Kick Start Part 2

Setting up a Kick Start

Objective: To set up a Kick Start event by engaging both your sponsor and team and then show you tips and techniques that will give you all the confidence you need to facilitate your own session.


Sponsorship is everything in organisations and is central to the Kick Start approach.  Sponsors come in all shapes and sizes, some of them are a little more useful than others.  If you get the choice, (and you might not be so lucky) there are a number of types of sponsor who you might just want to avoid.

The executive sponsor

This is a person who has a very senior role in the organisation, maybe the chief executive or a board member.  Whilst it is a real ego boost to get sponsorship from somebody so senior it can be a mixed blessing.  It is highly probable that they won’t have the time to help you that you need.

The “I want a promotion” sponsor

Just because somebody sees your project as important and thinks it would be good for their career to sponsor it, doesn’t mean they are in a position to break down walls and solve problems for you.  You do need real organisational clout, not somebody who has bitten off rather more than they can chew.

The never there sponsor

Some sponsors really do want to help you, unfortunately they are never around as they busily jet off around the world. Whilst it is great that they return your e-mails and they are prepared to have a call at 8:30 at night, sometimes you really do need somebody you can sit down and chat with, face to face.

The maverick sponsor

Some sponsors try to push through everything under the radar, cut corners and avoid business policies and procedures like the plague.  On occasion it is invaluable to have a sponsor who will run rough shod over “the system” to get you what you need, but most of the time a Maverick sponsor is a liability, you are never entirely sure when it is all going to come crashing down around your ears.

The best sponsor

If you want to succeed, ensuring that you have a sponsor who really wants to improve the service you offer is a real bonus.  If you can’t find one who really wants to improve performance than you must at least have one who is inquisitive enough to be prepared to invest an afternoon of their time in the event.

All of this begs the question, what does a good sponsor look like?  Ideally you need somebody who is:

  • Prepared to make decisions on where projects should go
  • Has clout, knows his way around the organisation and commands respect within it
  • Can help you get the resources you need to implement the projects you want.
  • Will manage other stakeholders in the organisation and remove road blocks that get in the way of progress

That all sounds very well, but the reality is probably not so positive, what is the minimum you can get away with?

  • You need a boss who is prepared to give you 3 hours at the next team meeting to let you run a service improvement event.
  • Your boss (now the defacto sponsor) needs to be prepared to listen to what he is told during the event and make some decisions of the back of it.

This bit, the decision making bit, can be a little frightening for some people who are in command, they are used to having their requests acted upon, and they are not strong at realising that some of the things that happen are not as clever as they thought.  They may have to admit this to their teams and their bosses; it is a threatening place to be.

This can be even harder if the sponsor has run the department or business for the past twenty years and is responsible for the way things currently work.  By its very nature any improvement activity is going to point out those things that could be better.  You need a sponsor who is strong enough to take the feedback that is given to them and act upon it.

Be your own sponsor

A final thought, if you can’t find a sponsor who wants to help, and you are responsible for a team, there is nothing stopping you from being your own sponsor and working through a session with your own team.  The whole point of a Kick Start is to make a start, and your own team is as good a place as any.

Action steps:

  1. Identify who your sponsor is.
  2. Set up a one to one conversation for half an hour to discuss if running a Kick Start event would be useful.  (You can download a sponsor briefing sheet from the web site) Important note.  At the risk of teaching you to suck eggs, the point is to discuss the event and see what the sponsor wants, not just fire off the briefing note as an attachment to an e-mail
  3. Gain agreement for the event to be held plus, more critically, attendance of your sponsor to reinforce that he is serious about it
  4. Remember, it is highly unlikely you will find the perfect sponsor, you have to work with what you have, the beauty of a kick start is that it will engage your sponsor as much as your team.


For the event to work well a minimum of 15 attendees are required, if there are less than this the process game becomes a little academic.  Depending on your level of comfort and facilitation experience a single individual can facilitate a Kick Start for up to approximately 100 attendees.  More than this will require additional facilitators. Who should attend is really dependent upon your organisation and the availability of people.  It is possible (and worthwhile) to do a session with people from one department, but you will get more out of it if you can widen your net. To give a nice simple example, imagine you are in charge of a busy pizza delivery store, you could choose to run the session solely with the guys who run the ovens for you.  That would be good, they will tell you some interesting things, but it would be better to include the people who take the orders, make the pizzas and deliver them once they are cooked.  Best of all would be to include some real customers and also the supplier of your ingredients, it really depends on how adventurous you are feeling about it.  If you can invite people from all along the activity chain you will get most out of it. If this is your first attempt at a session I would recommend that you just start with a small team of 15 people or so, so you can run a “pilot” and see how it goes.  You won’t get the full impact but you will feel sure that you can run a session in anger. The only must-haves are first, to make sure you have people who actually do the work as they know what goes on.  Secondly you will need to include your sponsor as at the end of the session some requests will be made to start work on projects.  It can be a really damp squib if you get everybody energised and wanting to take things forward, only to find that they have to wait 6 weeks before they can present at the next supervisory meeting.

Action steps:

  1. Decide who you want to invite to the session
  2. At the risk of stating the painfully obvious, invite them
  3. If you wish, you can use the downloadable participant participant briefing sheet and hold a 25-minute session before the event.


To run a session you will need the following facilities:

  • A room large enough to seat everybody very comfortably in with the ability to move furniture around. The bit about being able to move furniture is important, a lecture theatre with fixed seating won’t work
  • For every 10 to 15 people (or natural team group) a flip chart, stand and pens
  • A projector for a PowerPoint presentation (handouts can be used instead)
  • One stop watch for every 10 to15 people
  • One balloon for every 15 people, plus a handful of spares
  • A large (A0 size) copy of your top level business process diagram (I’ll explain this later) and a suitable wall or board to stick it on.
  • Box of sweets
  • Tea and biscuits, just to keep your audience sweet

Action steps:

  1. Book the appropriate facilities

Facilitation tips

When you are running a Kick Start event half of the battle is understanding how to facilitate a debate amongst a group of people, knowing how to steer the conversation in a sensible direction without running rough shod over people’s ideas and emotions, giving people the opportunity to say their piece whilst at the same time closing them down when appropriate.  Your job is to actively chair the debate. This isn’t a facilitation skills training package (and you may well be very competent in facilitation skills anyway) but if you are not or feel uncomfortable here are our top ten (well eleven) tips for you:

1. Practice makes perfect

For your first attempt at a Kick Start I strongly (very strongly) recommend that you have a small scale run through before the main event.  The method works of the shelf, but because you won’t have experienced it first-hand you will feel a little exposed and nervous. By running through it once in a safe environment you will be completely familiar with the material, know exactly what happens next, not fumble through your notes and feel far more confident.

2. Get some help

Many organisations have a human resources or training department that have experience of running training events and will be able to buddy up with you.  In the absence of that sort of help ask your colleagues what experience they have; nine times out of ten somebody will be able to help you if you want it.

3. It doesn’t have to be perfect

The whole point of a Kick Start is to make a start, to get people up and running with continuous improvement.  So success looks like achieving that aim.  If you stumble a bit it really doesn’t matter, so long as you get a handful of improvement projects at the end of the session

4. The audience is your friend

Occasionally you will be blindsided, somebody in the group will give you a hard time, make you feel uncomfortable, be disruptive and generally point out the inadequacies of your approach.  In these instances it is all too easy to fell pressurised and start to get into a verbal fight.  The solution is simple; just ask the question “what does everybody else think?” If the disruptive person is being awkward and unhelpful the audience will let him know.  (And if it is you who is the problem, you will find that out soon enough).  Either way it takes the steam out of the situation.  Remember you don’t have to have all the answers; you just need to keep the conversation moving. Disruptive people come in all shapes and sizes and behave in all manner of ways.  There is a pdf you can download here which gives further information.

Keep Your Mouth Shut5. Remember who should be talking

The aim is to get your audience talking, to get their views, opinions and ideas out in the open.  Try to avoid closed yes / no questions as you will get closed yes / no answers, which is kind of exactly what you don’t want.  It is far better to ask open questions, who, what, where, when, how and why. Keep your eye on the group; if people are being quiet involve them.  In large groups it is difficult to bring in everybody, but if there are pockets or teams who aren’t expressing their opinions it is really important to ask them their opinions and engage them in the debate. Finally remember that your opinions (even if you have strong ones) aren’t what you want to hear.  You already know what they are; the aim is to get other people’s views.  If you want to contribute to a session ask somebody else to facilitate it for you.

6. Clarity is king

Avoid using generalisations and make sure that the people who are contributing to your session are as specific as possible.  Generalisations are open to misinterpretation and hence disagreement.  If people are being vague or using stereotypes ask questions like “who specifically?” or “what specifically?” so that you can be clear.  It is also a great idea to paraphrase discussions so that you can really get to the nub of the issue and make sure that everybody understands the point.

7. Challenge but don’t lead

If the conversation starts to dry up, ask some challenging questions to get people to open up and think a bit more broadly.  Good questions are things like “what could get in the way?” or “what is the most positive outcome?” Leading questions aren’t so helpful; “have you considered A.B.C?” can easily be construed as “you should consider A.B.C.”  As I said your job is to get thoughts out in the open, not to give everybody the benefit of yours.

8. Re-frame the issues

One of the key skills of a good facilitator is the ability to reframe issues, to rephrase statements so that it improves peoples understanding or highlights disagreements.  If you do this well you can help people reach different conclusions or see the problem in a different way. So a simple example would be if somebody makes a closed statement like “We don’t have enough people to deal with all these complaints” you can paraphrase the issue (to accept it exists) and then reframe it by saying something like “so I see the volume of complaints is more than you can cope with, why are they so high?  What is causing them?” It’s not rocket science; it is just pushing the conversation forward.

9. Summarise

From time to time the group will get caught in a circular debate, summarising is a really good way to draw issues to a conclusion.  You can also use it as a tactic to make the point that time is marching on.  “So we have covered A, B and C and the actions are X, Y and Z.  Is it time to move onto the next point?” Be careful not to get too focused on the process and timing rather than the outcome.  If you do you will find yourself directing and not facilitating.  Give the group options about how they spend their time.

10. Write things down

It is easy for the group to get distracted and chase down rabbit holes.  If that happens the best thing to do is recognise the issue, write it down on a flip chart entitled “Issues” or “Parking Lot” and then come back to it later. In the same vein it is really worth writing down agreed issues and actions.  It will be invaluable later on when the session is written up, but also acts as the group memory and will help to keep sessions focused and moving.

11. If you can move it an inch you can move it a mile

If you can facilitate a group of 15 you can facilitate a group of 100. The only difference is that if you have a group of 100 it is sensible to break them into smaller groups during exercises and then let them do the work. That way you can walk from one group to another just to check that they are doing OK. Other than that the same rules apply. It is just a question of confidence.

And finally

Relax; this isn’t an inquisition, just a conversation about what the problems are and how they could be addressed.  It is as easy as falling off a log.

Action steps:

  1. Read through and listen to all of the material
  2. Set up a practice session with 10 to 15 people
  3. Chat through your approach with other facilitators
  4. Find somebody to co-facilitate the session with you

How to draw a business process diagram

For stage two of the event you will need a business process diagram.  The aim of the diagram is simply to show people what you actually do on a daily basis, how your department or business is structured and works.  One of the problems that service industries have is that what they do is intangible, if you can make it clear what happens you are half way to fixing any issues. Many organisations have these diagrams already; however, if you don’t there is a pdf which you can download here that will explain what one is and how to draw one.

Action steps:

  1. Find or create a business process diagram
  2. If you have created one from scratch agree it with your sponsor (they will need to  talk it through on the day)
  3. Print out a large copy of it (A0 size) that will be used in the event

You are all set

That’s it, there is nothing else to worry about, no more preparation, you are ready to go, just one final thing: One of the biggest and simplest ways you can improve service, just about anywhere is to make sure that everybody knows what it is they are expected to do, in clear, no nonsense language.  Think of yourself as a great chef.  If you want all your staff to be great as well the one thing they must have is a recipe, or to put it more mundanely a check list. With that thought in mind, there is a pdf checklist here with all your action steps written down, so you can tick your way through them.