When you first founded your start-up with your college buddies and the entire company consisted of a hacker-hipster-hustler trio, an all-hands meeting was not something that was on your radar (and rightfully so). Because there were so few of you, you and your co-founders were brewing in the juice of your own creation on a daily basis. Everyone was in the know, and there was no need for formal meetings with lengthy agendas.
However, as your company scales, you can no longer rely on casual chats in the garage to keep everyone up to date on business matters. At this point, regular all-hands meetings become necessary to maintain a well-oiled machine (AKA your business).
An all-hands meeting (historically known as a town hall meeting) is a company-wide event where team members and leaders huddle to discuss company goals, news, and updates. Think of a captain who yells “all hands on deck!” to gather his (or her) sailors on the main deck of the ship in case of emergency. Despite the naval roots of this expression, we don’t recommend that you wait for an emergency to break out to hold a company-wide meeting. In fact, these full team meetings should be a regular occurrence—whether that’s weekly, monthly, or quarterly— to ensure everyone is on the same page.
If you’re rolling your eyes and thinking “why waste everyone’s time with another boring meeting”, think again. Even in our digital, over-connected age, there is no alternative to collaborative face-to-face time. Sure, long-winded meetings can be a drag. But there are many ways to make them more productive, beneficial, and even motivating for all parties involved.
An all-hands meeting is a place to share key metrics (KPIs) and team updates, to celebrate recent milestones, connect with remote team members, reinforce the company’s goals, and answer any outstanding questions. If conducted right, an all-hands meeting acknowledges team efforts and lifts team spirit, promotes company culture, and motivates employees for a productive and fruitful quarter ahead.
So, where do you start? Here are some quick tips to help you create an all-hands meeting formula that will help motivate your team.
Use an agenda
First thing’s first: create an agenda for your all-hands meeting and send it to each employee (or guest) ahead of time. An all-hands agenda helps ensure that your attendees know exactly what to expect and when, and it holds you accountable to stay on track. If it’s a particularly detailed meeting, or your company is large, you can also schedule allotted time for each topic or department.
Pro tip: big meetings can easily get off track, so make sure someone is keeping tabs on the time.
Don't make it a one person show
Designate one person who will kick off the meeting (usually a CEO or someone on the exec team), but make sure said meeting doesn’t turn into a one-man show. Having one person at the senior level speak the entire time can feel intimidating and stale to other employees. Give voice to team leaders and project owners to keep things fresh and your employees engaged.
Don't 'data dump'
After the initial welcome notes, you should share important metrics so that everyone can see where the company stands as a business. Has user engagement increased quarter over quarter? How many people have used your product this month compared to the previous month(s)? Use visually appealing, yet simple, charts to represent the metrics. It’s important you don’t clutter the slides or overload the attendees with information so that they are able to digest what you’re presenting. Share only the key metrics that represent the mission of the company, not the granular financial details that will confuse and distract from the main points. This is also a good time to remind your team of the objectives and key results (OKRs) of the year and how you’re trending to reach those goals.
Make it inclusive
All-hands meetings are a good time to reiterate to employees at all levels that they are an important piece of the puzzle. If you have new hires, make a point to introduce and welcome them to the team. If you have remote employees, select a meeting time that falls within regular business hours for every time zone involved. And while we're on the topic of remote team members, make sure they have a copy of the agenda and that they can fully participate. Opt for a fool-proof video conferencing software (Zoom is great option) and set it up so they can see and engage with the entire room.
Pro tip: record the meeting so that team members who couldn’t attend can listen in later on and familiarize themselves with what they missed.
Share updates from different departments
Aside from the company overview as a whole, you should also share relevant updates from the different departments (e.g. engineering, marketing). Again, make sure the information you share ties back to the overall company mission and can be comprehended by all of your colleagues. Present your slide in a clean and concise way, and be willing to explain everything in layman’s terms for those who may not understand. For example, the marketing team may not understand the code that the engineering team is sharing. Share your team-specific update in bite-size explanations so it can be processed easily.
Be genuine and transparent
Pumping up the team spirit and motivating the employees is all good and well, but it’s pointless if you’re not being genuine and transparent. Avoid hiding important metrics or sugar-coating less desirable updates. Your team members will pick up on your facade and it will quickly discredit everything else you’ve said. Full-disclosure is key. Answer questions honestly and unambiguously, and be candid when you don't know the answer or can't provide an answer you were hoping to.
Pro tip: include a customer story (good or bad) to help make the connection between the company mission, customers, and employees, and to define the reason why you do what you do.
Leave time for Q+A
Speaking of questions, always leave time for your team members to raise questions and express their concerns. Depending on the size and type of your organization, you may want to slot in a dedicated time for a Q&A session at the end of the presentation (or at the end of certain agenda items). For your remote attendees, use slack or a video software that allows them to submit questions in real time.
Finally, an all-hands meeting is never really complete without celebrating important milestones and individual successes. Share customer success stories to get people excited about the product and work that they’re doing. But more importantly, share successes of individual team members, and give shout-outs to employees who went above and beyond. This will prove to the team that you see and value their hard work.
Pro tip: we’re not above a celebratory happy hour after our monthly all-hands.