On All-Hand Meetings

How To Bring the Company Together in a Way That Works



This mini-guide pulls together my experiences, learnings from companies I've worked with, and the best thinkers that I could find. I published a first version of this guide on Forbes. Like all of my guides, it is a living document so please send feedback and suggestions.

I hope it's helpful for running your own all-hands meetings.

Not Just "Another Meeting"

Even with the pervasive anti-meeting bias in companies today, the All-Hands Meeting (sometimes also called a Town Hall) is likely the second most important meeting that you need to be having. Your Leadership Team meeting takes the top spot. After all, if there’s no coordination there then no need to gather everyone for an All-Hands.

Done well, All-Hands meetings energize a team. They reinforce clarity and foster a sense of togetherness. Done poorly, all-hands meetings waste time, create resentment, and leave a team more disconnected.

Powerful all-hands meetings surface key issues, celebrate progress, and offer everyone (from senior leaders to interns) a chance to ask questions. Running them regularly creates a cultural drumbeat helping everyone bring their best to the work.

The stakes are high and the benefit substantial. Here’s how to run an all-hands meeting right:

Elements of an Effective All-Hands Meeting

An effective All-Hands Meeting should have three key components:

Reflection

The first segment of an All-Hands should reflect on what has been happening - a time to both celebrate and acknowledge.

Hit a key deadline since the last All-Hands? Celebrate the win and call out a few of the key contributors by name. Miss a key deadline since the last All-Hands? Mention it, acknowledging what the organization has learned from the experience. This is a chance for the leadership to give voice to the key experiences that are occurring within the organization - the good, the bad, and even the ugly. Doing this builds trust and fosters accountability. There’s real power in regular reflection done as a team.

Some organizations name employee anniversaries, even birthdays, during this time. Some hand out materials for employees to review and reflect on in their own time beforehand.

Spend 20-25% of the All-Hands in reflection and feel free to shape the experience around whatever feels right in your culture.

Current Situation & Immediate Future

After reflecting on what’s been going on, move into the present for the bulk of the All-Hands (usually around 50% of the meeting).

This is a time to reinforce what matters now for the business. Spend time on current metrics, upcoming milestones, how the teams are organized. It is very likely that a lot of this information has been shared before. Share it again. The team needs to hear what matters over and over in order to learn to move together.

If anything has recently changed in the company’s plan, time needs to be spent explaining what’s different, what caused the shift, and how it’s being managed going forward.

Ideally, have key leaders report on their focus areas to the team.

Q&A

Use the remainder of the time for questions and answers, making sure to leave room for a number of questions to be answered.

For the Q& A portion, allow the team to both submit questions in advance of the meeting and also ask questions live during the meeting. Leadership can then review the submitted questions beforehand to better understand what needs to be shared in the Reflection and Current Situation portions. The live questions allow for in-the-moment curiosities.

Regarding live questions, I recall the fear I felt when our company first started doing All-Hands Meetings. I was scared of being asked a question and looking like an impostor when I answered it. The fear is normal. It’s part of the vulnerability needed to be a leader and here’s a suggestion to help you…

Answering questions with “I don’t feel like I have all the information needed to answer that right now, but will send an answer out by Friday.” or “I’m not sure we’re clear on that right now, but we should be so I’ll commit to getting you more answers by .” are perfectly ok responses and often much better than sharing a vague or potentially untrue answer.

One caveat: If there are many questions arising that aren’t answerable in the moment, this might be a symptom of inadequate clarity at a cultural, strategy, or leadership level.

A word of caution: Why you shouldn’t hold All-Hands meetings

As mentioned, your Leadership Team meeting is the most important meeting to your business. If that meeting isn’t working and there isn’t agreement on what matters now, then there’s no need to kick off having All-Hands until the leadership team is sorted out and aligned.

If the leaders aren’t willing or willing to be authentic, vulnerable, and aligned with your culture then All-Hands Meetings can be more harmful than good. At a company I founded I recall one of our first All-Hands being a borderline disaster because we as leaders weren’t prepared to answer some questions asked. Leaning into vulnerability we might have admitted that we don’t know the answer and committed to report back after further exploration. Instead, we gave vague answers that dismissed the question. I remember feeling the energy leave the room. We were in effect teaching our team that being vague, skirting the question, and even lying was ok at our company. Needless to say, we changed our approach from there forward.

A Few Best Practices on All-Hands Logistics.

Use Slides

Having a deck of slides helps craft the narrative and maintain the flow of the meeting. Slides can also be an easy resource to share out afterwards that the team can refer back to as needed.

Frequency

All-hands should be held regularly and protected as a tradition or ritual within the company.

Hold them quarterly at a minimum which is what companies like Zappos do. Some companies do monthly, biweekly (Square, LinkedIn) and some even weekly (Google, Twitter)

Once decided, schedule them as a recurring meeting on everyone’s calendar setting the expectation that all will attend.

The Day & Time

Pick whatever day and time has the highest likelihood for people being able to attend and having headspace to fully engage. If you’re not sure, get a pulse from the team to find out.

At our company, Tuesday late afternoon was our go-to for All-Hands meetings. Doing so left a good chunk of the week on the back end to get back into execution mode. We’d also host a happy hour that began at the conclusion of the All-Hands to continue the time together.

Soliciting Questions

If you ask for pre-submitted questions, have those due the day before the All-Hands to give leaders a day for prep work.

Prompts like: “What do you wish you knew more about at the organization?” or “What’s unclear about ____?” can help surface topics as well.

Stay Connected to the Purpose

No matter how you go about holding an All-Hands, stay connected to their purpose: All-Hands Meetings exist to reinforce what matters to everyone, all at once. Keeping that in mind can help you take all of the above and mold it to best fit your culture and your team.


Want Help Improving Your Organization?

If you're committed to building a healthy, successful company, then we should talk. Often a short 30-minute conversation is often enough to help you see the path forward.


Sources & Further Reading