Prepare for your 2021 kick-off NOW!

Time is running out!

NOW is the time to start thinking about your annual kick-off meeting to energize and focus your team for 2021. Many people are still just trying to get through 2020, the year of a global pandemic and murder hornets. However, a little thought and planning before the end of the year can make a tangible impact on your team for next year.

What should you do for your annual kick-off?

Kick-off meetings typically happen in the first month or so of the new year. They can last a few hours or span several days. You can choose in-person, virtual or go with a hybrid approach. They can be tops-down or very interactive. Regardless of HOW the session happens, there are a few key items to include.

Reflect on the previous year to help you learn and let go

A retrospective allows you to take time to celebrate accomplishments and acknowledge challenges. This can include reviews of financial performance, recognizing employee or team successes or panel discussions with customers. Consider your progress in context of your multi-year strategy (you have one, right?). Talk about the things to do more as well as the things to do less. Then close the book on 2020. The past is written, so most of the kick-off is about where you go from here.

Build employee excitement and inspiration through your organization’s vision/mission

An inspiring “why” or “North Star” is a great asset to attract and retain employees, next to customers and investors. If you already have one, great! Use this chance to get people excited about your direction and why they should work with you rather than someone else. If you do NOT have one, use this as an opportunity to co-create one with your team!

Establish clear, tangible next steps for each participant

Use the kick-off to make sure people see how their daily work connects to the vision and strategy. Consider a cascade of organizational goals, personal objectives and key results (OKR), or breakout sessions to define activities and owners. Each person leaves with clear personal commitments to contribute to the strategy. Be sure to agree how they will hold each other accountable to get it done.

Connect as a team and have some fun!

According to Glint, employees who feel a strong sense of belonging at work are over six times as likely to do their best work. Connection to the vision and daily work are part of this, as is feeling part of a team. Use the kick-off to build and reinforce personal connections. One way to do this is to incorporate team building. This can range from simple icebreaker activities to virtual scavenger hunts and escape rooms.

So what do you need to DO NOW?

Developing the agenda and content takes time and logistic arrangements must be done well in advance. Between chasing end-of-the-year business objectives, holidays, and on-going pandemic disruptions the time will go very quickly. Here are a few key items to start working on well before you start eating that Thanksgiving dinner.

Decide on timing and location

Setting a date early ensures people can plan appropriately. Check with participants about availability and send out a “save-the-date” announcement as soon as you can. If in person, book venues/hotels at least 60 days in advance, even earlier if you have a specific destination in mind. Consider health precautions, travel costs, proximity to offices/customers, and where people will enjoy going. If virtual, ensure technical infrastructure is in place for presenters and participants. Next to conferencing tools like Zoom, you may need to add tools like Mural or Microsoft Teams to help make sessions interactive.

Define key objectives, potential sessions, and owners

Based on your objectives and the four topics above, what do you want to accomplish? Think about the elements you can use to accomplish that, and who owns those elements. This can take the shape of an outline showing larger blocks of time which will later be refined into a detailed agenda. Be sure the objectives you set fit within the time you have scheduled. Better to select fewer items and do them very well. Focus on items where you can leverage the benefit of people being together at the same time.

Consider engaging an outside facilitator to help plan and manage your kick-off

An expert can bring in external best practices and a fresh perspective to the design of your session. During the session they play a key role as an unbiased facilitator. This allows you to focus on being a participant rather than trying to run the meeting. Some facilitators also offer targeted content or modules that can supplement your agenda, based on your objectives. If you decide to go this route, bring them in sooner rather than later. The earlier you bring someone like this into your planning the quicker they can help take some of the load off your shoulders! It also makes sure you have a chance to grab the best facilitators before their schedules are filled during this busy time.

What are you planning to do to kick-off 2021?

It could be a one-hour conference call, a day of Zoom discussions, or a multi-day in-person event (following health guidelines). No matter which approach you use, NOW is the time to start working on it. What are your plans for kicking off 2021?

#annualkickoff #teambuilding #highperformingteam #teameffectiveness #facilitation

Let’s deal with it: constructive conflict

Two kids fight over a teddy bear

Whether it is children fighting over a toy or adults in political debate, you can find conflict around every corner. In business, I have seen strife between two co-workers on a manufacturing floor as well as a collision between executive vice-presidents in a board room. The situations and personalities vary yet the fundamental basis for conflict is the same – it is based on differences.

Simply being different does not necessarily create an issue. In fact, we know that having diverse leadership teams can provide tangible benefits. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies affirmed that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean.

Then what kind of differences cause conflict? Actually, conflict is triggered when differences in needs, values and motives come into play. Something core to ‘who you are’ or ‘what you need’ feels in jeopardy. Intense emotions can follow, from fear or apprehension to anger and even hatred.

One way to get through conflict constructively starts with understanding what is truly coming into contention. Here are some questions that can help with that:

  • “What’s your real need here?”
  • “What interests need to be served in this situation?”
  • “What values are important to you here?”
  • “What’s the outcome or result you want?”
  • “Why does that seem to be the best solution to you?”

By gaining clarity on the conflict we open the door for cooperation. Those involved can then attack the real problems rather than the people. Going for a win-win approach where the needs and values of both parties is clear then sets the stage for constructive conflict for mutual gain. While resolving conflicts take time and energy, you can come away with an outcome where both people benefit!

The questions above are from the Conflict Resolution Network. They have many free resources you can access including additional skills like the one above. If you need further help, Escape to Expand offers team workshop modules that provide practical approaches to managing constructive conflict within your teams.

Do you have an example where you were able to come to a win-win situation from what seemed to be a divisive struggle?

Doing what ONLY WE can do!

Sometimes you volunteer but many times it just happens…you end up on a team! Only we don’t always know exactly where to focus.

Even if the sponsor is clear about the desired outcome, it is NOT always clear how the people on the team can make the biggest impact. Each person may even be a “high-performer” yet putting them in a room (or Zoom) together does not automatically make a high performing team.

Doing what only we can do!

One concept to help is “doing what ONLY WE can do”. It begins with the members identifying what things they can do to add value as a team. Explore where the combined strengths of the team members come together. For example, what can they do together no other individual or group can. Sort the list so those requiring more team collaboration are at the top versus those centered on individual effort.

After that, further prioritize the list by thinking about how each item in the list impacts the company. It could be higher revenues, better sustainability, increased employee morale or other benefit. You don’t need a full ROI calculation but think in terms of orders of magnitude. What will bring the most benefits to the company as a whole?

The items where people add more value together AND deliver bigger impact to the company are the right ones to focus for the team. This helps clarify where collaboration brings the most value – doing what ONLY WE can do! 

Is there a path to build a high performing team?

A dysfunctional team

“Can someone tell me why we are working on this project?”

“It annoys me how they always interrupt and talk over everyone else...

“Our meetings always run over yet we don’t seem to get anything done!”

Do any of these sound familiar?

If you have worked on a team, chances are you have heard something like this…or worse! It is no one’s fault and everyone’s fault at the same time.

It doesn’t matter if you are working on the shop floor or sitting around the executive conference table. Confusion and dysfunction can be present in any level of your organization, including your executive leadership team.

How do you break through this and become a high performing team? It takes work. And it helps to start with some fun as well!

At Escape to Expand, we suggest you kick-off with an escape room experience. This is a fun team building event that also begins to reveal how the group is working together. From here, an expert consultant leads your team through a repeatable process based on years of practical experience. The facilitated sessions give your team clarity of purpose, tools to manage conflict, and ways to effectively execute on their plans.

These time-tested approaches and tools help you escape the confusion and expand your horizons!