I have been to a lot of all-hands meetings in my career. Some have been good, but most have not. And maybe to no surprise, the attendance has been spotty. I think that they serve an important purpose and if run well, are incredibly an incredibly valuable tool for both communication and driving alignment.
What you will learn…
- The purpose of all-hands meetings.
- Making all-hands meetings fit your style
- The frequency, duration, and other aspects
You need to be really clear in your mind as to the purpose of All Hands meetings.
My view is that they are a component of your overall model for staying connected with your team, sharing your thoughts, driving alignment, and possibly collecting feedback (more on this below in the Q&A section).
Assuming you take the same approach, then you need to consider the other activities that you do and how All Hands meetings fit in. Some examples are:
- If you have a small team and have regular team meetings, you need to consider what you do in those meetings and where you have gaps in running a high-performing team. It is often the case that these staff meetings are focused on project status, next steps, and issues. An All Hands meeting can be leveraged to recognize the team, share company updates, and drive alignment to the strategy.
- If you have a number of teams under you that operate fairly independently, then you have a perfect opportunity to use an All Hands meeting to share accomplishments, recognize work that is taking place across teams and align all of the work that is taking place to the larger company strategy.
- If you have a large organization, there is a good chance that the individuals on the various teams do not get to see much of you. An All Hands meeting can serve not only as a way to share some valuable information and drive alignment but can help to create a connection with the people that work for you. They very much want to understand your priorities and to be a conduit back and forth into upper management.
I have an All Hands structure that I have developed over time. It works for me both in terms of who I am and how I run my organization. As I mentioned earlier, your All Hands meeting needs to fit the model you have put in place for your team or organization. So my recommendation is to start with what I have and modify from there.
Kickoff and Key Topics
I do the kickoff. This is my time to share whatever I think is important.
At the beginning of a new year, I might take most or all of the All Hands to share strategy, new programs, goals, etc. I would only do this once as I want to ensure that the managers in my organization are getting the opportunity to be a part of sharing the great work that they are driving.
The rest of the time this is my opportunity to share whatever I think is most important. The topics include things like: updates to the strategy; progress against goals; key messages from leadership; and major accomplishments.
I weave into this section the reason for the rest of the agenda items.
I try to keep this section to between 15 and 20 minutes.
Program or Project Presentations
The real meat of the All-Hands are presentations from leaders on the team or in the organization. They have the opportunity to provide an update. This must NOT be an attempt to cover everything. It instead is a chance to highlight key aspects of the project that will be relevant to most or all of the audience and show how the project is making a difference in achieving the goals and ultimately the strategy of the organization.
I like these presentations to be short on updates and long on impactful progress. I like the focus to be on major deliverables, progress against metrics and customer wins. I really like quotes from customers and/or leadership.
I spend time ahead of time with the person or people who will be involved in the presentation to make sure that they are following this direction. I often review and provide feedback on the content of the presentation. This may sound like micromanagement. It is not. I have very specific objectives (as discussed above) for the All Hands. This section is critical to achieving those objectives.
I like these presentations to be 3-5 slides and also fit into between 15 and 20 minutes. I will go longer if there are not too many topics on the agenda, but will not go shorter.
It is always nice to bring in someone as a guest speaker.
I love it when we can have customers present. There is nothing better than hearing it directly from them – no filtering. If you are able to get a customer to come, make sure that you help make it ok to be honest. They will naturally want to focus on the good and not provide enough constructive feedback. When you do the introduction, consider mentioning something positive and something constructive that the customer has told you – this will help break the ice.
Much of what we all do is for internal customers. When I say customers, I am referring to either internal or external, whoever you see as your customer.
There are lots of other guests that you can consider having at your all hands. Make sure the person you pick can help reinforce the strategy and goals that you have while providing their own perspective. A good example would be someone from another organization that you work closely with.
I would give a guest presenter the same 15 to 20 minutes on your agenda. I would recommend the number of slides they should prepare. The way I share this is to communicate what has worked best in the past. And I would ask to review their slides as well if that is not too awkward.
This section is really up to you and how you run your organization.
If you have a recognition program that you run for your team or organization, then an All-Hands is a perfect place to communicate this recognition. If you push that down to your leaders, then consider a way to comment less formally on what the organization or teams have accomplished during the Kickoff section.
If you do include a Recognition section in your All Hands, that is awesome. Just make sure that you are really concise in the way you communicate with the recipients.
I have done both of these. Most recently I have not included Recognition in my All Hands meetings. That is because my boss has one for the larger organization, and I leave it to my managers to implement a program within their teams. I do mention great progress during my Kickoff!
Adding Q&A to the agenda is important. Even if you don’t get many questions, you are making it clear that you are open and available.
What I like to do is ask for questions ahead of time. That way when we get into the Q&A, if it takes some time for people to step forward and ask their question, I used those received ahead of time to get started. This helps to break the ice.
The key to a good Q&A is to keep it moving quickly (just like the rest of the All Hands meeting) while making sure that you answer the question. If a long answer is required, the best thing to do is provide a simple answer and offer the person who asked more time if they are interested. If for some reason the questions are becoming negative, mix in one of the questions asked ahead of time. You want to make sure that the majority of the discussion is positive – you want your team or organization to feel good when they leave.
One thing that often happens to me is the Q&A time gets squeezed. The presentations take longer than planned or there are technical difficulties. When this happens I make it a point to take at least one or two questions before closing the All Hands. I then suggest that they send me additional questions by email and I will answer them quickly.
If you are having an All Hands meeting where not everyone is in the room – you have people joining via audio or video conference, you need to ensure that you open up questions to them as well. I will often times do this first in order to make them feel a part of the discussion and so that I don’t forget!
I would try to leave at least 5-10 minutes for Q&A. More if you are presenting on a very new or controversial topic.
Remember to close the All Hands. This is again your chance to set the tone for your team or organization, make them feel good, celebrate their results and align with your strategy and goals. Say something that ties the pieces back together. And thank them for attending.
Frequency and Duration
There is no standard here. You need to do what feels right.
I like to do more and keep them short. Once every 1-2 months for an hour. This provides a frequent opportunity to connect on the areas described previously. And an hour ensures that you are concise in the preparation and presentations.
Here are some quick tips to help enhance your All Hands meetings.
|Be yourself, be transparent||There is no better way to build trust, support, and alignment.|
|Look for topics that connect||When developing your agenda, you need topics that are relevant to the most people, and ensure that the presenter helps the audience make this connection.|
|Keep the presentations concise||3-5 slides for a 15-minute presentation and DON’T READ THE SLIDES, convey the most important points in your own words. Nothing is more frustrating than having someone read their slides to you!|
|Present the material in a simple form||The fewer words are better, think about the takeaways, think about a visual (eg. chart) rather than all word.|
|Allow for online questions||When you have an audio or video conference, have someone moderate and allow for online questions. Capture these questions for use during the Q&A (or to be answered later).|
|Find a time that is GEO friendly||The fewer words are better, think about the takeaways, think about a visual (eg. chart) rather than all words.|
|Record your All Hands meeting||I prefer to use video conferencing and both record as well as make the presentations available after. There are a surprising number of people that will watch later – when it fits into their schedule.|
|Video conferencing||I recommend that you use video conferencing and not an audio call. Have the presenter share their slides and record. Make sure that you turn off the sound (ding) when people join the video conference. And mute everyone either upon joining (preferred) or once you get started (and again anytime you hear a bunch of noise). You can always ask them to unmute when you get to Q&A.|
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