I’m part of a remote team. Rather than collect everybody for a virtual meeting when somebody has a question, we have a policy to communicate non-urgent requests to each other through email or project management software. This keeps productivity at our company high, avoiding the irritation that sometimes befalls people when they get pulled out of work for a meeting that may or may not be useful to everybody present.
Without holding at least a few meetings every now and then, all teams would lose that sense of connection — to each other, and to the company. And staying connected is important for teams, especially for remote ones like ours. To keep team members and leadership on the same page, we decided to hold regularly scheduled all-hands meetings, where staff and leadership gather virtually to discuss company-wide matters, projects and decisions.
Having regularly scheduled all-hands meetings may not be the right choice for every team. Start-ups with fewer than five employees may find them to be a waste of time, and huge companies might discover that getting their hundreds of employees to assemble in one place and do something productive is no easy task. But if your team falls somewhere in between, and you feel like synergy within your company is “off,” try holding an all-hands meeting to correct that.
It’s not enough to just arrange an all-hands on the calendar, though. Like any other meeting, it can easily spin out of control. Here are three tips to keep in mind when organizing your first all-hands meeting to keep it productive, focused, and frustration-free:
1. Select an Appropriate Frequency
Before you start planning your all-hands, decide how often you’ll have them. Most companies choose between having quarterly, monthly and weekly meetings.
My team attempted all of the aforementioned options and settled upon a monthly cadence. The reason: Many of us already had a lot of meetings throughout the week. Adding one more weekly meeting — even a short, half-hour one — would degrade our productivity. No matter how long a meeting is, for it to be productive, presenters need time to prepare for the meeting, and everyone else needs time to decompress and swing back into their work afterward. On the other hand, quarterly meetings felt too infrequent for us, as it caused people to fall behind on the company’s agenda after a while.
Though there is no “one-size-fits-all” frequency for every team, I’d argue that weekly meetings are too frequent. If you need to meet that often to keep everyone on the same page, then there might be something wrong with your project management process. There are plenty of tools out there to convey both short-term and long-term plans to the team, eliminating the need for everyone to constantly each other what they are doing — this can and should be written down in task management software.
2. Create an Agenda with a Built-In Q&A Session
You’ve decided how often you’ll meet, and now you’re planning your first all-hands. Great! Now it’s time to create an agenda. Without one, an all-hands can quickly become unstructured, with only the most extroverted people speaking up. That can become a problem for folks who have something to say but feel like they can’t get a word in. To avoid that, decide in advance what topics are important to discuss; try to assign topics to presenters with as much notice as possible, giving them time to prepare.
One of the best ways to end an all-hands is with a short Q&A session. Rather than treat this as a vague chunk of time to “talk about things,” collect questions from team members beforehand and give them to the leadership team to answer. It’s important to allow people to voice general questions unrelated to what was presented in the meeting, but try to keep the questions on topic to avoid having an all-hands that derails into an unfocused meeting.
3. Don’t Forget Why You’re Meeting in the First Place
An all-hands meeting is unlike any other. It’s the one opportunity that team members and leadership get to gather in a single place (whether in person or online) and exchange interesting and valuable information: about new and existing projects, about where the company is headed, about individual successes.
That last bit is especially important for a team that’s full of introverts — like ours. Our developers will never brag about the newest cool new thing they just learned or a clever solution they came up with, unless someone takes them onstage and asks them to. But when they start talking about accomplishments that they’re proud of, they get so excited that you nearly can’t stop them! Recognizing individual efforts and putting people in the spotlight like that could be a huge morale boost both for the recognized person and for their teammates.
When team members gather to communicate openly about these ideas, the synergy and the company culture get stronger. I know, I know — I always used to smirk when someone started talking about company culture…up until our own team grew beyond twenty people. That’s when I learned that culture is actually a thing. It’s what sets the tone for every conversation in the workplace and, ultimately, what glues teams together.