How to run a "Kickoff 2014 Meeting"

Posted by Jeff Dwyer

Jan 5, 2014 10:06:00 AM

It's a new year. 2013 is taking a breather off the dance floor and 2014 is raring to go.


Your whole team is back from the holiday season and actually itching to get something done. The next few weeks are probably the most refreshed and open-minded you'll see your co-workers all year! So how should we capitalize on this? A big "2014 Kickoff meeting" right?

Unfortunately, this isn't as easy as it sounds. Since everyone was on break that means they all were thinking on their own. It's likely that everybody has their own train of thought for what you should be doing this year. Which should be great right? Right??

A Real World "Kickoff" meeting

The default plan looks something like this:
  1. The manager schedules a "kickoff meeting".
  2. Everyone spends a bit of time putting together their thoughts on what THEY think is the best plan for 2014.
  3. Everyone gets in a room. The manager lays out their plan for 2014 which they're really excited about.
  4. A powerful personality doesn't listen to that and instead lays out THEIR plan for 2014.
  5. Small scale chaos. Everyone tries to steer the conversation towards THEIR plan.
  6. Introverts and quiet people decide this is hopeless and start checking their email.
  7. The manager tries to get back to his or her plan, frustrated that this was a waste of time.
  8. The excitement of a fresh start to 2014 turns into the glum defeatism of "same old same old".

Here's a better plan.

This meeting needs to be split up into discrete chunks. Football teams don't design new plays while they're in the huddle. The meeting described above was trying to do too many things at once. The manager thought he or she would be getting feedback on their plan. But everyone else wanted needed a time to share their thoughts. So really, the meeting became a wrestling match over what the agenda should be. And there's nothing worse than deciding the meeting agenda during the meeting.

Perhaps you're thinking "but an agenda was sent out beforehand!" The problem with that is that you've really got 10 agendas, one for every person in the room. That's not a criticism, it's great that employees have agendas. It means that they want to do something. The problems is that, particularly in your 2014 kickoff meeting, everyone is particularly invested in telling the group about their plan... so invested that they're not going to collaborate well.

So what are the discrete chunks for a good meeting?

  1. Get all the ideas out there.  This can just be a Google spreadsheet, really quick and dirty.
  2. Do some voting or ranking to figure out what people think is important. 
    Again, some quick and dirty Google spreadsheet work should work here. (Of course ForceRank is a good choice too)
  3. Tally up the votes and send out an agenda based on the rankings. It's important to give people some time to come to grips with the fact that their idea wasn't voted #1.
  4. Now have your meeting and discuss the ideas in that order. Stick to the order the group voted on even if you don't agree.

Why does this work?

There's an enormous difference between sitting in a meeting, waiting to get your idea heard, and sitting in a meeting knowing that you put your idea out there, people didn't rank it highly, and this it's not going to be talked about. In the first instance, you really can't contribute to the discussion because your agenda hasn't been completed. In the latter, you've gotten feedback on your idea and it's clear you'll need to talk to other people 1 on 1 to see why they didn't vote it higher. This is a much more productive place to be.

So do we need to execute on the #1 agenda item?

NO! Ranking and voting is a way to understand the group. It's NOT a way to make a decision. If you're in charge and your whole group votes something highly that you know is not going to be a good decision, THAT'S A GOOD THING. It means that you have a serious communication gap and now is the time to address it. The only alternative is to just plow ahead telling everyone that project B is the most important when they all think project A is more important. And I'm sure you don't want that.

Happy 2014 Everyone!

Plan a 2014 Kickoff Meeting


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ForceRank is a prioritization tool for product managers. It helps people identify priorities, make tradeoffs, compare results and finalize a plan.

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