All-hands meetings (or ‘town halls’) are part and parcel of Silicon Valley. You would be hard pressed to find a tech company where this regular meeting isn’t ingrained in process. It’s a well accepted way to build and reinforce company culture, increase employee engagement and achieve alignment with company goals and expectations.
Like most, when we founded a startup in San Francisco, we immediately put an all-hands meeting on the calendar. Every month we would get the team together and try to consolidate and articulate what had happened, where we were heading and what the team needed to know since we last met.
Aside from being a time consuming overhead, there was another problem. A month in a fast-growing business felt like eternity! We were meeting dozens of customers each week, running multiple projects and hiring aggressively. Hours after an all-hands meeting, the information was already out of date.
As the business landscape gets more competitive, companies get larger and move faster and remote workforces become more prevalent, the need for team alignment is greater than ever. Relying on your all-hands as a key strategy to achieve team alignment is no longer enough. You need to invest in other strategies to achieve the benefits that the all-hands previously afforded.
Why? The reality is that the efficacy of all-hands meetings is decreasing. Whilst helpful, these meetings should no longer be your go-to strategy to achieve team alignment for the following reasons:
Think about what it costs your business to have your whole team stop work and spend an hour in a room with you. Ignoring preparation, travel time and the natural switching cost before and after the meeting, one hour of time for a team of 200 attendees at an average salary of $100,000 per annum equates to just a direct cost of $9,615. That’s one expensive meeting – you better choose your agenda carefully!
Nearly 63% of companies in the US today have remote workers, and many more have multiple office locations, with part of the team located in other offices or timezones. It’s no longer an option to send a calendar invitation out and wait for the team to present in a conference room. Scheduling a company-wide meeting means complex AV/broadcasting setups, careful time zone management and invariably disadvantaging some part of the team who are located elsewhere.
Due to the one to many style of an all-hands meeting, it usually a presentation from leadership to the business. Delivering content in this way is effective in terms of getting the message out, but is certainly not the most effective way to engage a team. It’s near impossible to receive feedback, encourage discussion and answer more than a few questions. Communication between groups of people is most effective when participants are engaged, and the discussion is both inclusive and collaborative, the antithesis of the ‘great unveil’ style presentation.
As alluded to above, the nature of fast growing businesses means that by the time you have prepared for the all-hands meetings, delivered the content and attendees have left the room, the information is likely out of date or less relevant than it was when you received it. Unless your all-hands meetings predominantly contain ‘evergreen content’ like skills training, delivering content in an ‘offline forum’ means the delivery of stale, or soon-to-be-stale knowledge.
Having personally experienced these four drawbacks, we knew that we needed alternatives to the all-hands if we were to maximize the alignment and engagement of our growing team. After experimentation, we came up with four simple strategies that have each had a tremendous impact on our team.
1. Dashboarding as a culture
Nearly every all-hands meeting spends a material part of the agenda updating the business on metrics – sales, revenue, growth, churn or whatever matters to your business. Why can’t this information be transmitted continuously? Aside from the cultural benefits of building a team where transparency is highly valued, everyone can be aware of important metrics every day, saving you time and avoiding sharing outdated data.
Products like Geckoboard and Baremetrics allow businesses this functionality out of the box, with the ability to connect almost any piece of software to the right number or graph on a screen. Some of our company’s most valuable discussions and decisions have occurred in front of our wall-mounted dashboards.
Hopefully you’re aware of the benefits of instant chat for business through products like Slack, Stride or Twist. Company-wide chat is an effective way to instantly disseminate knowledge or insights in one click. You can keep your team apprised of progress, challenges and important developments in relevant channels which is available for reading at their convenience.
With weekly engineering and marketing reports delivered by Slack in our business, we’re able to keep the team on the same page and encourage threaded discussion, questions and ideas, without scheduling anything or anyone leaving their desk.
We regularly send out updates in a broadcast Slack channel, alert specific teams of opportunities or challenges and encourage questions, discussion and idea generation in response. We think about this strategy as a real-time, on-demand all-hands meeting.
3. Informal conversations
We asked our team where the most effective offline knowledge sharing occurred, and were surprised by the answer. It wasn’t in the well-prepared all-hands meetings with slide decks and reports. It was over a team coffee or while eating pizza together on a Friday.
Why? Because the team felt like they could ask questions, disagree, suggest ideas and contribute to the discussion. The best part is that these types of conversations are far less costly than the typical all-hands.
We have therefore also adopted informal coffees and lunches as an alternative to the all-hands for updating the team and raising challenges and opportunities to drive team alignment. It’s an effective way for your team to feel apart of something greater and being able to share their views and ask questions of leadership.
4. Real-time knowledge sharing solutions
If dashboarding is effective as a way to share quantitative data with your team in real-time, what about qualitative data like customer insights, feedback and important meeting outcomes? You need a way to make meeting notes shareable and actionable in your team’s existing tools, allowing everyone to understand what your customer is thinking and saying. This is what motivated us to build Hugo – the team meeting note platform.
By ensuring the team is exposed to customer insights, trends and meeting takeaways as they occur, your team is naturally on the same page, without any management overhead. This has enabled us to use our other strategies mentioned above to drive fruitful discussion and updates on other facets of the business. We now allocate zero meeting time to sharing data and insights.
In sum, my advice is to revisit your team’s all-hands strategy and ask whether it is sufficiently contributing to the alignment of your team. Maybe you can achieve more for your team with less?