the team. I didn’t have the typical designer credentials, but I had lots to offer thanks to what I learned in the Workshopper Master.
My background in market research also put me in a good position to understand customer needs and turn them into actionable solutions. That combined with my workshopping skills and the new techniques and tools I’d learned enabled me to position myself as a strong candidate for the role. It’s not a facilitator job by definition, but it will require me to leverage a lot of what I learned on the course about facilitation and workshop design. As such, I will constantly revisit what I learned on the course. It’ll be my go-to resource!”
For Cecilia, this new role as a service designer not only presents a great opportunity to learn more about design thinking. It’s also a chance to apply the skills she’s acquired through the Design Sprint Masterclass and the Workshopper Master—a step she’s been wanting to take for a long time.
It’s not been easy for Cecilia to cross from market research into the world of design and workshopping, and I’m curious to hear what advice she would give to anyone else trying to shape their career around workshop facilitation.
Here’s what she had to say:
“If you’re not in a position to immediately work as a facilitator in a paid capacity, my advice is to find ways to apply your skills for free in order to gain that experience. Offer to run workshops at your current company, or consider running workshops for companies in different time zones so you can fit it around your job, or do pro bono work for local organizations or friends and family—anyone who will let you! As Jonathan would say: be resourceful!”
I can’t wait to hear how Cecilia gets on in her new job, and where her passion for workshop facilitation will take her next.
Most importantly, it’s great to hear how Cecilia’s outlook has changed, and how far she feels she has come:
“In 2015, I was struggling to get a job in a new country. Now, I often receive LinkedIn invitations and am exposed to new opportunities. I’m very grateful for that; it’s a very privileged position to be in. Investing in the Workshopper Master has been one of my best decisions career-wise. Not only has it helped me to land this new job; I’m also constantly learning from the community of seasoned workshoppers. It’s a long-term investment!”
We love to see it!
Cecilia’s story serves as a good reminder that these things take time. Far too often, we hear about “instant success”—but in reality, forging a fulfilling career is all about patience, perseverance, and playing the long game.
Cecilia glimpsed the power of workshopping all those years ago, and that never left her. She wasn’t in a position to simply quit her job and start something new, but that hasn’t stopped her from moving closer and closer towards her ultimate goal.
Cecilia, thank you for sharing your extremely relatable and incredibly inspiring story with us ❤️
Workshopper Master teaches you how to design and run any workshop, for any problem, for any team, confidently. Watch our free training to find out how it can transform your career.