With Christmas ads and decorations coming out before Halloween, the world is telling you the New Year is around the corner! NOW is the time to start thinking about your annual kick-off meeting to energize and focus your team for 2022. A little thought and planning before the end of this year can make a tangible impact on your team for next year and help make sure you don’t find yourself in a squeeze during the holidays.
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. Some are in-person, some virtual, and some are even hybrid. 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 2021. 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 (https://www.glintinc.com/blog/why-belonging-is-important-at-work-employee-engagement-and-diversity/). 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.
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.