All hands meetings are a perfect opportunity to discuss organizational goals, company culture, and news. A successful all hands meeting leaves attendees inspired, engaged, and motivated to do the best work of their career.
On the flipside, an unsuccessful all hands meeting can produce a neutral or even negative effect, with attendees leaving feeling confused, frustrated, or less engaged than when they arrived.
This guide is dedicated to helping you and your team have more consistent, more effective, and most of all, more engaging all hands meetings. We’ll start with the basics, then we’ll cover more advanced tips.
Feel free to use the links below to skip ahead to the sections most relevant to you right now:
- What is an all hands meeting?
- Why should I have an all hands meeting?
- How do I make our all hands meeting something everyone looks forward to?
Let’s get started!
What is an all hands meeting?
An all hands meeting is a gathering of everyone in the organization, usually with the goal of discussing a core issue. In the past, this gathering frequently happened in person, but as remote work has become more prevalent, company-wide meetings increasingly happen through video conferencing tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
Why is it called an ‘all hands’ meeting? ⛵
“All hands” harkens back to the idiom “All hands on deck,” where a ship captain would call all crew members up to the deck to address an issue together. In that context, the issue was often an emergency that required every set of hands working in unison to resolve.
In the context of business, the goal of an all hands meeting is still to bring all team members together to work in unison. While this kind of meeting might be called in times of emergency, these days an all hands meeting is often a regularly scheduled event.
Why should I have an all hands meeting?
At a time when meeting overload (especially video meetings) is at an all-time high, why hold a regular all hands? Simply put, it’s a unique and irreplaceable opportunity to communicate with your entire team.
A company-wide email might convey information, but it leaves little or no room for discussion. A general channel message in Slack or Microsoft Teams might reach everyone, but it doesn’t allow for the same structured, personal discussions an all hands meeting does.
How often should you hold all hands meetings?
How an all hand meeting is structured and how often it’s held depends on a few things.
- The size of your organization: While it may be easy to get everyone into the same meeting if your company is made up of a small team, it becomes exceedingly difficult to do the same for an enterprise organization. Modern internal communications tools make connecting large groups easier, but getting hundreds (or thousands) of people together all at once can still be a considerable challenge.
- Communication standards across your organization: If you’re on a team of open communicators, there may be less cause for frequent all-staff meetings. If communication is irregular or chaotic, bringing everyone together more often could help keep everyone on the same page.
- The size or nature of the news: There are some larger pieces of news or certain times of year, such as the start or end of the year, that might necessitate a more in-depth all hands meeting.
Finding your own balance might involve some trial and error. If you’re not holding these team meetings at all, focus on getting started — then work out a schedule.
How we schedule our all hands meetings at Polly
We currently hold all hands meetings twice a month. We reached this cadence after experimenting with weekly and monthly all hands meetings over the past few years.
When we were much smaller and our departments operated as remote teams of one, it was important to meet frequently as a whole team to share information and keep everyone in sync. During that time, we met weekly on Mondays.
As our team increased in head count and expanded geographically, it became more difficult to bring all team members together. As departments grew, it became less important for individuals to share status updates on such a broad scale.
A continually scaling team is another factor in our schedule. All hands meetings are a great opportunity to introduce and celebrate new hires.
Our all hands cadence may change again as our organization evolves, but for now, it feels like the appropriate balance of knowledge transfer and resource allocation.
11 ways to make all hands meetings something your team looks forward to
The value of your all hands meeting is directly proportionate to the effort dedicated to it. That doesn’t mean this responsibility is (or should be) all on one person’s shoulders. It’s important to spread that responsibility across the group of stakeholders.
Many of the most meaningful improvements you can make to an all hands meeting require input from the audience.
It’s always useful to try new ways to keep the meeting interesting and valuable. However, there are 11 key elements you should include to ensure a successful all hands meeting:
1. Be transparent
If communication and information-sharing are key goals of an all hands meeting, transparency is a vital element of success. That doesn’t mean sharing everything all the time, but the more open communication is around central business themes, the greater chance there is of finding creative, innovative solutions. Plus, transparency will help you build trust across your organization.
2. Include feedback and interaction
Feedback is another essential feature every all hands meeting should have.
As Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins explain in their Harvard Business Review article on the topic:
“If you think a town hall is your opportunity to get on stage with a big PowerPoint slide and present from behind the podium, you’ve lost them… No matter how large these meetings get, they are a chance to connect with staff on a personal level. And staff yearns for a personal connection with leaders. “
Ask for feedback about workplace culture, management, meeting cadence, and more to help you continually make improvements to your processes.
3. Run a Q&A session
Q&As are incredibly helpful to add to an all hands meeting, but they often get pushed to the wayside — sometimes out of fear that questions will be too challenging or simply because of time constraints.
If time is your concern, consider shuffling other content to save 10-15 minutes for Q&A. If you’re concerned about the quality or content of the questions, there are tools that can help.
Using Zoom for your all hands meeting? Try using Polly's built-in features to field and moderate questions from your audience.
4. Establish an all hands meeting agenda
Set the agenda in advance of your meeting, and solicit feedback on it. There might be a crucial discussion topic that didn’t make the agenda. Alternatively, the agenda could be a deep dive into an area few attendees have interest in that might be better addressed in a different way.
Let the audience be your guide as you develop the agenda because, ultimately, this meeting is for their benefit.
5. Alternate formats
Keeping a consistent format is helpful because it gives the audience an idea of what to expect in the next meeting. However, there can be too much of a good thing. To cover the breadth of topics you need to in sufficient depth, it’s often helpful to have an alternating format.
At Polly, one of our all hands meetings covers OKR updates, key metrics, and other information about the entire company. Our alternate all hands format focuses much more on celebrating our remote employees, giving shout-outs for milestones and anniversaries, and building stronger team bonds.
Both all hands meeting formats include elements from the other but with a narrower focus.
6. Provide visual aids
Unless your presenters are pros at charades or interpretive dance, you’re going to want some visual aids. The visual aids don’t have to be groundbreaking, but the better they are, the more they can help you communicate.
If you’re sharing numbers or trends, put them on slides, so everyone can see them during the discussion. Calling out some great work by a member of your team? Share a photo (with their permission) while highlighting their accomplishments and contributions.
At Polly, we have a branded slide template we use for all hands that gives us a lot of freedom for how we want to convey information. It’s simple but well-designed, and it matches our brand.
7. Have fun
It might not seem like the perfect venue for fun, but if you want people to look forward to it, an all hands can’t be all work and no play. Even with a small audience, it’s inevitable that you’ll run into the dreaded pre-meeting awkwardness.
At Polly, we’ll often start meetings with a Hot Take (a controversial statement designed for some good-spirited debate). A good example would be: “Sandwiches should always be cut diagonally,” or “Dumplings are ravioli.”
Icebreakers can also help bring a lighter mood into what might otherwise be a somber meeting.
8. Utilize break-out rooms
Because of the sheer size of the meeting audience, it’s not easy for discussions to happen among teammates during a large all hands meeting. That’s why break-out rooms are a great addition.
Adding a break-out session to the end of a virtual all hands meeting gives smaller groups a chance to digest and discuss the central themes of the meeting or simply chat in a more inclusive environment.
9. Make it interesting
All hands meetings should have a sense of familiarity without feeling like a scene from Groundhog Day. Consider keeping a portion of your meeting swappable with different options for each meeting.
One example we do at Polly is “Flock Talk,” a recorded interview that showcases a different member of the team each time. We also have “Values in Action,” which is a segment where we nominate individuals for embodying our team’s core values.
Do what you can to keep things interesting, as the same bland all hands meetings can get tiring fast.
10. Record it
Most, if not all, video meeting tools offer a recording option.
While a fundamental goal of an all hands meeting is to get everyone together, it’s not always possible. Whether time zones, time off, or another barrier is keeping a member of your team from being able to join the live session, having a recording available makes it easy for them to catch up.
At Polly, we have an all hands channel where we post a link to slides and a recorded version of every all hands meeting. We also keep a historical record of past all hands meetings in Notion.
11. Keep the discussion ongoing
Our all hands channel also serves as a dedicated space for discussions on topics covered in our all hands meetings. These follow-up discussions give members of the team an opportunity to dive deeper into a topic or cover adjacent topics. Because it’s a channel everyone is a member of, it’s easy for anyone interested to follow those discussions.
We also use this channel to send a polly after all hands meetings to understand what we could improve in the next meeting.
What are your experiences with all hands meetings?
Does your team host (or plan on hosting) a regular all hands meeting? We’d love to hear about the strategies you use. How do you lead engaging and educational meetings that the team looks forward to? Let us know @polly_ai.
Polly provides a modern solution to gather instantaneous feedback. With Polly, you can empower all voices with live polls and anonymous feedback, both during and after your all hands meeting. Sign up for an instant free trial today!
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Written by George Dickson
Lives to learn and build cool things with good people.