Creating All-Hands Meetings That Make An Impact

Most all-hands meetings resemble university lecture halls. The ones that make an impact are far more collaborative.

by RC Victorino May 7, 2020

All-hands meetings are great for energizing your team and building camaraderie.

Most all-hands meetings, however, don’t live up to their potential. They waste valuable time. Attendees leave feeling resentful, not excited.

There are several reasons why all-hands meetings don’t live up to the hype, including:

  • Frequency. The more frequent your meetings, the harder it can be to make them impactful.
  • Format. Often times, all-hands meetings come across like lectures. One person speaks, the room listens.
  • Preparation. All-hands meetings are arguably your company’s most important meeting. Yet many companies don’t commit the time and energy these meetings deserve.

Below we outline the factors to consider when creating a productive all-hands meeting.

What is an all-hands meeting?

All-hands meetings (also known as town hall meetings) are when a whole company comes together to discuss important matters.

Sometimes, specific departments (like the marketing team) will have their own all-hands meetings. Most commonly, however, the entire organization comes together to discuss business strategies and company goals.

Why you need an all-hands meeting

It’s easy for everyone to get stuck in their day-to-day routines. All-hands meetings help your team zoom out and focus on the bigger picture — your company mission. These meetings are also a great opportunity for team building, and to celebrate the hard work your team has showcased.

Plus, these meetings are likely the only time your entire company or department can gather at one time. This is particularly true if you have a remote team dispersed across time zones.

When should you start holding all-hands meetings?

Most early-stage startups don’t see a need for all-hands meetings. Informal communication (through Slack, at each other’s desks, etc.) suits them just fine. But inevitably that changes.

For example, as your company grows, you’ll start hiring people to fill roles that once didn’t exist. You’ll hire managers that create a layer between senior leaders and direct reports. These new roles and added layers can create information silos. All-hands meetings aim to prevent these silos from ever forming.

The following are signs that your company is ready for all-hands meetings:

  • Your team has grown beyond 12-15 people (or can no longer fit in a conference room together).
  • You have teams or departments with more than one person in them.
  • You’ve built a middle-management layer.
  • You’ve hired remote employees (all-hands meetings help them feel connected to your team and mission).

How often should you hold all-hands meetings?

You can hold all-hands meetings whenever you want. Most companies meet quarterly, monthly, biweekly, or weekly.

Your company culture will dictate the frequency of your meetings. If your workplace values togetherness, consider holding meetings on a regular basis. If, however, your team has a more heads-down approach to work, less frequent all-hands meetings are likely a better fit.

Is your team distributed? If so, more frequent meetings can keep your team connected regardless of distance.

“Hold at least one all-hands meeting every quarter and, to underscore the startup’s team concept, make sure at least one additional executive joins you in leading the meeting.” — Scott Weiss, Andreeson Horowitz

Presentation: How to incite excitement

When Justin Kan (co-founder of Atrium, Justin.tv, and Twitch) first ran all-hands meetings at Atrium, he admits they fell short of his expectations. The feedback he got from his team was that he didn’t look excited to be there.

“This not only affected the productivity of those meetings but the company’s overall engagement (or lack thereof),” Kan writes. “I found that in order to set the right tone I needed to pump myself up.”

How you pump yourself up is entirely up to you. Kan would exercise just before his presentation. That, of course, isn’t the right approach for everyone. What’s important is to be mindful of your presentation. Do you exude enthusiasm? If so, that enthusiasm will transfer to your team.

Of course, the presentation alone isn’t enough to create a productive all-hands meeting. Preparation is crucial.

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Preparation: Creating your all-hands meeting agenda

A compelling all-hands meeting agenda is broken down into three sections:

I. Community

II. Business

III. Live Q&A session with the leadership team

I. Community

Aim to spend 10-15% of your total meeting time on this portion.

1. Unstructured time

You’ll likely cover a lot of material during your meeting — so keeping to a tight schedule is crucial. Regardless, kick off your meeting with a chunk of unstructured time. For example, you could share a funny anecdote.

This unstructured time establishes the tone for the rest of the meeting.

Etsy kicks off their all-hands meetings with what they call an opening act. Members of the team perform standup, play the saxophone, and show off any number of outside-work talents they have.

“You’re allowing a vulnerable exchange among employees,” says Elise Pereira, Former Senior Manager of Etsy’s Internal Communications. “It creates this open and connected space.”

2. New hires

Introduce all new hires and, if possible, have them introduce themselves and share a personal fun fact. An important part of an all-hands meeting is your company culture — recognizing your new hires is a big part of this.

3. Milestones

Celebrate important milestones like work anniversaries and birthdays of the month. This helps your employees feel respected.

4. Shoutouts

Acknowledge the actions and achievements of specific team members. An effective way to do this is to call people out based on how they have represented one of your team’s values.

For example, at Slab, we have six core values. During one of our all-hands meetings, our CEO could acknowledge a team member whose work over the last quarter demonstrated our mission to stay lean.

If your company is large enough, have each department manager acknowledge someone on their team.

II. Business

You’ll invest the most significant chunk of your meeting time (55-65% of it) to business strategies and operations. This is often when all-hands meetings go awry. Team members lose focus and energy because they feel like the presenters are talking at them.

But this is the most pivotal part of your entire meeting! This is when you align your team on your company mission and priorities. You need your team to keep the energy level (and interest) high.

You can do this by making your meeting interactive.

Below we cover the topics to discuss during the business segment of your meeting — and how you can involve your meeting attendees along the way.

Company purpose

You never want your team to lose sight of the bigger picture. All-hands meetings allow you to realign your team on your company purpose.

But rather than create a slide deck for this (that you read from), consider one of the following:

  1. Ask one of your teams to present how they’ve worked through a difficult problem together.
  2. Invite customers to present how your company has made life better for them. If this isn’t realistic, compile testimonials and use-case stories of your most recent customers.
  3. Invite an investor to discuss why he or she chose to invest in the company.

These examples create a more compelling visualization of your company’s purpose and impact — far better than a lecture-based Powerpoint could ever hope to accomplish.

The numbers

Here’s where you share updates to your key metrics and reinforce your high-level strategy.

But numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. So, invite team members to present how an initiative they’ve worked on directly correlates to your key metrics and strategy.

For example, one of your goals may be to increase NPS scores. Your lifecycle team can present the changes they’ve made to your client-survey process, and how these changes positively impacted NPS scores.

III. Live Q&A

Dedicate the remaining time to a Q&A (this should be roughly 20-25% of your total meeting).

Here are some things to consider to ensure your Q&A session is all-inclusive and effective:

  1. Allow your team to submit questions anonymously if they want (Google Forms works well for this). Some people are uncomfortable speaking in public.
  2. Involve your remote and offsite teams. It’s easy to answer only the questions posed by people in the room with you. But answer questions from your distributed teams as well. Video conferencing tools like Zoom allow attendees to virtually raise their hands and post their questions via chat.
  3. Use Slack for follow-ups and questions left unanswered. If your team is large enough, it’s possible you won’t get to every question. Or, attendees might not think of a question until later on. Create a dedicated Slack channel, so your team can ask questions after your meeting.

The logistics

You have your agenda set. You've found a way to exude enthusiasm during your presentation. There are still a few logistical matters to take care of to ensure your all-hands meeting is a success:

Presentation

It’s common to have one presenter throughout the meeting. But switching up your speakers can keep things more engaging. Invite other executives and department heads to the stage throughout your meeting.

Tech challenges

Consider all of your technical needs — and the challenges they may present. For example, will one camera and microphone be enough? Likely not if you want your offsite team to be able to see who in attendance is asking a question – and hear what’s being asked.

You should also create one master template of your slide deck. Then have all speakers upload their slides to that master template before the meeting.

Not only will this give you time to review the content, but it will make the entire presentation run smoother.

Make all-hands meetings a team affair

The easy approach might be to take complete ownership of your all-hands meetings. That way, you have fewer people and moving parts to manage. But these meetings shouldn’t resemble a university lecture hall. You are not a professor. Your employees are not your students. Everyone on your team has something to offer. Make sure your meetings reflect this concept by designing them to be fully inclusive.

And, when it’s all said and done, get feedback from your team. Every meeting can be improved. Feedback will help you design the most impactful all-hands meeting for your team.

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