The idea of pre-work has existed long before we had a catchy name for it. Think of the list of books your school would give you to read over the summer. While we all had different relationships with summer reading, the idea behind it was right: schools wanted you to be prepared for what lay ahead.
Before you go into a job interview, you (hopefully) research the industry, the organization, and the position to which you’re applying. Why? You want to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into; you want to be speaking the same language as your interviewer.
Facilitators assign pre-work for the same reasons. If you allow your team an opportunity to learn something and respond to that learning before the session, it helps ensure that people arrive prepared and connected to the topic at hand. Put simply, a team that's in the habit of completing pre-work makes the best use of their time together.
Imagine that your session is dedicated to an experience mapping exercise. Your pre-work deliverable could be each person's top 3 learnings from customer research findings. These learnings then get clustered into themes that the facilitator uses to kick off the first section of the meeting:
"Many of you were surprised that our users did not know where to find the link to our Help Center. Let's go through the current steps that customers take to find it. Then, we'll identify areas of opportunity."
There are a few steps facilitators can take to set their teams up for success, whether they’re planning to come together in person or remotely. We recommend including these things in your pre-work:
💡 Purpose for the meeting and intended outcomes
💡 Links to any software/tools they’ll need to download or sign up for in advance
💡 Clear instructions for what they’re supposed to complete
💡 “By when” - do they have up until the minute before the session to do it? Or does it have to be done 24 hours in advance?
💡 Gentle reminders - Every couple of days, remind your team of the importance of your pre-work. Don’t be afraid to thank those by name who have done what they needed to do (to motivate those who haven’t)
Pre-work allows you to hold efficient, collaborative, and personalized sessions with your team. Participants feel they’ve used their time wisely, and that they've learned about or improved a subject or skill that directly impacts their work. As pre-work becomes a part of your culture, teammates will show up ready to dive right in - thus generating trust, confidence, and alignment amongst the team.
Get the full MURAL guide to pre-work, plus a template you can use for your next session here: