The countdown to the New Year is upon us. And as we get ready for the ball to drop in Times Square, many of us are also doing our best not to drop the ball on planning efforts for the year ahead.
For most teams and companies, December and January are the biggest strategic months of the year. You’re probably writing your individual OKRs, creating a quarterly plan for your team, or setting the company’s focus areas right about now. Maybe deep reflection is already a part of your process here—if not, it should be.
Pausing to reflect is one of the most powerful ways your team can gear up for the year ahead.
According to research, taking the time to learn from past experiences helps us make better decisions and augment future outcomes—so much so that reflecting is actually more powerful than doing in terms of setting your team up for success in the new year.
In this post, we’ll walk through ways to build reflection into your team’s yearly planning rituals to help you drive results, come together as a team, and create a plan for the year ahead that everyone’s fired up about.
What inputs inform your team’s planning processes today?
Many teams are accustomed to using metrics and KPIs to shape the process—and while that approach isn’t wrong, it’s only looking at one piece of the puzzle. Strategic planning should take into account harder to measure inputs too—like how people feel, what gives them energy, and where they feel most connected to the work. These key emotional indicators (KEIs) let you see how your team is doing and are linked to improved outcomes. According to research, positive emotions are consistently associated with higher performance and quality of work.
Reflection is key to understanding and unpacking these KEIs during strategic planning. When we take the time to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t, we start to recognize patterns in the way things work and gain a powerful understanding that helps us make better decisions—and better plans.
So how does reflection work anyway? To inform your plan for the year, you’ll want to do more than just look back at what happened.
The most powerful reflections consist of two parts:
The questions you pose during the reflection process should map to this formula too. With an initial question that jogs the team’s memory and recall, and follow-ups that go deeper to build understanding.
Here's a quick example:
Looking back: Name 3 highlights from the year and 3 lowlights.
Connect the dots: Do you notice any themes across these experiences? What factors helped you feel successful and what held you back?
This type of reflection helps highlight strengths and areas from growth and improvement, which in turn, can inform a more effective plan. It’ll help you and your team brainstorm new ideas and achieve your potential together in the new year.
Using the reflection formula outlined above, the following section is meant to help you plan and run a successful (and fun) planning meeting to kick off the year.
1. Get everyone involved. Successful reflection and planning should involve the whole team, so ensure your format and schedule allow everyone to participate, whether they’re remote or in the office. Assign a facilitator ahead of time who’s well-equipped to make the session feel engaging and inclusive for all.
2. Decide on your format. Some specifics to consider…
3. Decide on your topics or areas of focus. The possibilities for reflection are pretty much endless, so you’ll want to go in knowing a few key topics you want to cover together. Consider the feedback you’ve collected from the team throughout the year and use your own observations too. Have you heard frustration with the way meetings are run? Did the project prioritization process feel unnecessarily stressful? Another good trick is to think about the areas your team spent the most time and energy on in the last year—your team will be able to easily reflect on them and they’re likely full of opportunities to improve.
4. Choose a few key prompts for each. Good reflection prompts help people look back on what’s happened and understand why things happened the way they did. They can help surface themes and areas for growth, and are a powerful way to get everyone thinking about how to apply learnings to future projects. We put together 150+, across a number of different themes and focus areas, to help you get started.
5. Share your agenda and prep materials. Give people a chance to think through the topics they’ll be reflecting on and consider doing self reflections beforehand too — this can be a great way for individuals to take a deep look at their own personal strengths and areas for growth, and then better understand how those impact team dynamics during the group reflection too.
Icebreaker: Start by going around the room to give everyone a chance to share in a quick icebreaker question. Studies show that when teammates speak at the beginning of a meeting, they’re more likely to stay engaged throughout. Here are a few ideas:
Tip: Looking for an easy way to answer icebreaker questions at the beginning of your next meeting (without the awkward pauses?) Try our new and improved Icebreaker generator. Just add participants, choose a topic category, and use our Spinner tool to choose who speaks next.
Topic reflection: Here’s where you’ll dig into the focus areas you landed on above.
Review of plans and commitments: Once you’ve gone through each topic, take a look at all the plans you’ve committed to for each and pose the following questions to the group.
Assign owners: To help with accountability, ensure each next step in your plan has one clear owner who will be responsible for driving that effort forward and reporting back to the group.
Align on a cadence for checking back in: This might happen synchronously (holding a follow-up meeting at the end of each quarter), asynchronously (owners send out monthly updates), or some combination of both.
Closing round: Here are a few ideas…
The best plans stem from reflection — both on work and on how you're doing. With this in mind, we put together an ebook of 150+ reflection questions to help individuals, teams, and leaders plan for the year ahead and work even better together.