All-hands meetings, sometimes referred to as town halls, have become common practice in organizations of all sizes, giving employees across teams an opportunity to meet with leadership. They also provide an opportunity to engage remote colleagues, fostering their sense of connection to their company. Marc Benioff of Salesforce stresses the importance of all-hands meetings “there is nothing more important for a growing company than constant communication and complete alignment.” Whether I’m coaching a seasoned CEO or an emerging team leader at a tech startup, one of the first areas people want to work on is their executive presence at all-hands meetings. According to Gokul Rajaram from Square, the best led all-hand meetings should drive company culture by:
- celebrating people and accomplishments
- drawing alignment to the organization’s mission, strategy and priorities
- providing a forum to ask and answer questions.
“To be honest, I dread our all-hands meetings. I feel pressure to share updates that prove I’m effective in my role, but worry that what I’m saying is boring or meaningless to others.” (actual confession made by nearly everyone who’s ever had to give an all-hands update.)
“I end up spending my entire night preparing for the all-hands, and I don’t even know if it makes a difference- I end up feeling anxious regardless, and I could use that time to get other work off my plate.” (remorse expressed by nearly everyone who’s ever prepared to lead an all-hands.)
Why do so many people experience angst at all-hands meetings? Even people who are typically comfortable speaking in front of others can feel awkward and unsure of what to say at their all-hands, especially if they fear their update to the group will be perceived as too granular, vague, inferior- wasting people’s time. Not only does the all-hands place us squarely in the middle of social comparisons, it forces us to witness real time reactions in a group setting increasing our self-consciousness. Our human nature compels us to seek approval from others, fear social judgement and rejection, and analyze our social standing relative to others. Human social norm adherence is at the backbone of our evolutionary history. Adhering to social norms was critical to our survival for thousands of years, providing group protection from predators, nourishment through cooperative hunting and farming, and securing our genetic legacy through cooperative mating.
In today’s day and age, people’s perceptions of us continue to influence our sense of social standing, particularly in our place of work, where success or failure remains critical to our livelihood and self image. Organizational leaders feel pressure to orchestrate effective all-hands meetings, knowing that a poorly led one runs the risk of being a massive drain on productivity, dampening the collective mood across and within teams. Left unchecked, these all-hands can turn into ‘sharing for the sake of sharing’ and a lost opportunity to energize and inspire attendees.
So rather than spending the evening before an all-hands on gut-wrenching rehearsal, use this simple framework for filtering what to include and what not to include:
Share compelling information that illuminates both progress and challenges:
- Focus on sharing updates and progress with an emphasis on WHO this information will be helpful to, and WHY it matters in the big picture of the organization’s mission and goals.
- Provide context by drawing connections between strategy and results, comparing outcomes with expectations. Rather than framing missed outcomes as failures or alluding to blame, recognize when people’s efforts revealed compelling information, both positive and negative.
Connect with listeners through the lens of their shared experience.
- When you acknowledge common frustrations and shared experiences, you increase trust by recognizing the challenges commonly felt across a team. Team shortages, sparse resources, and stalled progress are all opportunities to express empathy, normalizing people’s grievances.
- Particularly when things get rough as a quarter gets underway, boost morale by talking about personal highlights of gratitude, encouraging shout-outs to team members who went the extra mile or helped the most in the past month.
Provide opportunities for people to safely share feedback about the all-hands to leadership.
- Answer pre-asked questions: Provide a forum ( ideally through an online tool) for people to ask questions in advance of the all-hands, and for everyone to vote on the questions they want answered. The person who is closest to the topic responds to the top questions asked.
- Use anonymous surveys to ask attendees to rate the all-hands, and provide an open-ended comment field around how it could be better. And, like with everything else, if you don’t actually address and plan to act on the comments, you shouldn’t ask for them.
This framework gives attendees an opportunity to feel acknowledged, curious, empowered and informed during their all-hands. No matter how you go about running an all-hands, stay connected to their purpose. All-hands meetings exist to reinforce what matters to everyone, all at once. Keeping that in mind can help you take all of the above and shape it to reflect fit your organization’s culture, mission and goals.
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