A comprehensive guide to running an all-hands meeting

Your team is growing. Your strategy has to change with the times. And you have the funny feeling people are starting to forget what you set out to achieve. Oh, and didn’t Steve from HR tell you it was someone’s birthday last week?

Something has to change! It’s time to hit the metaphorical refresh button, get everyone back up to speed with the business, remind them what they’re working toward, and celebrate the team’s various accomplishments and anniversaries. Thankfully, you’ve got just the solution: an all-hands meeting. In this article, we’re going to give you all the info required to run one. Let’s dive in.

What is an all-hands meeting?

Known as a “town hall” in some circles, an all-hands meeting is a company-wide gathering where the employees, leaders, and stakeholders are all in attendance.

As you may have guessed, the name comes from the old naval expression, “all hands on deck.” Rather than captains summoning their sailors to navigate a storm, though, these work meetings involve teams sharing business updates, celebrating milestones, and aligning everyone around the company’s strategy/mission.

All-hands meetings traditionally take place in person. However, with the advent of remote teams and video conferencing tools, they’re increasingly conducted online.

10 Tips for running effective all-hands meetings

A lot goes into hosting a successful all-hands meeting. Here are our top tips for ensuring your meetings run smoothly and go down well with the team: 

1. Host it offsite

Holding these meetings in an offsite location, such as a hotel, tells people it’s a notable event that they should take seriously. It creates a different vibe too, where creativity flows, and there aren’t the same (or as many) distractions. Instead, the focus is on the meeting.

It’s something a bit different too! Having arranged countless offsite meetings for companies of all sizes, we can vouch for the fact they help:

Looking for proof that hosting offsite all-hands meetings is so worthwhile?

Consider this retreat that we organized for the financial tech company, GoHenry. The large 237-strong team headed to the sunny Portuguese coast of Ericeria for 3 days of team-bonding, which included their all-hands meeting. Because they’re a remote-first company, being face-to-face in a new place was invaluable for getting to know each other better in a relaxed, social way.

2. Set an agenda

Running these meetings without an agenda is like exploring somewhere new without a map. You wander around with no direction, feeling lost, missing the best bits, and becoming increasingly despondent…

Don’t do it! Set the all-hands meeting agenda (complete with timings) well in advance. And don’t forget to ask another senior team member to check it over. They may identify key topics you haven’t included, offer suggestions on how to make the meeting more engaging, or provide other insightful thoughts on how to improve it.

You should share the finalized agenda with each speaker beforehand too, ensuring everyone knows when they’re up and how long they have. 

3. Mix things up

You can have too much of a good thing, right? While there are advantages to using the same format in every all-hands meeting (e.g., the audience knows what to expect), it’s also beneficial to mix things up.

Using an alternative format on a periodic basis will stop things from getting too stale, which is important if you want everyone to come! Yet that’s not all. It’ll also help you cover a wider range of topics.

For example, at the next all-hands, you could focus on team achievements and milestones. And at the one after that, you could spend more time on objectives and key results, as well as forthcoming company changes. You’d cover a bit of everything in both meetings, but the focus would be on one thing over another.

Of course, another way to mix things up is to arrange one of the offsite meetings we mentioned above. Here’s what the CEO of BRYTER (a no-code service automation platform) had to say about the experience of running their all-hands in Ericeira, Portugal, with our help:

“It’s hard to describe what it feels like to meet most of the people you work with, at once, for the first time; and discover that you not only have a virtual connection but a real one too…”

4. Incorporate fun

Remember: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! Sure, these meetings aren’t designed to be super light-hearted affairs – they’re important events in the company calendar. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be enjoyable.

Building some fun into proceedings will facilitate engagement, boost team buy-in, improve the vibe, and make your all-hands meetings events that people look forward to. Here are a few resources to help you do it:

5. Seek feedback

Too many businesses treat all-hands meetings as an opportunity to preach. But that’s a trap you don’t want to fall into! The level of engagement and enthusiasm will fall off a cliff if all you do is stand behind a podium to give a lofty presentation.

Instead, take the chance to connect with employees at a more personal level.

How? By having a conversation. Seek their feedback. What do they have to say about the workplace culture? What suggestions do they have for improving productivity? Where do they want the company to go? What questions do they have? Ask, listen, and respond as honestly as possible.

6. Send invites early

Don’t forget to send meeting invites/reminders to your colleagues when it’s around the corner – even if it’s in their calendars already. This is the best way to ensure you get the highest possible turnout.

Not only will the invite put the all-hands at the top of people’s minds, but it also gives anyone who has absent-mindedly booked time off or scheduled other things for that day chance to re-arrange. An email reminder is also an opportunity to share details about the meeting schedule and build some hype around it.  

7. Nail your tech

If you’re organizing an all-hands meeting for a remote or distributed team, then it’s vital that your tech setup works flawlessly. The goal is to give your colleagues the best possible online experience.

That means using a reliable video conferencing tool (and making sure everyone knows how to use it), giving each speaker a quality microphone to use, using high-definition webcams, and so on. Similarly, if some employees will be at the meeting in person and others will be joining online, you could have cameras facing both the audience and the speaker(s) to create a more immersive experience.

Make an effort to involve everyone, too, regardless of their location. You could take questions from the chat feature, for example, or send out a survey beforehand to give remote employees a chance to ask something. Oh, and be sure to have a tech guru there to sort out any problems that arise on the day! 

8. Create a master deck

This quick tip can save you a huge headache. Rather than asking each speaker to create their own separate presentation, get them to upload their slides into one big “master” deck. This serves 2 purposes:

First, having fewer moving parts makes technical difficulties less likely. Second, having everything in one place should facilitate collaboration and help the day flow. There’ll be less stopping and starting as each speaker attempts to get their presentation up and running.

9. Appoint a moderator

Whether you take on this role or delegate it to someone else, appointing someone to moderate the meeting will ensure it runs properly from start to finish.

They’ll greet people at the door, welcome everyone at the start, keep an eye on the time to stop speakers from over-running, and then wrap everything up at the end. They could also take charge of the Q&A session, deciding who asks the next question. Think of them as a conductor – the person who controls the flow of the event and ensures it runs without too many snags.

10. Seek clarity at a leadership level

All-hands meetings are arguably the second most important meeting on your calendar. Leadership team meetings come first. Why? Because running a successful all-hands is impossible if you lack coordination and alignment at a leadership level.

Conversely, being on the same page regarding the company’s direction and goals means you can communicate more clearly to the team. There’s less chance of giving vague or incorrect answers to people’s questions, which sucks the life from the room and sends the wrong message about your company culture.

If your leadership team isn’t sufficiently aligned yet, consider postponing the all-hands. You risk doing more harm than good if you don’t.

Possible all-hands meeting elements

If an all-hands meeting was a cake, it’d have 3 core ingredients. Let’s take a look at each of them in order:

1. Reflections, celebrations, and acknowledgements

A good place to begin your all-hands meeting is with a trip down memory lane. What’s been happening in the company since the last time everyone assembled? And, more importantly, what achievements stand out? Maybe you won a big client, for example, or made a key deadline.

Whatever the case, now’s the time to publicly acknowledge and celebrate it. You could also take note of any special anniversaries or employee birthdays. Announce them to the group, hand out gifts, and consider singing happy birthday! It’ll help lift morale and create a positive atmosphere.

Consider talking about any ongoing events or experiences of note as well – including the negative stuff. Indeed, being open about trials and tribulations is powerful. It demonstrates that you value transparency and trust the team, which fosters trust and accountability in your employees as a result.

2. Entering the here-and-now

Reflecting on the good, bad, and ugly of the last few months is great. But you should still focus the majority of your all-hands meetings on the present.

Discuss any major company updates and organizational changes. Reinforce your company’s core values. Talk about key upcoming milestones and goals. Detail the metrics that matter most right now and cover forthcoming industry shifts that need to be addressed. And so on! Cover anything and everything that matters.

Don’t worry if the team’s already familiar with this information. Repeating it will help everyone internalize what they need to move forward together.

3. Question (and answer) time

Devote the final section of your all-hands to a Q&A. It doesn’t have to be long – just enough time to answer a handful of questions before the end of the session. Likewise, we recommend getting a few of them in advance (via email, for example) as well as opening the floor to “live” questions on the day.

The benefit of employees submitting them beforehand is twofold. First, it’s valuable for anyone who feels too self-conscious to speak in front of the group. And second, the leadership team can learn what people want to hear about in the session itself. 

Worried about being unable to answer someone’s “live” question adequately? Don’t be. It’s perfectly acceptable to respond with, “I actually don’t have enough info to answer that accurately right now, but I’ll get back to you by Monday.”

If you end up receiving lots of questions that feel unanswerable, then take that forward into the next leadership meeting. You may be lacking clarity on elements of the organization’s culture and/or strategy.

How often should you hold all-hands meetings?

To cement them as a tradition within the company, we recommend holding all-hands meetings on a semi-regular basis – such as once a quarter. When you settle on the right frequency for your team, you can then set it as a recurring meeting in their calendars. And don’t forget to make it clear that you expect everyone to attend!

The size of your organization comes into play here, though. Summoning the troops is far simpler for smaller teams. If you run anything close to an enterprise organization, it can feel almost impossible to get everyone together at the same time. In these cases, you may choose to hold less frequent all-hands for the sake of practicality.

It’s a similar story for teams of open communicators. There’s simply less need for an all-hands meeting if everyone’s already up to speed on the company’s direction! By the same token, though, they should be more frequent in companies where internal communication is sporadic.

Overall, there’s no right or wrong here. Most businesses need to experiment a little before they settle on the right cadence for the team.

What are the benefits of all-hands meetings?

Often a central part of a company’s internal communication plan, there are numerous incentives for organizing regular all-hands meetings. Here are the main ones: 

1. They boost the company culture

Similar to going on company retreats, these meetings are powerful opportunities to showcase and develop the company culture. After all, everyone on the team’s together for a change!

There’s no better time to discuss the mission, address problems, review progress, and reaffirm what the business stands for – not to mention what you expect from your employees. The result can be quite profound. It gives people purpose, gets their buy-in, and tells them that what they do matters.

2. They give everyone a voice

As we’ll discuss later, a sizeable chunk of a successful all-hands meeting is the Q&A at the end. Far from just a way for people to seek clarity on certain topics, this part of the event a) lets everyone know you want their input and b) fosters transparency in the office. Internal communication gets a major boost as a result.

At a practical level, these questions also shed light on issues people might be having. You can then take that information and use it to improve.

3. They facilitate connection

Done right, all-hands meetings are effective tools for developing a sense of togetherness. After all, employees from different departments get to mingle, their successes receive well-earned public attention, and team morale lifts in the process.

This can be particularly beneficial after periods of intense work or change. By getting a break from the normal routine and turning their attention to company highlights, people can breathe, refocus, and revel in the fruits of their labor.

4. They foster alignment

Companies grow fastest when everybody’s committed to a single vision and works in unison to bring it to fruition. By contrast, misalignment takes the proverbial wind out of a business’s sails. You flap and falter, at risk of grinding to a halt.

All-hands meetings prove incredibly useful in this regard. By reminding the team what you’re working toward and reviewing key metrics to assess your progress, employees should walk away with renewed clarity on a) the company’s goals and b) their role in the strategy for achieving them.

Time to organize your next all-hands meeting

As you can tell, there are many convincing reasons to organize an all-hands meeting in the near future. The only thing left to do is decide where to host yours…

Thankfully, we can help with that!

Having hosted countless all-hands meetings for remote and distributed companies, we can handle the logistics (such as the hotel buyout, airport transfers, and team activities), making your life easier and cheaper from start to finish. We even have a location finder tool to help distributed companies figure out the best place to meet.

Contact us today for more information on what we do or to start organizing your next offsite all-hands meetings.

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