What is an all hands meeting?

Marc Thomas
 | 
Co-founder
What is an all hands meeting?

All hands meetings are an opportunity for all employees to get together and to drive the company in the right direction. Here's what they are and how to run them.

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You often hear people talk about Monday morning meetings. Or about town hall meetings. Or about all team meetings.

But these are almost always just different names for the big boy: The all hands meeting.

"We hold weekly all-hands meetings every Monday at lunch time. These meetings are our chance to share relevant updates on key initiatives, tackle special topics and news, celebrate birthdays and promotions, and more," says Evan LePage, Senior Content Manager at Unito. "We have always recorded these for people who couldn't attend, but never hosted them as online meetings prior to COVID-19."

Most companies will think about running an all hands meeting occasionally, but if you've got questions about how to run yours, what an all hands meeting is for or how to keep team members engaged when everyone's in the same room (virtual or not) then you've come to the right place. We'll answer all those questions in this article.

Let's get started!

What is an all hands meeting?

All hands meetings are an opportunity for all employees to get together at an entire company gathering, to discuss company goals, progress against key metrics and to discuss big projects with the company leadership.

Most companies will hold all hands meetings regularly but the frequency and size will vary depending on how big the company is.

Smaller companies might decide to do an all hands meeting every week. We're a small team and we like to do between 10:30 and 11:30, every Monday morning.

Larger companies could opt for a monthly or quarterly meeting. And companies with multiple divisions or localities might have multiple all hands meetings in order to maximise the efficiency of the agenda.

But regardless of the size you're at, an all hands meeting generally covers things like:

  • How the company is performing against company goals – Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are often a big part of an all hands because they offer everyone a good scorecard to see how healthy the progress being made is
  • Updates on key projects and changing priorities of the business
  • A Q&A session with the leadership team of the business or, in a larger company, a small section of leaders from different teams
  • Welcomes to key hires, celebrations of particularly great work and anything that cements the feeling of a positive company culture for the employees

Why are all hands meetings important?

In reality, most companies should be running all hands meetings because they're a fantastic way to bring everyone into the same room and drive growth in the business.

That's not an isolated case. A lot of people feel lonely in their work. Particularly in an age where we're mostly working remotely from our homes.

Consider this quote from a Harvard Business Review article:

"One anonymous worker in the United Kingdom lamented, 'I get paid well to do something I enjoy, and…[I’m] surrounded by clever, funny, like-minded people.  And for 45 or 50 hours every week, I feel isolated.'"

That's not an isolated case. A lot of people feel lonely in their work. Particularly in an age where we're mostly working remotely from our homes.

So besides giving an opportunity to hear what's new, all hands meetings provide a valuable way for the employees of the company to feel like they're part of something bigger.

How do you run an all hands meeting?

Running an all hands meeting doesn't have to be tough when you follow these quick tips:

Communicate the date and time to everyone

Seems obvious right? But... some people are bad at diaries. Make sure it's crystal clear when an all hands is set to happen, that they're expected to be there and give out joining instructions for the call or for the location of the meeting.

If you're in a smaller team, use Calendly to find a time that works for everyone

Find an interesting venue (if it's a physical all hands)

We're all doing a lot of video calls these days, but if you're in the lucky position of being able to choose a physical venue, make sure that you choose a good one.

What's good?

Well, a good venue for an all hands has functional qualities like good sound, good light and comfortable facilities.

A physical venue is a great opportunity to drive a message home

But more than that: a physical venue is a great opportunity to drive a message home. Is your all hands focused on where the company is going? Set the venue to be aspirational.

Masters of this are Apple. Prior to their building of a spaceship of a campus, they aligned the venue for their keynote events to the theme of the events. Apple Music announcements happened in a concert venue. Operational announcements happened at a literal town hall.

This stuff is subtle but it really sets people's minds up.

Collect questions before hand – use doopoll to do this at scale

You won't believe how often people forget to do a Q&A session or include questions from their employees in an all hands meeting.

But you're not like them right?

Asking questions and getting answers is one of the main benefits of an all hands meeting for team members. So make sure you're collecting questions from your team before hand.

Quick aside here: we have an article for you about how to make your next virtual all hands so much more engaging. Make sure you check it out here.

Prepare thoughtful answers in advance to show them that you're actually listening.

Once you're in the flow, you can allow them to submit spontaneous questions for a roundup at the end of the event.

You can use doopoll to collect questions from your team before the all hands starts. And then once you're in the flow, you can allow them to submit spontaneous questions for a roundup at the end of the event.

This will be especially important for remote team members who aren't in the room but might have meaningful questions.

Agree an agenda

An all hands agenda is necessary to ensure that things stay on track. It doesn't have to be complicated or overly structured.

But you'll want to ensure that you allocate the appropriate amount of time for everyone to present their parts.

Every minute your employees are in the meeting, is a minute that they're not doing other important work.

Remember that if everyone in the company is there, then you're going to want to keep it short. Every minute your employees are in the meeting, is a minute that they're not doing other important work.

The more employees you have, the more important punctuality and respect for everyone's time is.

Find a moderator

Having just talked about an agenda, it's important that we find someone who is capable of managing that agenda.

Here you generally have two options:

  1. In a small company, have one of the company leaders manage the meeting
  2. In a larger company, find a competent presenter from one of your leadership teams (often people choose their marketing director) or else hire a presenter from outside the organisation – the benefit of hiring someone in is that they can move things along without any panic about hurting people's feelings.

A moderator's job is to ensure that everyone feels welcome and at ease; that they know how to access the live voting features of your meeting; that the agenda moves along at an appropriate speed.

Pro tip: at the start of your all hands, make sure you use some of these ice breaker questions as a way to get everyone in the mood.

Make information that you'll be discussing available beforehand

It's entirely optional, but a top tip from my own experience is that if you're wanting to get everyone on board with a meeting, you should put a short amount of time into writing a quick briefing document, and share this with all attendees before hand.

I personally prefer a one-pager with a summary of everything that will be discussed in addition to the all hands meeting agenda, but other people like to put a slideshow together. You can use Google Slides to do this or send a Powerpoint/Keynote file around.

By the way, in case you feel totally insecure about your slides, you'll want to read our 6 expert tips on how to make better powerpoint slides – each one includes visual and easy to replicate examples.

Whatever you do, giving people a heads up will produce better outcomes in the meeting.

Keep it short

Once more on the agenda, because it's the biggest opportunity for most people to improve the all team meetings that they run: keep it short!

60 seconds for everyone in a small company really works. But once you get past 10-15 people, you're going to want to be more picky about how you allocate agenda time to people.

"With multiple people in the same meeting, it can get chaotic very fast. I’m the first to admit that I hate meetings either way, but having more than 5 people in a meeting, especially if the meeting is over 30 minutes long, is killer for me. So we try not to do that so much," says Heinrich Long of RestorePrivacy.

Heinrich's point is solid. You increase the likelihood that a meeting will overrun and eat up time that could be spent on more productive things when you don't actively manage the timing.

Here's what Heinrich said about solving that problem: "The solution I came up with is to keep everything as short as possible. Everyone gets 60 seconds to talk, and we take turns. No one talks over each other or at the same time. It’s worked for us so far."

60 seconds for everyone in a small company really works. But once you get past 10-15 people, you're going to want to be more picky about how you allocate agenda time to people.

That's also why you need a moderator!

Make sure everyone's in the right environment

Especially when you're running a virtual all hands meeting, it's important that everything is set up as it should be:

"One of the problems an all hands meeting usually encounters is not on the meeting itself but the way it is being conducted. For instance, the weak or unstable internet connection, the poor lighting, the low-quality web camera, and some family members suddenly barging in on the room while some meetings are being held," says Lewis Keegan, Founder at SkillScouter

Lewis is right. Those things can be really distracting particularly for remote employees and new hires who haven't ever met anyone at the company in person.

Check out the tips in our live streaming article about audio visual setups for video calls where we cover microphones, lighting as well as some broader tips.

How do you engage employees in a meeting?

So we've covered what an all hands is, as well as how and why an all hands meeting is important. Before we close off, let's just cover an under appreciated thing: engaging employees in all hands meetings.

Especially if they're new hires to the company, or they're newly working from home, employees must be engaged in the conversation that is happening in the all hands.

The best way that you can engage everyone, is to let them have a say with a live poll.

Why?

Firstly, your employees, no matter how engaged, will struggle to listen to a one way conversation for more than 20 or so minutes. You need to give them some way to have a response – and unless you're a really small team (like 5 people or fewer) then you're not going to be able to give everyone a meaningful way to interact with you that is also time and energy efficient.

The best way that you can engage everyone, is to let them have a say with a live poll.

Secondly, everyone is sitting with a phone in their pockets. Do you want them to scroll through Instagram or answer emails on the sly? Or do you want to give them a way to meaningfully engage with what's being discussed so that you can drive the organisation forward more effectively?

So what do you do? You create a live poll on doopoll and let everyone answer your questions in real time.

Our Presenter screen is tailor made for this use case and lets everyone see how the room is feeling in a slide-show like presentation.

Plus, you can use doopoll to run a live Q&A where you crowdsource questions from the audience.

We've seen this done at hundreds of live events: everything from big conferences, to board meetings to annual general meetings and even awards ceremonies.

The results are always astounding.

So what are you waiting for? Create your next live poll on doopoll.

It's free to get started – but you'll want to upgrade to our Super plan in order to make the most out of the Presenter screen.

Easy to use survey builder.
Create as many surveys and questions as you like.
3-4x more responses.
Responses appear in real time.
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