The All-Hands Meeting: What It Is and How To Do It Right
Have you been invited to your first all-hands meeting — or maybe even asked to plan one? Whatever your situation, it’s best to know exactly what you’re heading into.
Unsurprisingly, an all-hands meeting involves everyone (that’s the all-hands part). They’re the best time for an organization’s leaders to share important news, and usually the best chance for everyone else to ask questions.
Whether you need a full definition or you’re just brushing up on your knowledge, get ready to learn everything you need to know about these big-picture, company-wide meetings.
What is an all-hands meeting?
The name comes from the boating phrase “all hands on deck.” Imagine a ship’s captain calling everyone up on board to scrub the decks, fight off some pirates, or weather a storm.
That’s the idea behind an all-hands meeting — except instead of the first mate or captain, it’ll be leadership or upper management, calling you into a Zoom room or lecture hall.
Put simply, it’s a big, company-wide meeting that brings the entire staff together!
Unlike the original phrase, all-hands meetings don’t signal an emergency or urgent situation. Instead, they’re used to discuss topics that affect everyone, like strategic plans, big projects, or important financial results.
Many companies hold them regularly — sometimes as often as once a week. They could also be held quarterly, monthly, or on an as-needed basis.
Why you need the all-hands meeting
When you’re caught up in the daily grind, it can be all too easy to get bogged down in the minutia of doing your job and running your team. All-hands meetings give everyone a chance to zoom out, look at the big picture, and remember that they’re part of a larger whole.
Beyond just sharing information, these gatherings are an important way to build connection and foster a shared sense of company culture. They’re a super-powerful way to keep everyone united and on the same page.
That sense of community can be especially important for remote and distributed teams. When coworkers are never physically present, leaders need to be intentional about creating opportunities for connection.
All-hands meetings can do just that — as long as they’re done right.
Organizations use them to:
- Share business results, such as profits or total sales.
- Check-in on progress towards important goals and growth targets.
- Recognize wins and the people responsible for them.
- Educate and inspire employees.
- Share important news, such as restructuring, mergers, or going public.
Challenges of the all-hands meeting
Coordinating large groups of people is never easy, and all-hands meetings are no exception.
Here are three of the most common pitfalls when planning these team-wide sessions — and tips on overcoming each one.
Getting people together
The whole point of an all-hands meeting is that everyone at the company is involved. No matter what, that takes some serious coordination!
All-hands meetings can be especially tricky at large organizations, or ones with widely distributed teams. But with a little planning, it is possible.
Try these tips for a smooth, productive gathering, whether in-person or virtual.
- A regular, recurring meeting time that everyone can rely on.
- Departmental or regional all-hands meetings for very large enterprises.
- Not overloading staff with other deadlines and appointments on the day of the meeting.
- The best video conferencing tools possible, to make sure you don’t waste time on technical issues.
Keeping it efficient
Time is valuable — you want to make every second of your all-hands meeting count. Because so many people are involved, it’s easy for all-hands meetings to run way too long or get bogged down with unnecessary content.
Here are some tips for respecting everyone’s time, and keeping your all-hands meeting efficient.
- Start with a clear agenda, and make sure each item truly needs to be included.
- Don’t overwhelm people with information — share only the key takeaways they actually need.
- Choose a meeting moderator to keep things on schedule, and stop the meeting from getting off track.
Make it engaging
Remember those mind-numbingly boring school assemblies? That’s what a bad all-hands meeting can feel like.
A good all-hands meeting should feel interactive, engaging, and involve two-way communication. Otherwise, why not just send a mass email?
Here are our tips for keeping things interesting.
- Invite interesting guest speakers, and allow staff to ask them questions.
- Always let people voice their opinions in a Q&A or roundtable period.
- Start with check-in or icebreaker questions, like “what was the highlight of your week.”
- On large or distributed teams, you may need to collect questions ahead of time or use a virtual meeting tool.
Example all-hands meeting agenda
All-hands meetings can vary wildly, just like the companies who hold them!
Depending on your industry, team, goals, and how frequently you get everyone together, there’s a ton of topics you might want to bring into an all-hands meeting. But no matter what, you’ll want to take a big-picture look at how your business is doing.
Here’s a basic template for an all-hands meeting that can be modified to your needs.
Welcome, icebreakers or check-in
- What were the highlights and lowlights of the week for each team?
- What’s your biggest goal for this quarter?
News and updates
- Key financial results
- Introducing new team members
- Progress towards strategic goals
Wins and good news
- Recognize standout contributions
- Recognize any big wins
Goals and challenges
- What needs to be accomplished before the next meeting?
- What big challenges is the team facing?
- Attendees can share questions, ideas, and concerns
Activities and extras (if needed)
- Guest speaker, question period
- Team-building activity
- Special or educational presentation
Thank you, reminders, and sign-off
All hands on deck!
To build strong professional relationships and do our best work, we need connection, culture, and communication. All-hands meetings are a way to actively create space for those values.
It doesn’t matter if your team is five or 500 people — all-hands meetings give us a chance to remember that we aren’t just a company, we’re humans working together.