We’ve all been there: the kick-off meeting that could’ve been an email and amounted to 60 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back. So now that it’s your turn to run one, you’re determined not to go down the same path.

But where did those kick-off-meetings-gone-wrong actually go wrong? What were their fatal flaws? And how can you make your meeting a good use of everyone’s time?

Fear not. You got this.

Whether you’re working with fellow employees or with an external client, a successful kick-off meeting will get your project off on the right foot. Before you put your agenda together, take a moment to understand five common kick-off meeting mistakes and learn what to do instead.

What is a kick-off meeting, anyway?

A good kick-off meeting will unite your project team with a shared understanding of what you’re doing and why. It’s a time to make decisions about how you’ll work together (e.g., How will we communicate? How often will we meet?), map out a rough timeline, and call out risks.

Kick-off meetings typically happen when a project is through the “envisioning” phase and ready to move into execution mode. It should involve the core project team, and anyone else whose work will be affected by the project.

Mistake #1: Using the time to broadcast information

These types of meetings are a massive waste of time. If all you need is a one-way communication, you’re better off sending an email or a similar virtual collaboration technique. But since you’re going to the trouble of organizing a meeting, why not set an agenda that actually moves the project forward?

For example, use a technique called trade-off sliders to set your team up to make small, every-day decisions autonomously. Brainstorm all the things your project could optimize for (e.g., quality, cost, humor, etc.). Then discuss and agree on their relative importance. Understanding what’s flexible vs. what’s not removes friction and keeps work progressing smoothly.

Tip: Download this kick-off meeting agenda template, then visit the Atlassian Team Playbook where you can find complete instructions for all the activities. It’s free, and available for anyone to use.

Mistake #2: Assuming everyone knows each other

The bigger your company, the more likely you’ll have a few people on your project who are working together for the first time. Even if they know each other by name, they don’t necessarily have the trusting relationship they’ll need to work well together and perform at their best.

Consider including a short icebreaker at the top of your agenda. It can be simple (name, role, and tenure at the company) or silly. Being a mid-Westerner, I like asking people to share their favorite dish to bring to a pot-luck. Here are a few more gems to choose from:

What would the title of your autobiography be?

  • Theme: Summarizing something complex can be hard.
  • Purpose: Highlights that complex ideas have to be boiled down to their essence, and prepares the group to craft a vision statement for the project.

What would your superhero name be?

  • Theme: Naming things is tricky.
  • Purpose: Reminds us that when the scope of a project is so big that it’s hard to pin down a name, we may need to streamline.

What’s your best story of a project gone wrong, and what’s the most important thing you learned?

  • Theme: Failures are learning opportunities.
  • Purpose: Prepares the group to focus on risk identification and mitigation.

Mistake #3: Assuming everyone has a shared understanding of the project

Building a shared understanding as to what you’ll be doing and why is a legitimate goal for a kick-off meeting, but it’ll be more meaningful if done interactively. Instead of flipping through a slide deck, take 10 minutes to craft a vision statement with your team. It’s as easy as filling in the blanks.


Or, get aligned on what’s in scope. Designate an area on a whiteboard as “in scope” and another as “out of scope”. Give everyone a marker and ask them to put tasks (or features, or problems to solve) in each area as they see fit. You’ll immediately see where there’s broad agreement, and where there’s uncertainty. If you can’t resolve discrepancies during the kick-off meeting, be sure to follow up soon afterward so your team has a clear path ahead of them.

Mistake #4: Failing to define success

When your team has a clear, measurable goal to aim for, they’ll naturally gravitate toward decisions and actions that help them reach it. Without clear success measures, however, teams tend to thrash about and are generally less effective.

With your vision statement in mind, ask everyone to write down what they think will demonstrate that the project was a success. Discuss how you could measure each one, and give a finger-in-the-air target for each metric.

Mistake #5: Ignoring how your team feels about the project

Ugh. The dreaded “F” word. (Not that “F” word… I’m talking about “feelings”.)

When people aren’t convinced they’re working on the right things or are frustrated by poor collaboration, they just don’t put their hearts into it. And after all the thought you’ve put into this project, the last thing you need is an apathetic, disengaged team!

Start the kick-off meeting by asking everyone to give a thumbs up, down, or sideways to indicate how they’re feeling about the project. Don’t stress if you get a lot of down and sideways thumbs. That’s totally normal. At the end of the meeting ask the same question. If you’ve put some of the suggestions here on your agenda, there’s a good chance sentiment will be trending positive.

Your kick-off meeting was amazing — now what?

You’ve got a solid plan, a capable team, and a clear mission. Now your job is to keep that momentum alive. Throughout the project, check in on team sentiment regularly so you can uncover problems before they become catastrophes. Take the time to understand what’s behind any thumbs-downs, and do what you can to resolve those issues.

For longer projects and/or teams that are struggling with morale, try a Team Health Monitor workshop. It’s a chance to dig deeper and self-assess against eight attributes common amongst high-performing teams. Teams at Atlassian have been using the Health Monitor framework for years, as have many of our customers. Now it’s your turn.

Also published on the Atlassian Blog.

Avoid these 5 mistakes for an amazing kick-off meeting was originally published in on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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