How to Make Your All-Staff Meetings More Effective
One of the most sought after values that employees look for in their employers is transparency. They want to understand how the company is doing, where it is heading and what role they play now and in the future. While direct managers can offer feedback and support to their teams addressing these concerns, company staff meetings offer better solutions to communicating the company vision all at once.
If your business isn’t holding all-staff meetings, sometimes called town halls or all-hands meetings, then you could be missing out. Even small startups with a handful of staff can benefit from bringing everyone together to answer questions and review the challenges ahead.
Why You Should Host All-Staff Meetings
There are multiple benefits to hosting an all-staff meeting, employee communication expert Alison Davis writes. When done well, these meetings allow employees to interact with senior leadership in ways they otherwise wouldn’t, giving everyone a voice and company representation. During all-staff meetings, employees can get answers to questions. They can learn, for example, how management is guiding the company in the right direction. Any fears or concerns in that regard can be alleviated, or at least reduced.
Additionally, town hall meetings create a sense of ownership and can boost team spirit. “When staff is included in discussions and decisions of certain issues, it will be good for morale and motivation in the workplace,” Elise Veerman at meeting guide app GAIKU writes. Instead of lower-level employees feeling like pawns that simply follow orders, they become an integral part of the solution and decision-making process.
Test Different Options to Decide What Works for You
In order to make your town hall meetings effective, you may need to test different models and frequencies that make sense for your staff.
Martina Cicakova says Slido, a meeting communications platform started hosting its own all-hands meetings when it reached a team of about 40 and they have been a staple of the employee experience for the past two years.
She recommends starting these meetings once your company is big enough that your entire staff can’t fit in one room. This likely means that your team has multiple projects not everyone is aware of, and bringing the whole team together allows different leads to share news and updates for the company vision.
Rocketrip CEO Daniel Ruch says his company, which helps businesses save on corporate travel, holds all-hands meetings on the first Friday of every month. They are casual, end-of-day meetings that typically last about an hour. Most employees can enjoy beer and snacks and, most importantly, have a dedicated outlet where they can address questions and concerns.
Additionally, Rocketrip holds bi-annual off-site meetings that last the whole day so everyone can get on the same page for the company’s vision.
You may only need to host quarterly town halls to get your message across, or you may want a weekly review to end your Friday and prepare your staff for the coming week.
Include Remote Teams and Branch Workers in Town Halls
All-hands meetings need to include all hands, no matter where they work or what level of the organizational chart they fall on. The team at Workopolis emphasizes that anyone who works for your company should attend.
Some companies host virtual town halls so they can reach every branch with news at once. Others set up video calls for remote employees and team members working from home. A quick way to isolate your remote workers is by holding an all staff meeting that they can’t attend.
To see a company that is doing town halls well, look at Atlassian. Sarah Goff-Dupont writes that Atlassian used to conduct location-based all-hands meetings monthly; however, it was rare for employees in branch offices around the world to see the founder and the information wasn’t always presented consistently. So, they switched to weekly online 30-minute meetings. They were able to find a time during business hours for about 80 percent of the staff, and recorded the meetings for those unable to attend.
If a branch office was closed during the virtual meeting, the recording was played the next morning along with a company-sponsored breakfast. This increased team feelings of inclusion while conveying information in a unified manner.
Develop a Town Hall Plan of Action
Determining the format of your town hall is really just the first step. The next part involves getting your management team and support staff to help you execute it cleanly.
First, your town hall needs a meeting leader, or someone who senior leadership will listen to and accept guidance from when planning the town hall. “Without a meeting leader, chaos will ensue every time,” Robert Gibb at Hubstaff explains. “Your meetings must have a point person — typically the person who called the meeting — to lead a meeting and to keep things on track throughout the session.”
This is particularly true when holding all-staff meetings with multiple presenters, where some people may have sessions that run long or get out of hand.
Speaking of presenters, your meeting leader should work with each speaker to make sure their message is appropriate, valuable and easy to understand. “Sharing key metrics during an all-hands is amazing, but that doesn’t mean sharing all the metrics,” Laura Tyson at Geckoboard writes. “Elaborate slides...or detailed spreadsheets with granular financial details raise more questions than they answer.”
This piece of advice will likely be hardest for finance team leads or analytically-inclined workers. While you want to share concrete data on how the company is doing, you need to make sure everyone in the room understands what is being presented. If necessary, build time into your presentation to explain various metrics and why they are important as you present them.
Next, your town hall needs staff members and volunteers who can help get the meeting off the ground.
“If your town hall is more than 30 people, you’ll need to recruit a small army to help you with both planning and execution,” communications specialist Andrea Duke explains. “Leveraging these folks allows you to delegate key tasks, from editing slides to equipment testing to something as simple as spotting questions from the audience.”
Create Space for Questions and Informal Conversations
You will likely have a lot of important information to share with your attendees, but you also want to create space for them to bring up concerns and ask questions of your staff. One way to solve this is to provide snacks or networking around your town hall meeting.
Jamie Nichol, program consultant at LifeLabs Learning, encourages companies to build all-staff meetings around a meal, whether you are serving breakfast or lunch to your team. What seems like a corporate expense can actually boost the effectiveness of your meetings in a few ways:
Employees can sit next to upper management and talk to them in an informal setting.
Buffets allow people to move around, talking to specific people and asking questions they might not feel comfortable asking in front of the group.
Eating together builds connections and camaraderie within staff.
Naturally, this plan needs to be executed well to work. If the executive team all sit together at the head table and never mingle with staff, you might actually isolate those who work for you.
“Anyone in your meeting should be able to direct a question,” SpeakUp cofounder and CEO Ray Gillenwater says. “It should also be intuitively obvious to the CEO that this is not the time or place to require someone to overcome their fear of public speaking. Some people fear speaking more than death, and an open Q&A is too high of a barrier for them.”
Even once a meeting is over, create an informal space for people to spend time talking with the executive team to discuss an unanswered issues.
Be Prepared to Answer Difficult Questions
If you are committed to hosting regular all-hands meetings and giving team members a space to feel heard, then you need to be prepared to clearly address the concerns your staff bring up.
“The real power of a town hall meeting is to create dialogue on important issues,” the team at Epiphany Coaches writes. “Although some leaders might get nervous about this concept, town hall dialogue is actually a great way to engage employees, because they know their voice is getting heard by colleagues and management.”
Executive coach Todd Emaus says one of the first all-hands meetings he hosted for a company he founded was a near disaster because his team wasn’t prepared to answer staff questions. And rather than promising clear answers to the questions they didn’t know, the team gave vague responses and danced around the difficult parts. Emaus said he needed to change his strategy and return with clear answers if he wanted to create a culture of transparency and trust.
The best leaders expect and anticipate wildcard questions from their employees and answer them clearly, communications expert Suzanne Franchetti writes. She recommends working with your communications team to practice answering questions on the fly and review talking points before a meeting. This will give you any information you need to discuss difficult subjects and train you to face surprise questions with intelligent responses.
Show How Employee Participation Drives Results
Giving your employees space to share ideas and ask questions is pointless if you don’t actually take action based on what was discussed. Use part of your town all to request feedback and show how past ideas became strategies or opportunities.
“Many companies forget to show employees how their feedback has been taken on board, or why certain decisions have been made,” says Chelsea Kahle at Plan Your Meetings. Your all-hands meeting is your opportunity to do that. If people feel like they are heard they will continue to come up with new ideas that can drive the company forward.
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