The field of Meetings Management has advanced significantly since Robert's Rules of Order was first published in 1876. Today's ever-expanding body of literature explores topics as diverse as how to start meetings, how to end them, how to communicate better in meetings, and even how to avoid them all together.
As the cutting-edge of research cuts further and further into the unknown, it's possible to imagine that one day we'll arrive at a Grand Unified Theory of Meetings, an all-encompassing theoretical framework for optimizing how humans can come together and get things done.
Of all the possible meeting types (syncs, stand ups, kickoffs, postmortems, etc.), the all-hands has proven to be most resistant to systematic inquiry. All-hands are, scientifically speaking, really hard to get right. It's a statistical near-impossibility to ensure 100% satisfaction from a meeting involving the entire company.
Still, all-hands meetings can serve a valuable function for companies of all sizes. They're a unique opportunity to share information, celebrate victories, answer employee questions, and break the usual workplace routine. Sometimes they can even be fun.
Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your next company all-hands.
- Collect Questions in Advance - The Q&A is a staple of any town hall-style meeting. A little preparation will enhance both the Q and the A. Audience members and presenters alike hate being put on the spot, so soliciting questions in advance will produce more high quality questions, and more thoughtful answers. This system lets you identify high priority topics that will require the most time to cover, and reduces the likelihood that important topics don't get addressed.
- Customize the Agenda - Not every all-hands has to present a 360 degree review of the company's health (which shouldn't change that much from quarter to quarter if management is executing on a consistent strategic plan). To avoid repetition while giving different parts of the business' operations a meaningful level of coverage, pick one main topic for each meeting. One All Hands might focus on sales, the next on product development. Trying to cover too much in a single meeting is a recipe for disappointment - better to take a deep dive approach.
- Rotate Presenters - There's a reason the Oscars change from year to year. Variety isn't just the name of a Hollywood trade magazine, it's also a good way to keep meetings interesting. Don't be afraid to pass the mic to an MC other than your company's CEO. Presenting to the entire company is a great opportunity for other employees to develop as leaders.
- Find the Right Frequency - At Rocketrip, we hold all-hands meetings on the first Friday of every month. They're casual, end-of-the-day gatherings that take place at headquarters, and give or take a few minutes for snacks and beer, they don't last more than an hour. Separate from these monthly all-hands, twice a year we carve out an entire day for an off-site. By holding relatively frequent company-wide meetings and varying the format, we cover the most ground while taking the planning pressure off any single event.
- Collect Feedback After - As a bookend to the question gathering that should take place before an all-hands, send employees a short survey to see if there were topics that weren't adequately covered during the event, and to identify possible improvements for the next one.