When done well, all-hands meetings energize a team. They reinforce clarity and foster a sense of togetherness. Done poorly, all-hands meetings waste time, create resentment and leave a team more disconnected. A powerful all-hands meeting surface key issues, celebrate progress and offer everyone -- from senior leaders to interns -- a chance to ask questions. Running them regularly creates a cultural drumbeat helping everyone bring their best to work.
What is an All-Hands Meeting?
An all-hands meeting, sometimes called a “town hall” or “forum”, gathers the whole organization in person or virtually for company updates. These meetings are valuable to ensure that everyone in the company receives the same information at the same time and in the same way. An all-hands meeting provides transparency and clarity to all members of the company rather than news spreading from person to person or department to department.
The goal of an all-hands meeting is to:
share business updates of the past month, quarter, or season
drive alignment around company mission and strategy
celebrate milestones and the people who made them possible
give everyone a chance to ask questions
It’s never too early to start running all-hands meetings. You’ll know it’s time, as soon as it gets difficult to keep everyone in the company on the same page.
Why is it called an All Hands Meeting?
“All hands” goes back to an idiom “all hands on deck,” where a ship captain would call all available crew members up to the deck to address an issue together. In that context, that issue was often an emergency that required every spare set of hands working in unison to resolve.
In business, the goal of an “all hands” is still to bring every available member of the crew together to work in unison. While they may still be called in times of emergency, an all hands meeting is often a regularly scheduled event.
Why should you run an All Hands meeting?
Keep everyone updated and aligned
It allows sharing of company-wide information and keeping every employee updated on everything business-related. Review your key metrics, such as sales, revenue, net retention, NPS, etc.
It also allows you to get your employees aligned with the company goals and strategy. Think of every member of your team as a vector. An all-hands meeting helps you point them in the right direction.
Foster your company culture
Talk about your company vision & mission, emphasize your values, and review how your company’s doing in terms of achieving your goals. These are important avenues for demonstrating and strengthening your company culture.
It is inspiring and lets people know that there’s a higher purpose behind their work, other than just revenue.
Give everyone a voice
An open Q&A session with leadership will help you uncover the most burning issues and foster transparency in your workplace.
It’s important to dedicate at least 20% of your all-hands agenda to Q&A so you have enough time to answer the most critical questions. You can collect questions from your employees before the meeting, but also allow your team to ask impromptu questions live during the meeting as well.
Celebrate people and their successes
Since all-hands meetings are first and foremost about the people and for the people, celebrating your team members is as important as the business updates.
Especially when things get overwhelming, nothing boosts morale like talking about the highlights and giving a shout-out to the people who helped to achieve them.
What should be in an All Hands meeting?
We created a list of ideas you can have for your All Hands meeting:
1. Start the session with ice breakers
Staff may not get many opportunities to meet distant coworkers outside of all-hands meetings, especially in fully remote workplaces which results in team members being shy or sticking with familiar colleagues during these calls. Icebreakers are a way to kick start conversation and get attendees more comfortable with each other.
You can begin each all-hands meeting with an icebreaker question. If you are meeting in person, encourage participants to share answers with a nearby neighbor or an unfamiliar team member. If you are meeting virtually, you can split the group into breakout rooms, give each participant a turn to speak, or ask attendees to share answers in the chat.
2. Introduce new team members
It is standard to announce new hires via email, company forum, or social media post on the team member’s first day. But there is a big difference between seeing a post about a new teammate and meeting the teammate face to face.
All hands meetings are a good time to reintroduce new team members to the rest of the organization where the whole company is present for the announcement. You can give new hires a short shout out including names, departments, positions, and perhaps a relevant or fun fact or two.
3. Share company news
All hands meetings make updates easy at these gatherings. You can make announcements to the entire company at once which ensures that all team members are aware of new developments and upcoming events.
You can also share an appointment of a new executive member, perks and benefits additions, priorities for the quarter, major wins and goals accomplished, and many more.
Covering these topics during an all-hands meeting gives leaders a chance to explain the news in detail and allows employees the opportunity to ask questions and react. Employees may be curious or excited about these announcements and may want to talk more than time allows. To keep the all-hands meeting on track, you can give employees instructions on where to send comments or questions.
4. Invite a guest speaker
The management team tends to lead all hands meetings, but you can also invite a guest speaker to run the show. You may ask the founder to return to talk about the company’s original vision or the early days of the organization or you may invite an expert to teach a skill that the whole team could benefit from. You can book a motivational speaker to boost team morale or maybe a psychologist talks about stress management techniques. Remember, the topic of the talk does not need to be directly work related.
5. Hold a Q&A session with a guest speaker
While lectures and TED-style talks are interesting, question and answer sessions engage audiences more fully. Holding a Q&A session with a guest speaker gives staff the chance to interact with an expert. Question and answer sessions are also one of the more engaging virtual all hands ideas, since talking back and forth with a special guest is more engrossing than simply staring at a Zoom meeting screen.
Collect questions via form or email before the meeting so that the speaker can answer the most popular questions. If there are unanswered questions at the end of the meeting, the guest speaker can respond via writeup or video, and you can post follow-up replies for team members to access after the session.
6. Launch an ask me anything session with leaders
All hands meetings are an opportunity for employees and leaders to have direct discussions. AMAs, or ask me anything, are conversations where a guest of honor responds live to questions from a crowd. Holding an ask me anything session with management is a way to promote transparency and improve leader-employee relations. These talks can also help employees understand a leader’s logic and get to know executives on a more personal and human level.
Ask me anything with leaders require trust and decorum. Going into the meeting, employees should understand that grievances should be addressed privately with management. This activity is about curiosity and learning, and is a chance for team members to find out more about the inner workings of the organization.
7. Run a super short hackathon
Hackathons are creative sprints where participants work in teams to design new products or solutions. These events typically last 24 to 48 hours, however you could run a condensed version in an hour or two during an all hands meeting. First, encourage attendees to break off into groups, and then explain the prompt. For a super short hackathon, you might ask teams to sketch a new logo or write a slogan, code a single webpage, craft a sales pitch, or dream up an event. In-person groups can split off and work on the projects in different parts of the room, while virtual attendees can use breakout rooms to brainstorm and collaborate. Be sure to leave time at the end of the meeting for groups to present ideas to each other.
8. Spotlight each department
In larger or remote companies, staff may not know the responsibilities or team members of other departments. Company-wide meetings are a chance to educate employees about other areas of the organization, and spotlighting departments is one of the best all hands meeting agenda ideas.
You can dedicate a meeting to introducing the members of each team and explaining the role of the department. You could also plan a short department spotlight section for ongoing all hands calls as a way for teams to give updates, share wins, and get feedback from the rest of the company or you could feature a different department during each all hands call. Teams can take turns leading a section of the meeting while giving a crash course in their area of expertise.
9. Request employee referrals for open positions
Referrals are one of the best recruiting tools. During all-hands meetings, you can advertise open positions and encourage current team members to recommend friends ideal for those roles. Be sure to give a short description of the position, including qualifications and responsibilities, explain the application process, and also mention the hiring timeline. To streamline the process, give attendees a digital or physical form to fill out with the name and contact information of the referee, or create an email address especially for referrals.
10. Play connection and getting to know you games
All hands meetings bring the whole company together and provide an opportunity for team bonding. Connection games are among the best activities for all hands meetings because these exercises offer a low-pressure environment for teammates to learn more about each other. First, choose a game, such as Two Truths and a Lie or Mingle Bingo. Then, split the crowd into smaller groups and encourage teammates to interact. You can end the activity by asking players to share facts learned about teammates.
11. Host a lunch and learn
Lunch and learns are educational sessions that take place at lunchtime. Employers usually cover the costs of food at these events, either by catering or reimbursing employee meals. These sessions tend to take the form of intensive workshops where attendees take a deep dive into a subject, ask questions, and practice new skills.
Lunch and learns are optional activities, however if there is a subject that you believe a large portion of the staff would benefit from learning, or a topic that team members may feel shy about signing up for voluntarily, then consider transforming an all-hands meeting into a lunch and learn session so that all staff can share in the lesson.
12. Structure the meetings around company values
Theming meetings around company values is a way to vary recurring all hands meetings. You could choose a different company value to highlight on every company call, or you could give examples of team members who exhibit these traits. This exercise is a way to drive home the importance of your organization’s ideals, and staff value shout outs give employees extra recognition.
How do you host an All Hands meeting?
1. Set a fixed date and invite people early
Make your all-hands a tradition. Set a fixed date for your all-hands and stick to it. This will help people get used to the meetings and they will be more likely to attend. Send the calendar invites to your colleagues well in advance; ideally at the start of the season or quarter so they can schedule other meetings or days off accordingly. You can also set a fixed time if it’s suitable for the majority of the team, or switch between morning and afternoon slots to accommodate your regional teams.
2. Build a clearly structured agenda
Set a clear agenda for your all-hands meeting with agreed timings. Allocate a concrete time range for each section of your all-hands based on your company priorities. To avoid overruns, sync with all your speakers before the meeting and tell them to keep an eye on the time. Don’t forget to leave enough time for Q&A and feedback. For your inspiration, here’s our all-hands meeting agenda broken down into concrete building blocks.
3. Engage with your team during the meeting
Don’t let your employees sit through the meeting passively. Use interactive live polls to ask your coworkers a thought-provoking question or ask them for real-time feedback.
To add a bit of a fun element to your meeting, you can run a quiz. For example, turn your company numbers into quiz questions and let your employees have a guess at how your company did. If you need inspiration for questions, find it here.
Use your all-hands meeting to strengthen your company culture and lift the team spirit. Try a ‘Silent Hero’ activity to give a shout-out to all the heroes and heroines in your company. You can also ask each team member to think of a person who went the extra mile for them or did an exceptional job last month or quarter.
5. Run more transparent Q&A sessions
An all-hands meeting is a unique opportunity to address your team’s questions or concerns and put any miscommunications or misunderstandings straight.
Collect questions before your all-hands meeting and during the meeting as well – it will allow for any impromptu questions regarding the content that was shared throughout the meeting.
6. Follow up on unanswered questions
Sometimes, you get way more questions than your executives are able to answer during a limited Q&A slot. Don’t leave your employees’ questions unanswered. Show that you truly care about their concerns and follow up on their unanswered questions after the meeting. Address any outstanding ones in writing, share an internal memo, have your departmental leads provide answers individually to their team or record a video/audio recording.
7. Conclude the meeting with actionable next steps
Finish off the all-hands with a strong message to give your employees something tangible to leave with. Prepare a wrap-up slide with a key takeaway or have your CEO summarize the most important points and next steps. This is an effective way to get people on the same page and energize them for what lies ahead.
8. Ask for feedback
Your employees’ feedback is the only way to keep improving your all-hands meetings and ensuring they’re as relevant as they can be. So, before everybody leaves, ask them to fill out a short feedback survey to evaluate the meeting. Keep your survey short and to the point so it’s quick for your employees to complete.
After the meeting, share the recording with your employees in your internal communications channels so that those who couldn’t join can watch it later.
How often should you hold an All Hands meeting?
The optimal frequency of all hands meetings usually depends on a few things:
The size of your organization: while it may be easy to get everyone into the same meeting if you’re working on a small team, it may be exceedingly difficult to do the same thing for an enterprise organization. Modern communication 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 structured and open communicators, there may be less cause for frequent all hands meetings. If communication is chaotic, bringing everyone together more frequently could help keep everyone on the same page.
The size or nature of the news: there are some pieces of news, like a merger, an acquisition, or a major global event that might necessitate their own all hands meeting.
Finding your own balance might involve some trial and error. If you’re not holding these meetings at all, focus on getting started—then work out a schedule.