I have helped companies get started for about fifteen years now, and I’ve been fortunate enough during that time to work with some of the biggest and most amazing enterprises in the world. One of the experiences that is nearly universal across organizations and even functions and occurs frequently, sometimes even quarterly, is the Kickoff meeting, or KOM.
I first encountered the KOM while working in the head office of an education and training company in Tokyo, Japan. I had been promoted to manage a large territory of foreign employees and part of my job was attending the KOM with my fellow management team members. KOMs were usually 2-3 days in duration and involved management from the entire country flying in to some global location, for hours and hours of meetings, followed by hours and hours of drinking. Each management team would deliver a report and either be lauded or berated loudly and publicly by the president, while we all bowed our heads trying not to look directly at him on pain of something vaguely threatening.
To put the entire KOM in context, we need to make the distinction between a Kickoff Meeting and a Quarterly Business Review (QBR), or the annual customer conference, which is like the QBR just way nicer and peppier. The difference between these meetings can best be described by comparing the ratio of rah rah to, well, blame.
Customer event: high rah rah, zero blame
KOM: lots of rah rah, some blame
QBR: some to no rah rah depending on results; can be a heavy blame quotient (usually a designated star and goat at each one)
KOMs also come in different forms. Sometimes they are called retreats, or team events. Internally, they’re for new quarters or new fiscal years, to keep everyone informed, morale high, teams bonded. In the client service, Ops and IT, they’re also used for new projects or initiatives. There’s a hierarchy; Sales KOMs and Executive KOMs usually vie for top lavishness, depending on how the business is doing at the time.
The Chief Components of a Kickoff Meeting
The structure: team building numbers, product information, executive changes, guest speakers
The location: almost inevitably a luxury hotel
The rules: no technology is an increasingly frequent component of KOMs. Be prepared to leave devices behind for long periods, so you can pay undivided attention to speeches and buffer screens.
The bonding recreational activities: currently popular is axe throwing, always popular is paintball.
The letting loose: the team building is a central part of KOMs and occurs in various forms, from trust exercises to wild bacchanalia. The trust building is actually very effective (if you don’t have a roomful of cynics) and cemented by often (though increasingly less) wild partying completely forgotten by the next morning when everyone shows up on time for a 7 am start.
The outcomes: debatable. However, the point of the KOM is often as simple as forcing people out of their daily routines, and have face-to-face time with colleagues, which can be far more valuable than information retention or group cheers.
The good: bonding with colleagues
The bad: tedious presentations, occasional bullying when results are poor.
Let’s face it, the world of business management is not for the faint of heart. It’s quite something to stand on a stage at a luxury hotel and be yelled at by a very angry man because sales were down last quarter. This happens sometimes in KOMs but is much rarer here. The pressure in Western KOMs is gentler but with more force behind it. In Japan even poor performance meant ongoing employment; not the case here.
- Bring sleeping pills, noise cancellers, and a taser. That’s for yourself, in case the presentations are really boring, because rule #1 of KOM is you must not fall asleep.
- If it’s really tedious, invent games. At one KOM we held a contest to see how many times people could sneak the word “carrot” into their presentation without anyone noticing. (the winner said it 49 times in a room of 200 people)
- Forge relationships. One of the best possible outcomes, and opportunities to develop bonds with senior staff.
- For introverts: we won’t kid you, these can be really hard. Talk to your boss, get as much alone time as possible during breaks and optional events.
- Don’t be the guy who’s always on the phone. Schedule calls outside group events. Absences are only tolerated by deal makers.
And have mandated compulsory corporate fun!
Feature image source: Florian Pircher