This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

So you’ve won the job. The celebrations are over; the contracts are being drawn up. Now it’s time to actually begin the work. After the high tension and adrenaline of the process leading up to now, it’s tempting to take a deep breath and take it easy. And while it’s true that you are probably more effective if you relax, it’s not true that you can just kick back.

Today’s tip focuses on the three most common pitfalls of the kickoff stage—in other words, when a group of people is newly forming to get stuff done:

  1. Putting tasks before relationships. It’s tempting to jump right into tasks. We all love to achieve, and we naturally feel pressure to prove our worth through tangible results. Unfortunately, that’s a good way to ask for trouble—immediate and/or downstream. Why? Because people have to connect with others on some personal level to build trust. A sense of safety is just as important as a sense of accomplishment. If you can’t stand the idea of “connection before content,” then at least do it simultaneously.
  2. Putting the present before the past. Getting to know each other includes learning about roles, jobs, interests, hobbies, routines, preferences, and history. An industrial psychologist once taught my co-author, Charlie Green, the importance of asking questions like, “Where did you grow up?” “How did you get to where you’ve gotten?” “What hurdles have you overcome?” “What did you learn along the way?” This is how we get to know someone’s personal story. The answers give you a dimensionally greater understanding of others’ motivations. They give you context for knowing what they mean by various words and behaviors. And having told you their stories, people feel that you understand them more deeply (and you do).
  3. Putting the plan before the culture. Every organization has a set of rules governing behavior. Some of those rules are written, many are informally understood, and in either case they are real. Because the rules are often not explicit, it’s easy for outsiders to violate them without realizing it. A candid conversation about “how things work around here” is as important as “who’s doing what by when.”

This tip is an excerpt from Chapter 20 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

Make It Real

This week, reflect on the last two times you were involved in some kind of kickoff—for a project or a task—when new team members were coming together. How’d you do in terms of avoiding each of the three pitfalls?

Learn More


Review why intimacy is relevant at work, or read a story of a kickoff meeting gone awry (my fault) in Chapter 20 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).