The holidays are a uniquely exciting, heartwarming time of year. Lots of gifts, tons of time with family, a white Christmas (if you’re lucky) – it’s all pretty magical and memorable.

It’s also an extended celebratory stretch that can end with some pretty serious Sunday scaries. And as a team leader, you can help your team get back into the saddle at work with meaningful new year team meetings. 

Unlike most meetings, your new year team meeting won’t be focused on current projects, tasks, and all that ultra-pressing work stuff. Instead, you’ll help everyone get ready for the big year ahead after a restful, much-needed holiday season. And you’ll do it especially well with the below new year team meeting ideas.

What is a new year team meeting? 

A new year team meeting, also known as a “kickoff meeting,” is an occasion when you and your team start planning for the upcoming year. It’s not quite a typical team meeting – your team likely won’t leave with a mountain of meeting action items. New year team meetings focus more on conversations, brainstorming, critical thinking, and team building.

During your new year team meeting, you and your team will discuss what went well in the last year. You’ll discuss what your team could do better in the new year and, more importantly, how to take these steps. You’ll also carve out some time to motivate your team members and connect them to one another via team-building activities. Honestly, new year team meetings sound like a lot of fun!

Pro tip

Use Fellow to have a collaborative meeting agenda so you and your team can take notes, assign action items, and share feedback.

9 tips to start the new year off right 

Ready to get back to work after the holidays? Even if you’re still mentally in vacation mode, the below new year team meeting ideas can help you and your team get back into the swing of things.

1 Convene everyone to reflect on last year

For an effective new year team meeting, try shaping your meeting agenda around the idea of reflection. Let attendees know in advance that, at the meeting, they’ll be encouraged to join conversations about the ups and downs of the prior year.

Your agenda could include a few broad areas of discussion, such as new collaboration ideas, ways to effectively utilize team resources, or ways to improve team communication. You could carve out time to discuss what did and didn’t go well on each of these fronts last year, and since the item is on the meeting agenda, your attendees can come prepared with some helpful suggestions. Alternatively, your agenda could be super open-ended to encourage a more free-flowing discussion, with sections solely labeled, for example, “What went well” and “What didn’t go well.”

Of course, these topics are bound to generate fruitful, passionate discussion. As a result, your conversations could start to run on for too long if you don’t cap them. To that end, setting time limits on each of your agenda sections is especially important for new year team meetings. You can always come back to these conversations later! But for now, remain respectful of your team’s time.

2 Start with ice breaker questions or team-building exercises

At your new year team meeting, chances are your team is still readjusting to work after some extended holiday cheer. As such, for your team, jumping right into a meeting could feel like hopping into a canoe without a paddle. A relaxing start to the meeting would certainly be much nicer, and you can achieve that easy transition with ice breaker questions or team-building exercises.

For no more than 15 minutes, guide your team through questions and games that dispel nerves and build bonds among your team members. Great team-building games with which to start your meeting include Two Truths and a Lie, Shark Tank, and This Is Better Than That. 

Team-building games typically have rules you’ll need to explain, but if you don’t feel like doing that, ice breaker questions are a great alternative. These questions are typically self-explanatory while inviting open sharing or critical thinking. 

If you’re holding your new year team meeting remotely, then virtual ice breaker questions are especially important. They do a great job of bridging the gap that can accompany your team members working from disparate physical locations.

3 Encourage an open environment

A meeting structured as described above will probably go more smoothly in an open environment. To create this kind of atmosphere, make sure your team feels comfortable. Doing so can mean moving away from your typical conference room to a less formal setting. For virtual meetings, encourage your remote team members to join the video call from somewhere in their home where they feel especially at ease. That doesn’t have to be their desks! 

Whether your new year team meeting is virtual or in-person, you can further stimulate openness with food and drinks. Try buying lunch for the whole team (you can have meals delivered to remote employees) and combining lunch with your meeting. Doing so adds an additional layer of informality that can help team members feel less inclined to hold back their biggest insights. In lower-stakes settings, your team might feel more comfortable saying higher-stakes things.

4 Remain open to suggestions

When you call a new year team meeting, you do so to improve operations based on what your whole team thinks. This means not dictating what will and won’t change. An iron fist of this sort is a surefire route to making employees feel unseen and unheard, thus sapping their motivation, productivity, and future openness with you. No matter how worried you are about negative feedback, you should remain open to suggestions from everyone on your team.

Your meeting agenda and open environment should work in tandem to encourage these suggestions. Avoid a meeting that’s basically a bunch of buttoned-up team members sticking to a restrictive agenda in an unexciting meeting room. Instead, try casual Friday on a Monday, with a loose agenda in a novel setting and a full-on team lunch. Make it almost social. Doing so can help your team loosen up and share what’s really on their minds.

5 Identify key changes to make

It’s one thing to discuss your successes and failures. It’s another thing entirely to assemble an action plan that can help you repeat your successes and make improvements where needed. Your first step in developing your action plan is to identify key opportunities for change.

As an example, let’s say that your team feels that, last year, they waited too long for supervisory approval of project instructions. This delay led your team to feel rushed in the final stages of their projects, leading to work that, though still good, could be better. You can commit yourself to the key change of requiring supervisory approval within eight business hours of instruction drafting. You’ll solve your team’s problem while improving your new year’s work quality.

6 Conduct a SWOT analysis with your team

Chances are that your informal conversations will easily turn up revelations like the example above. But maybe your team is a bit on the shy side or you’ve accidentally fomented an office environment where peer feedback isn’t properly appreciated. In that case, you might need to go a slightly more formal route. That route can be a SWOT analysis.

The abbreviation “SWOT” stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Strengths describe what you and your team think you all did well last year, whereas weaknesses describe (no surprise here) the opposite. Opportunities are new approaches you can take to address your weaknesses or strengthen your strengths (yes, you can improve what’s already going well!). 

Threats are external factors that could introduce new weaknesses. Since they’re external, they can be tougher to plan for. But they’re nowhere close to impossible to anticipate and strategize around. If anything, the easygoing settings of new year team meetings can often encourage the exact sort of critical thinking needed to address your challenges head-on! And to properly organize and move through your new year SWOT analysis, Fellow’s SWOT analysis template is all you need to get started.

7 Renew your expectations and vision

As your new year team conversations come to a close, you’ll have all kinds of new ideas on the table. To start acting on them, you’ll need to establish new expectations for your team and revisit your company’s vision. 

For example, let’s say you all identified your struggles to stay focused during virtual meetings as a weakness. In that case, you could set an expectation that your team turns off all notifications during meetings. If your SWOT analysis identifies a rising industry as a threat, you could expand your vision to include catering to that industry’s likely clientele. With renewed expectations and a refined vision, you’ll all be more prepared to face a new year full of potential surprises.

8 Clearly state your goals for the upcoming year

To meet your expectations and adhere to your vision, you’ll need to set up SMART goals for your team. These goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. They’re the difference between “improve sales” and “increase sales of our lowest-selling product by 10% over the next 12 months through increased email marketing.” Most importantly, they should address all the challenges that your SWOT analysis has surfaced for a new year of success.

9 Reinforce collaboration

At the end of the day, even the most straightforward idea for new year’s success can’t be achieved alone. During your new year team meeting, you should reinforce collaboration as a key path to success. 

Encourage your team members to reach out to one another for help and show them some effective ways to do so. You could suggest sending messages in the company group chat or Slack when certain issues arise. You could also suggest that teams hold short weekly meetings of their own to divvy up and share certain tasks. Anything that your team members can do together, not alone, will drive your work forward.

Questions to ask in new year team meetings

Alongside all the above new year team meeting ideas, your brainstorming session can proceed more meaningfully if you take the time to ask certain questions. You can group these new year’s team questions into three categories:  

1 Positive reflection

Positive reflection questions help identify what went well last year. They can remind your team of major accomplishments while calling attention to smaller moments just as deserving of praise and analysis. Positive reflection questions include:

  • In what area did we fare best last year?
  • What achievement last year are we most proud of?
  • Which of our successes were the most unexpected?
  • What did we achieve that was above and beyond our goals?
  • What awards or recognition did the company or any team members win?
  • What’s our general reputation in our footprint?

2 Negative reflection

Now that you know what positive reflection entails, you can probably guess what’s on the table with negative reflection. Yep – identifying what didn’t go well last year. These questions can help your team frame these mistakes as learning opportunities from which you can all grow. Everything that comes under discussion can serve as great starting points for working toward greater success this year.

Negative reflection questions include:

  • Where did we struggle or drop the ball last year?
  • What were the most frustrating moments?
  • Which mistakes could we have predicted from a mile away?
  • How did we apply what we learned from these errors to avoid similar mistakes?
  • Which goals did we set but not quite achieve last year?
  • Where did each of us fall off a bit in terms of hands-on teamwork and collaboration?

3 New year

Through new year questions, you can combine the positives and negatives into a foundation for the upcoming 365 days. These questions might add a “why?” to the questions above or encourage critical thinking about the future. They include:

  • Why did we win awards or recognition over our competitors?
  • Why did we struggle or succeed in the ways mentioned last year?
  • Why did we fall into traps we saw coming?
  • Were there any components of our goal-setting that set us up, inadvertently, for failure?
  • How can we use the lessons of our success and failures to work differently this year?
  • What threats do we expect this year?
  • What awards or recognition should we strive for this year?
  • How do we motivate ourselves to reach all these goals?

Happy new year!

With all these new year team meeting ideas and questions, a happier, healthier, more successful team is within reach. Your new year team meeting will be even more successful if you use software to help you craft an agenda and stick to it. Fellow provides these pre-meeting tools alongside in-meeting tools that can help you make the most of your conversations. It’s the best way to improve your meetings today, tomorrow, and for the whole year.