From eye-rolls visible in an open-plan office to sizeable groans behind closed doors, the announcement of an all-hands meeting doesn’t always receive the response you want. In reality, they might be the opposite of what you expect. In your mind, your prepared speech may be award-winning (if such an awards show existed—and you believe it should) and the free meal you’ve organized might be “five-star” according to your foodie friend. But the truth of the matter is that all-hands meetings force employees to take time out of their already busy day and often they don’t get as much out of these events as you’d like to think.
Of course, this is not to say that all-hands meetings aren’t important. They can be incredibly helpful in motivating employees, fostering teamwork and giving people a reason to believe in the business they work for. If you do it right, that is. And the right way to host an all-hands meeting is to ensure two-way dialogue.
Here are four tips to help you do just that.
#1. Leave the office behind
If you’re holding an all-hands meeting, don’t do it at the office. Rather, look at a conference room rental in NYC or somewhere equally exciting. When your employees are at the office, they are more than well aware of their “rank.” For an all-hands meeting to have a two-way dialogue, you need to encourage your employees to get out of the title and salary-bracket mindset.
As much as you might try to break the corporate culture of “knowing your place” in your everyday dealings with your staff members, being in the office will still remind them of the divide between executives and the people on the ground. And you can’t have that if you want everyone involved in an all-hands meeting.
Leaving the office behind allows you to level the playing-field and puts people at ease. It’s not like an intern is going to forget that they’re an intern, but they’ll likely be more relaxed in a neutral environment. Choose somewhere that is still professional rather than somewhere that’s only about fun…save that for the office party.
#2. Recognize the voices that need to be heard
Executives should definitely not be the only voices heard at an all-hands meeting. Identify the people “on the ground” who have valuable insights into the daily running of the business and encourage them to get involved in the conversation. If you notice people are keeping quiet or sneakily checking their Instagram feed from the back row, ask them questions and allow them to ask you questions in return.
Make sure every employee knows that now is the time that they can be part of the discussion about the bigger picture. You can even allow employees to write down questions or comments for executives to pick out of a hat if that makes people more comfortable. Raising hands may work in a smaller company, but at a big corporate, that could be a little more difficult.
#3. Be candid and the crowd will follow
Remember your award-winning speech? Now is not the time to pull that out. Speak candidly to your colleagues and employees and you’ll find that they feel comfortable enough to return the favor. If you go on for half an hour about facts and figures, you’re going to lose your audience. And that’s the thing, you don’t want a captive audience, you want a participatory audience. So, speak the truth and be open and honest.
This is not the time for slogans and catchphrases. People aren’t going to respond to prepackaged rhetoric or inside jokes that only five out of 100 people understand. Instead, they’ll respond to down-to-earth simplicity and speaking from the heart. Try it and you’ll see the difference.
#4. Don’t be all flash and no substance
You can hire out the most amazing conference venue and put on a show with celebrity guest speakers, but that’s not going to get you what you want. When you’re looking to create two-way dialogue, you need to focus on substance rather than flash. That doesn’t mean you can’t have loads of fun, it just means that you need to value honest engagement more than flashing lights and applause.
One solid way to ensure substance over flash is to figure out what matters to your employees most and offer them that. Often, you’ll find that what they want is to be heard and that could greatly benefit your business. Having a bit of flash isn’t a bad thing, it just shouldn’t take over the event.
All-hands meetings can be amazing for your business and do wonders for staff morale. However, you need to make sure that you create two-way dialogue at these events for that to happen. So, remember to get out of the office, recognize the voices that need to be heard, be candid, and value substance more than flash.