7 tips for running an amazing all hands meeting
Do you meet as an entire company on a regular basis? If you don’t, you should. They’re called all hands meetings, and they’re awesome.
The name has naval roots: hands is another word for sailors, and deck is a part of the boat ⚓️. In an emergency, the captain will yell “all hands on deck!” to bring everyone together.
The all hands meeting – also known as “town hall” or “company scrum” – is the same deal. Typically run by a higher-up exec (often the CEO), it is a designated time each week where the company comes together – in person or online – to talk about company updates, news, goals and more.
And it’s a special time. Case in point: Mike Katchen, co-founder and CEO of Wealthsimple, calls his company’s all hands “holy time.” 🙌
“It’s called holy time because the implication is you have to be there, it’s not optional,” he says. “It’s holy, it’s special.”
But here’s the thing: if you’re going to cease all work for an hour or so each week, there has got to be a good reason. That’s why it’s so important to get the most out of your all hands meetings. Luckily, we’ve got some all hands meeting ideas to help you keep your team waiting eagerly for this time each week.
Here are seven tips to help you run amazing all hands meetings:
Have one person in charge (but bring in guest speakers!)
As we already mentioned, the all hands meeting is often run by the CEO or someone from the senior leadership team. Either way, it’s important to have one person run the show – act as M.C. for the talk. 🎤
“Every week, an executive (staff lead at either the group or company level) should own the content for that week’s All-Hands,” explains Gokul Rajaram of Square. “This is a true win-win-win. It’s a great (fun, learning) experience for the executive to run the All-Hands; it’s great for the company to see the executive running it; and it prevents All-Hands from becoming too formulaic or boring, since every executive puts their own special stamp on the content, while still staying within the confines of the outline.”
That said, don’t be afraid to bring in guest speakers. Especially when you’re delivering department-specific news or answering any questions about a specific project (more on that later!), you’ll want to bring in the team lead or project expert to get into the details. Plus, it keeps the meeting interesting and high-energy to have other speakers!
Include remote team members 🌍
The most common mistake companies make when implementing all hands meetings is not properly accommodating remote team members and/or smaller branches.
It’s not enough to set up a conference call with a speakerphone or a video call – you need to make sure that team members that can’t be physically in the room are able to take part in the meeting just as much as everyone else.
That means shared online agendas that everyone can see. That means using a robust video software that makes it quick and easy to run virtual meetings (we use Zoom! So does Buffer!). That means recording each all hands meeting so that people that can’t make it can review later on. All these little tasks take time, but they’re crucial to an inclusive environment.
Use an agenda – and stick to it
We already mentioned shared agendas – but it’s such an important point, it earned its own spot on the list. An all hands meeting agenda is crucial to ensure that time is used wisely, and that you don’t veer off track.
A shared online agenda (like SoapBox!) ensures that everyone can access the all hands meeting agenda beforehand and knows what to expect (it also helps remote team members to follow along). Include time allocation for each item in the agenda, and assign a team member to keep an eye on the time throughout.
Dedicate time each week to an AMA
Every good all hands meeting allocates time to answer employee questions.
“The best all-hands meetings offer employees a chance to engage directly with founders and executives,” explains Atlassian. “We do weekly half-hour global town halls, about 25% of which are devoted entirely to Q&A.”
The tricky thing is harvesting those questions. You can open up the floor during the meeting, but that can sometimes favour the more extroverted team members and leave quieter employees afraid to speak up.
A little shameless promotion: SoapBox can help you run amazing AMAs! With SoapBox AMAs, you can launch an online AMA and team members can submit their questions and vote, so the most popular questions rise to the top! Choose the top five or so to answer during your all-hands meeting!
Don’t “data dump”
Have a lot of info to share? Don’t try to go through it all in the all hands.
“Sharing key metrics during an all-hands is amazing, but that doesn’t mean sharing all the metrics,” warns Geckoboard. “Elaborate slides of random 3-D graphs (or even worse 3D pie charts) or detailed spreadsheets with granular financial details raise more questions than they answer.”
Instead, distill the numbers down to the core metrics that impact your company goals. If there’s more to share, send it out in an email or info deck so that employees can digest it on their own time. (Or better yet, empower the managers to share the info with their team in their own way!)
The easiest way to lose trust with your team is to stand up in an all hands meeting and be vague, evasive or ambiguous.
There are a lot of ways to foster a culture of transparency at your company (for example, Wealthsimple makes board documents accessible to everyone in the company), but the all hands meeting is a great place to start. Deliver news directly and succinctly, and answer questions that arise honestly. If you can’t be honest and upfront in an answer, explain why.
Showing your team that you’re committed to being honest and open with them will go a long way toward building a trusting relationship.
Never cancel (ever!)
Set a recurring date and time for your all hands meeting, and never cancel it. Cancelling an all hands meeting sends a really strong message about your commitment to company communication – and can inadvertently worry the team that problems are afoot 😬. Of course, that’s all the more reason to make sure each all hands meeting is as effective as possible.
“To justify calling an all-hands meeting, you need to put things on the agenda that can’t be replicated in a document,” explains Atlassian. The open, democratic nature of the forum and the authentic, unscripted answers from people you may not otherwise have access to is priceless. And for company leaders, it’s a way to stay on the pulse and hear from people at every level of the business.”
Hopefully, these seven tips help you to do just that!
And remember: SoapBox can help make your all hands meetings amazing by helping you run impactful AMAs with your team. 👍
Get started with SoapBox!