If you’ve ever found yourself sitting in a mandatory meeting, knowing that the information was important but struggling to keep your head from hitting the table, you’re not alone. But the reality is, meetings are a necessary part of work. Even when every team member is doing their jobs well, it can be easy for teams to find themselves in silos, forgetting that the whole organization is working toward a set of common goals. Companies are growing, with teams spread across countries and time zones, making it even more important to check in with everyone.
If you now find yourself responsible for planning those meetings, the last thing you want is to be the creator of a company-wide snooze fest – but can that be avoided? Yes – by holding effective and engaging all-hands meetings.
All-Hands Meetings Best Practices
The all-hands meeting brings together the entire organization to share updates, celebrate victories, ask and answer questions. Most importantly, it’s a chance for everyone at every level to have a two-way dialogue that can strengthen the team. This gives it an advantage over small team meetings that don’t guarantee everyone receives the same message, and one-way email blasts that can feel totally impersonal. If senior leadership has a rep for being distant and inaccessible, all-hands meetings can go a long way in undoing that image.
But if you’re not careful, your all-hands meetings can turn into cookie-cutter announcement read-outs that people start to dread and avoid. A good meeting keeps everyone engaged, connected, and focused on the same targets. Here are some things to remember when you’re planning:
Make them a regular thing
Don’t hold sporadic all-hands meetings that cause team members to think that the meeting is being called because there’s a problem. Holding regular meetings sends a message that you want to keep everyone connected and in the loop. Set a monthly schedule and send out an agenda that will tell people what to expect and give them a chance to think of questions they may want to ask.
With companies operating around the world, it’s not realistic anymore to assume everyone can be in the same room at the same time. Plan your meeting at a time that most of the team can make regardless of their time zone, and use team management tools for sharing. Test your screen sharing platform, dial-in numbers and sound system before the meeting begins and have support nearby in case connections are shaky. Be sure to send out all meeting invites, links, and dial-in numbers at least twice before the meeting date.
Choose an MC and guest speaker for each meeting
There is no faster way to lose your audience than to have the same person lead the same activities at every all-hands meeting. Keep things fresh by having a new person host each month. That person should be in charge of compiling slides, videos, and handouts; following the agenda, introducing the guest speakers, watching the time, and managing the flow of Q&A. Having guest hosts from different teams will also grab the attention of their respective team mates, which helps attendance and keeps people engaged. Open up invitations to host the next meeting early in the month to allow time to choose someone, plan an agenda, prepare materials and do a dry run.
Your guest speaker can be anyone – invite team members to present on their role, a project or a special topic. Or invite an outside speaker who can share insights on the industry or share new tools. Keeping things fresh will keep people interested in what they can expect next.
Stick to the Agenda
Send out an at least one week before each meeting, and stick to that agenda. Going off topic, allowing the Q&A session or any presentations to run too long will surely lose your audience. Your host needs to keep people within their time limits and move the meeting from one topic to the next. Reach out to department heads during the planning process to ask if they have anything for the agenda, to avoid unexpected topic being brought up during the meeting.
Review performance from a high level
One of the biggest benefits of the all-hands meeting is it helps reinforce the company’s goals and objectives. With everyone gathered together, leaders can share performance information and any new developments that are moving the company closer to, or further away from the goal. But its important to remember this is not a data dump – if you share the most granular details you can cause information overload and no one will retain anything. Hit the major metrics, cheer for the wins and discuss the causes behind underperformance.
Besides a paycheck, nothing at work is more motivating than being recognized for a job well done. And doing that in front of the company can not only make a person feel great, but motivate them to work toward that recognition again. Use the meeting to recognize great performances by individual team members, successes of entire teams and the organization as a whole. Invite managers to share kudos from customers or offer their own shout-outs to colleagues for support. This is a high point of the meeting that always leaves everyone feeling positive about working for a company that recognizes hard work and proud of their contributions to the company’s wins.
Welcome questions – even tough ones
One of the biggest advantages of the all-hands meeting is it removes the barriers between the team and leadership. Team members can easily feel disconnected from the company, not seeing what is happening beyond their own job and department. When senior level executives open themselves to questions and share information, it creates a deeper level of trust. Invite people to ask questions, and don’t shy away from questions about tough subjects. If someone wants to know why the company ended a popular employee program, or if rumors of a merger are true, answer them honestly, even if the information is difficult or unpopular. If they have a comment or negative opinion, don’t just throw back boilerplate answers (like the old standard “I’ll take that under consideration”). Have a real dialogue that acknowledges the value of their input. This is a chance to show them the respect they deserve and make them feel that they’re really a member of the team.
Having a serious meeting doesn’t mean no one is allowed to laugh. In fact, you will make more people want to participate and attend your all-hands meetings if they include some good clean fun or interesting activities. Use your imagination – invite a speaker who can put a funny spin on business, create a theme for each meeting and offer prizes for answers to trivia questions, or maybe bring in a yoga teacher for a quick stress management session. It’s a great way to keep the meetings fresh and show your team that their experience is important to you.
Give it your all
At the end of the day, we know not everyone loves a meeting. But that doesn’t mean you have to plan a boring information session just because it’s necessary. With a little effort and imagination, your all-hands meetings can capture the attention and loyalty of more team members than you think.