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Team building advice for kick off meeting leaders

by Laura Casasanto

October 29, 2010

It's day 3 of Projects 2010 and Reporting, Planning, and Analysis 2010 and the sessions are still going strong. I just sat in on a session by Rosemary Lavoie of HCL Axon called "Getting off on the right foot: Proven strategies for planning and executing a successful project kick-off meeting" that left me wanting to go and organize a kick off meeting of my own, and I'm not even a project manager! Rosemary led the highly engaging session (at 8:30 am on the last day of the conference, no less) with such excitement that I can only imagine how interesting the kick off meetings that she's involved in are. 

The session, discussing every topic involved in kick off meetings from planning to content to moral, had a big focus on team building. Almost every aspect she discussed had the theme of team building running through it, emphasizing how the relations within the team can make or break the project. She shared some great tips on building up your project team during the kickoff meeting:

Ice breaking activities: These games can really help bring people together, especially at the start of a new project when many people may not know each other. Learning some simple information about each other (last movie they saw, where they were born, for example) can start off relationships on a friendly foot. Rosemary warned that some icebreakers may not work for your setting, meeting size, or  culture, however. Don't just google icebreakers and use the first one you find, research different ones until you find one that will work best for your group and will drive further conversation among the team members.

Include input from everyon e involved: The team needs to feel like they're an integral part of the project to grow a vested in terest in its success. Invite everyone who will be involved in the project to the kickoff meeting, not just IT people or business people, but those from both sides, c-level management that can drive home the importance of the project, and superusers that can give practical advice. And once they're all there, hear from every area. Rosemary advised against gathering input just to let them feel involved, however. Don't ask them what should be included in a checklist if you've already made one up that you're planning on using without their additions.

Beware of negative Nancys: If someone in your meeting is vocal about their dislike of the SAP system or their lack of faith in the success in the process, shut them down when they are making constant negative comments without constructive suggestions or a desire for specific improvements. Rosemary suggested using lines like "Interesting point, maybe we can talk one on one about that afterward" or "We've got a lot to cover so we've really got to stick to to the agenda" to steer away from the disruption. When that hasn't worked, has called a quick break to talk to the person's manager to resolve the issue.

The session offered so much great info for running a kickoff meeting that I can't do it justice in this short blog post. If you ever get a chance to hear Rosemary speak on the topic, I'd highly recommend it. Your meetings will benefit greatly!

-Laura, Project Expert

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