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What’s the best way to run an effective all-hands meeting?

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution — but there are best practices. Here are 5 recommendations from leaders all over the world on how to hold a well-run company-wide meeting.

“Does my team think this is a waste of time?” The thought slips into your mind as your prepare for your all-hands meeting. Whether it’s the first all-hands you’ve prepared for or your fiftieth, the question inevitably creeps up.

You need to get everyone in your company on the same page. And so, like most leaders, you decided to hold an all-hands meeting.

But, you wonder if the energy in the room will be flat. Are the topics being covered repetitive? Will folks be sitting there, dying to do just anything else than attend the all-hands?

To figure out how to hold an effective all-hands meeting — one that employees don’t dread or feel apathetic about — I posed the question to The Watercooler, our online community of 1,000+ leaders from all over the world: What do they do to make sure their all-hands meeting is not a waste of time?

The answers I received were from companies as small as 10 employees to companies as big as 260, with ideas as varied as their company size.

However, they did agree on these five recommendations for an effective all-hands meeting:

#1: Never shut up about your mission, vision, values, and goals.

Whatever you choose to talk about, tie it back to the bigger picture of what the company is trying to accomplish. Progress motivates employees— so sharing how their progress fits into the company’s progress gives them energy. One Watercooler member remarked: “Because my business partner and I talk about this stuff (mission/vision/values) all the time, it feels like old news to me. But a big part of our jobs as leaders is to never shut up about this stuff.

#2: Pull back the curtain.

Reveal something in the company that is opaque. Unlike status update meetings or quarterly emails, the all-hands meeting is a rare opportunity to shine a light on something most people in the company find confusing or “off limits” to talk about. For example, some companies will walk through their financials at a high-level. Other companies have the CEO share her thoughts on the vision for the company over the next year.

#3: Mix it up, keep it fresh.

Yawn. Watercooler members admitted that all-hands meetings can become, well, boring. Pass around the mic and avoid the potential of CEOs droning on (myself included!). Delegating speaking roles will get everyone involved, and give folks who best know their domain a chance to shine. Consider also mixing up the meeting format each time, as well. You could invite an outside speaker for one meeting, or ask a team to give a presentation for another. When you vary the format, you can better keep your team’s attention.

#4: Don’t make them mandatory.

The minute you make something required, people resent it. Don’t twist employees’ arms or cajole them into showing up to an all-hands meeting. Instead, make it clear what benefits of attending are, and make it optional. Watercooler members noticed that they saw the greatest engagement during their all-hands meetings when they didn’t force everyone on their team to attend.

#5: Invite critical questions.

It can feel daunting to open yourself up for questions to a room full of 80 people. But your vulnerability has an upside: You show your employees you’re open. And, you source insights that you typically might not get. If your team tends to be resistant to asking tough questions, offer a few questions to your team to get the back rolling. For example you could ask:

  • Who in the company has done great work here that’s gone unnoticed?
  • Is there anything we’re behind the curve on as a company?
  • Have you seen a competitor do anything recently that made you think, “I wish we’d done that?”
  • What red tape do you think we can cut at the company?
  • What’s one thing we could do to improve these all-hands meetings?

Ask these questions, and you’ll inspire someone in the room to ask a critical question of their own.

How many of these things are you already doing during your all-hands meeting? If you have yet to try one, give it a shot. Even implementing one of these best practices can be the difference between your all-hands being a waste of time or a good use of it.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.