A friend once told me about a previous job where everyone knew when bad news was coming—it was the only time management would call an “all-hands meeting.”

Can you imagine? The only time you get the entire company together is to dump bad news on them—certainly not an effective way to keep a team informed and motivated.

All-hands meetings, also referred to as town halls, when done right, provide companies an excellent forum to update employees. And unlike my friend’s previous gig, they should be a part of your company’s regular internal communications.

What exactly is an all-hands meeting? It is a company-wide gathering where all employees and others vested in the company meet with the leadership team. All-hands meetings are useful as a company grows because everyone in the company gets the same information at the same time.

Although it is ideal to have everyone at the same location, if this is not realistic, make sure remote employees attend virtually. Typically, these meetings should be held quarterly, but for larger companies, a more realistic frequency may be every six months. The key to a successful all-hands meeting is transparency and open communication

The agenda should include highlights of company-wide, departmental and individual successes as well as any challenges the company and industry faces. Did the company increase its market share? Proclaim it. Is there a new product being released or updated? Give details. Did an individual break a company performance record or substantially improve their performance? Reward them. Are any new products or markets being developed? Share.

Just as you want to highlight the positive, you must also address the negative. Is a weak economy impacting sales? Is a new competitor cannibalizing your market share? What’s the solution? Have there been layoffs? If so, is the company now stable or could there be more layoffs? The key is to share what you know and what your employees need to know. Also, permit them to ask questions and be honest with them.

If you don’t openly communicate with staff, they will draw conclusions, often incorrectly, which can hurt company morale and cause some key personnel to look for employment elsewhere. By keeping everyone updated, it keeps all vested in the company motivated around a common goal while hopefully boosting morale in the process.

If you are tasked with putting together an all-hands meeting, you will most likely have two roles: strategic and logistical.  The strategic planning of the meeting will include creating the agenda and messaging. 

Find out from staff, including management, and key stakeholders what topics and issues they want to be addressed, soliciting any success stories about individuals and departments. Once this information is compiled, you must carefully evaluate and analyze the data to determine what should be discussed and begin crafting the message. 

Wearing your tactical hat, all logistics must be worked out including crafting and sending invitations, selecting the right venue, creating menus, selecting and procuring any rewards and employee giveaways, and arranging for audiovisual including hookups for remote workers.

The following items should be arranged and budgeted for when planning an all-hands meeting that goes off without a hitch.

  • Agenda: Create an agenda and distribute it to all involved. Dana Toland, founder and president of Weymouth, MA-based The IT Exchange Group, a company that provides turnkey meeting planning, surveys all staff, management, and key stakeholders to find out what issues they want included on the agenda. She recommends using blind surveys so team members will be transparent. Once the agenda is created, craft a strict timeline for each portion of the meeting, leaving time for the all-important Q&As.
  • Video conferencing is a must: Video conferencing equipment and capabilities to stream in remote teams are required.
  • Zooming: Debra Dohnert, CMP, senior manager of special events for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, uses Zoom for the all-hands meetings she plans. This is a video conferencing tool that makes it easy for remote employees to participate and to record the meeting. With this in mind, she makes sure the facility she is planning to have the meeting in has hard-wired internet and a camera.
  • Mics: Arrange for handheld microphones and runners who will help facilitate the Q&A portion of the all-hands meeting. For those presenting, be sure each has his or her own mic.
  • Include some surprises: Plan for an element of surprise. End the meeting with a beautifully prepared lunch or reception with an open bar. This will encourage the group to network and enjoy time together, resulting in team camaraderie. With this in mind, provide name tags with name, title, and work location.
  • Seating that stimulates conversation: Consider replacing the traditional theater-style seating with pods and rounds. This is the new go-to at Convene as it gives employees a chance to engage with each other and allows for interaction.
  • Brainstorming activities: Create at least one interactive brainstorming activity. During our all-hands meetings at Convene, we will often include questions like, “Where do you see the company in the next five years?” and “What is one word that comes to mind when thinking about product X?” This creates engagement which is essential as you don’t want this meeting to turn into a lecture. Remember, don’t forget to have fun.
  • Variety of voices: Don’t limit your speakers to just the CEO. All-hands meetings are a great time to give individual department heads and managers a chance to share progress from their team. At a recent Convene all-hands meeting, CEO Ryan Simonetti did a joint Q&A sessions with CPO Tom Zampini.
All hands meeting
Convene CEO Ryan Simonetti and CPO Tom Zampini at a recent company all-hands meeting.
  • Include those not attending in person: Include remote employees in the presentation by addressing them throughout.
  • Questions are important: Collect team members’ questions using a tool like Slido or a similar platform before the meeting and leave time for questions to be asked live during the meeting.
  • Provide the details: If the all-hands meeting is being held at an offsite venue, be sure to provide the address and detailed instructions. For example, arrival times, directions, and a reminder to bring ID for building security.
  • Save it: Record the all-hands meeting for those in time zones that make it impossible to attend.