Workplace Operations

How to Plan an Effective All Hands Meeting

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When it comes to sharing company-wide news, celebrating team wins, and building a sense of camaraderie, few venues are more effective than an all hands meeting. At least, in theory. Anyone who has spent any time in the professional work force knows that company-wide meetings can feel like a series of talking heads droning about metrics, a platform for corporate pageantry, or series of technical difficulties that cost the company collective thousands in wasted time.

But, when run well, all hands meetings strengthen workplace community and ensure that everyone receives the same information, at the same time, in the same context. While the exact format and structure of team-wide meetings will evolve as your company grows and scales, these guidelines will ensure your meetings are well planned, effectively run, and well worth your team’s time.

1. Establish a goal and purpose

When I worked at a major New York City art museum, all hands meetings lacked a consistent schedule, goal, or agenda. They were usually only called when the director had to impart bad news like a funding shortfall or impending layoffs. As such, all hands meetings instilled a sense of anxiety throughout the organization and were a missed opportunity for building culture and boosting morale.

Before scheduling your all hands, work with your Executive and People and Culture teams to establish a clear purpose for the meetings. Think about what can be most effectively imparted in the format of a meeting and what is best left to all staff emails, your general channel in Slack, or departmental meetings.

"When you are planning an all hands meeting, start with a goal," says Ali Czarnecki, Executive Operations Manager at Managed by Q, "all the content in the meeting should ladder up towards that goal and reinforce your company's current strategy."

Overall, your all hands meeting should be a chance to bring everyone onto the same page, a vehicle for strengthening your team’s commitment to your company values, strategy, and community, and a chance to share wins and challenges.

2. Decide on a format and set an agenda

Once you are clear on why you are organizing all hands meetings, hone in on a format and structure your agenda. While many companies use all hands meetings as a platform to broadcast executive messages, they can be more effective when they showcase a diversity of voices throughout the company. As Atlassian’s Chief of Staff Cathy Meade notes about all hands meetings, “There’s the risk they turn into a lecture or webinar that nobody wants to attend.”

To avoid monotony, make a plan for interactivity and a variety of presenters. Common strategies include Q & A sessions with company leaders, shout outs for colleagues who went above and beyond their job description, and lighting talks by different team members that shed light on their specific job functions or a major project.

For example, Managed by Q’s all hands meetings are formatted to feature interactive sections. Each meeting is hosted by a different team member who introduces the meeting and facilitates transitions between speakers. The meetings open with introductions by new employees and announcements about promotions.They close with shout outs which are submitted in advance and “AQAs” or “Ask Q Anything.” We also collect questions in advance so that the appropriate parties can have time to draft as response, as well as take questions live.

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Czarnecki has iterated many different formats and agenda styles for Managed by Q’s all hands meetings and overall emphasizes, “You need to be disciplined about what content is shared and what you want people to take away from the meeting. You only have so much time and you need to use it thoughtfully.”

To ensure you use your time effectively, decide on a time limit for the meeting, such as 45 minutes or an hour. As you outline your agenda, make sure that each section serves the overall goal and purpose you set for the meeting. Set start and end times for each section and allow extra time for transitions so that the meeting won’t run over.

To help you format your all hand meeting, use this simple sample agenda:

  • Introduction: 5 minutes
  • New hires and promotions: 5 minutes
  • Lighting talk 1: 5 minutes
  • Featured discussion: 15 minutes
  • Shout outs/wins: 10 minutes
  • Q&A: 10 minutes
  • Total: 50 minutes

3. Designate a clear owner for all hands planning

Depending on your company structure, your office manager, executive assistant, or HR manager may be responsible for the planning and execution of all hands meetings. This person should be responsible for scheduling the meeting, informing staff in advance, putting together the agenda and slides, and prepping speakers. To best prepare the speakers, the meeting coordinator should meet with them to practice their talk, help edit their slides, and go over protocol such as speaking into the mic and repeating any questions back. At Managed by Q, Czarnecki starts putting together each all hands meeting two-weeks in advance and does several practice run-throughs with each presenter.

The meeting organizer should also work with the company brand designer to create a standard template for all hand’s slides to ensure meetings not only reinforce company goals and strategy, but are aligned with your overall brand.

4. Make a plan for remote workers and test your tech

Many companies rely on remote teams or operate across multiple office locations, making an all hands meeting a necessarily technological undertaking. Work with your IT department or provider to find a technology solution for broadcasting and recording the meeting that supports your needs. Especially important is to find a solution that allows 2-way video and audio so that remote employees can present and ask questions in real time.

For global companies, vastly different time zones can prove especially challenging. Find a time that is workable for the majority of your offices and develop a strategy to ensure those who will be watching a recording after the fact can feel included. For example, the Atlassian offices in Austin, Amsterdam, and Yokohama watch a pre-recorded all hands meeting the morning after it takes place. To ensure employees in these offices still feel like part of the event the company provides a catered breakfast during the viewing.

Before your meeting, and especially if incorporating a new piece of technology, make sure you test your tech and conduct a technical rehearsal to ensure everything is in good working order before the big day.

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5. Set the tone

All hands meetings are your chance to rally your entire company around your shared goals. Think about how to best set the tone that you want to achieve and build engagement and buy-in from your team. Is it a breakfast meeting with coffee, pastries, and fruit to energize everyone at the start of the work day? Or an end-of-the-day wind down and celebration?

Czarnecki has experimented with the best time and tone for Q’s all hands meetings and finally settled on Thursday afternoon. “Holding the meeting during the day felt like a distraction and everyone wanted to get back to work. The end of the day feels more like a celebration,” she explained. The meeting is structured to be fast-paced and engaging and drinks are served to add to the uplifting mood.

6. Follow up and ask for feedback

Following your all hands meeting, ensure that all the slides, recording, and any relevant documents that were referenced are easily accessible. Create shared team folder or internal website where you consistently place all hands documents so team members know where to look for more information about subjects discussed in the meeting.

Consistently ask for employee feedback to ensure that your meetings are meeting their goals and employees feel they are a good use of their time. Directly after each meeting send a quick survey asking to rate the meeting on a scale of 1 to 5 and any quick feedback. Managed by Q uses Polly, a Slack plugin that enables users to create quick, easy, and anonymous polls. You can also ask for more in-depth feedback during regular employee surveys, such as Culture Amp or an office operations survey.

Ultimately, the all hands meeting you plan should match the culture, goals, and needs of your company and the information shared be useful to everyone in attendance. In the words of Czarnecki, “All hands is a chance to get everyone excited, engaged, onboard, and rally around a common goal.”

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