Why should we hold annual kickoff meetings?
Why hold kickoffs, birthday celebrations, or anniversary celebrations? For that matter, why have any kind of celebration at all?
I have hosted events like annual kickoff meetings to mark special occasions. When it comes to corporate, departmental or team kickoffs, the same arguments always, always, always come up (just from different groups):
- Oh no – Now I have to travel again?
- We can’t afford to take everyone out of the business (really now).
- From the CFO and or the shareholder: This costs too much money!
At one kickoff, I brought almost 200 co-workers from four locations together in one place for two days. That was a lot of work, cost a lot of money, and the management team especially was not completely enthusiastic.
Nevertheless, when it comes to working, the daily grind can become a blur.
What do you do?
You walk into the office, hang up your jacket, check your email. The phone rings, you answer it. Someone asks a question, you answer. And so on and so forth, day after day, month after month, year after year. One day goes into another, and it becomes months and then years.
Back to the question: Why have kickoff meetings?
Let’s talk about what a “kickoff meeting” is.
Companies usually hold kickoff meetings in the first month of the new year. These meetings can last an hour, a day, or as in my recent case, an entire week. Right now, I’m working with a company that is holding a week-long kickoff. Before the pandemic, we did it at the headquarters in the US.
Co-workers from all over the world flew in. THAT is a lot of effort. However, we now do it virtually. Online. THAT takes even more effort.
Why is it worth it? It’s about ending the year well. It’s also about starting the year well.
Let’s talk about the reasons for kickoff meetings.
A kickoff allows the entire organization to come together—virtually or physically. That, in itself, is worth a lot. Then colleagues can be intentional about kicking off the next 12 months.
How did we do this last time?
Well, my colleagues and I looked backward. We listed the successes, then we talked about our mistakes and what we learned from them. Then we looked forward and explained our goals. We talked about where we wanted to go.
No, we didn’t create a slide show; we didn’t want to put our colleagues to sleep.
We worked together and divided people into groups. We always did it that way. People were put together randomly so that they could work with people they didn’t see all year.
Then came the real work.
When I say “real work,” that’s exactly what I mean. We’re not talking about getting the company together and watching a movie or a TV show. Kickoffs are like a hard sprint or running a marathon. It’s not a leisurely stroll on the beach.
For a new year, a kickoff meeting is critical. It pays off for everyone.
So, what does this marathon involve at sprint speed?
Stop the past, start the future—now!
Everyone should have the opportunity to put the past year behind them. This is necessary, not only when the previous year was challenging. It can be also necessary as there will be always one or two people for whom it is was difficult nonetheless. You know the drill. When done correctly, a year in review is essential.
In the group, the good and the bad can be discussed and finalized together. Everyone recaps what happened in the last 12 months. This review rounds off the year. Metaphorically, a season comes to a close as the possibilities of the next season unfold.
A vision of the future is essential.
The kickoff allows you to put the past into perspective, articulating and promoting a 3-5 year vision for the future. You have the opportunity to communicate the business’s vision for the coming year in broad strokes. The team should see that achieving that future is more than just rehashing past accomplishments. You can’t rest on your laurels.
Kickoff meetings are also about getting people into action.
I’ve had outstanding experiences with the World Café format. That’s why we divided co-workers into groups that were as non-homogeneous as possible. We matched the salesperson with the IT person, the marketer with the controller, and so on. It was a lot of fun. You can even do it online.
The co-workers are then given a thematic explanation of the strategic directions, for example, and are allowed to deduce what this means for them in concrete terms.
A World Café like this lasts about four hours. The participants stand or sit around the room at small tables with between four and six people. The tables are equipped with white, writable “paper tablecloths” and pens or markers. The co-workers then use them to write down their ideas, suggestions and plans.
As a manager, I have always used a moderator.
I am also involved in the World Café. Today, I regularly moderate such events.
The moderator’s job is relatively simple: to explain the topic, the process, and the rules of conduct—but also to give a boost, keep the flow going, and provide assistance.
At each table, there are then colleagues who are “hosts.” They ensure that the content of the findings from the various discussion rounds is linked.
Two or three different questions are dealt with in successive discussion rounds of 15 to 30 minutes at all tables.
Groups reshuffle between the different rounds of discussion. Only the hosts remain at one table the entire time; they welcome new guests, briefly summarize the previous conversation, and get the discourse going again.
The World Café concludes with a presentation of the results. In my case, the host does this, but you should make that decision at the beginning of the World Café. Of course, you can do it all online by having shared documents connected to a host and a zoom break-out room.
The wonderful thing with the world café format is that now everyone has thoroughly engaged with the topic.
You can then end the evening with a celebration!
Is there a better way to start a year? If you kick it off like above, I can promise you that the coming year will not be like the last. You’ll see.
One final thought—there’s really no reason to limit your organization’s kickoff meetings to once a year. Quarterly kickoff planning meetings work too. In either case, make sure you plan, conduct, and involve others in the kickoff meetings.
That’s all there is to it.