Whether you call them all-hands meetings or town halls, company-wide team meetings help establish your culture and provide unique opportunities for team-building. At the same time, all-hands meetings can be fraught: HR leaders and executives are challenged with fielding difficult employee questions in volatile times.
Below, we’ll share best practices for conducting more effective all-hands meetings and Q&A sessions — including advice from leaders on ways to answer tough questions.
All-Hands Meetings: The Essentials
There are a few ground rules when thinking through best practices for running your all-hands meetings. First, define and establish what your leadership team is trying to accomplish in your company-wide meetings.
Erica Galos Alioto, global head of people at Grammarly, described her top three objectives to accomplish at all-hands meetings: “One, we're trying to drive clarity around what it is we're focused on, and how we're doing [as a company] against those goals. Two, we’re trying to drive excitement and engagement around the work we're doing. Three, we’re answering any questions that are on people’s minds.”
In addition to defining clear goals and objectives in your town halls, other best practices for running effective all-hands meetings include:
- Set a regular time and day for your all-hands meeting that includes all geographies and time zones.
- Share all-hands meeting agendas in advance.
- Create a “run of show” to keep each presentation focused and on schedule.
- Provide a forum for people to submit questions in advance.
- Select a moderator for your Q&A session.
- Ensure the right members of the leadership team answer each question.
- Share a recording or transcript of the meeting.
- Recap the all-hands meeting in an email or Slack channel.
The more organized your all-hands meetings feel, the more your workforce knows what to expect in future meetings. Your employees will also learn how to prepare for all-hands meetings, leading to more effective and engaging town halls.
Giving People a Forum to Ask Questions
In regards to answering questions on people’s minds, it’s important to read the room — not just the Zoom chatroom. Bernard Coleman, chief diversity and engagement officer at Gusto, has written and spoken extensively about how the R.E.A.C.T. model can help leaders through crises.
“Really read the room,” Coleman said. That means keeping up to date with larger conversations about issues your team members face and how the news cycle may affect them. “Leaders of today, there’s a lot more required of them than 10-20 years ago. So you need to read the room through employee surveys and ask questions in advance.”
Based on the feedback that you receive from your employee surveys, you can take a “qualitative and quantitative” approach to how you respond. “If you can read the room, you can align — you can do something really helpful and impactful,” Coleman said.
Here are ways to get a pulse on your employees’ concerns and ensure that their questions are top of mind during your town halls:
- Understand employee engagement levels: Engagement and pulse surveys allow you to learn more about employees’ points of view ahead of the meeting. Are there any recurring themes in the survey data? Based on trends in your employee surveys, this can inform the content of your all-hands meetings and your people updates.
- Start a Q&A board: You can take all-hands participation one step further with Lattice’s Q&A Boards. During all-hands meetings, employees can submit their questions in a forum that all team members can view, and they can upvote or downvote the question. Employees can also submit their questions anonymously if they like, and the Q&A board is also an excellent moderation tool for live discussions.
- Send out reminders to submit all-hands questions: You want as many people to be able to participate as possible. In addition to taking questions live, request them in advance in case some people can't attend.
Q&As are excellent ways to get the pulse of your employees, leverage powerful people data, and inform your leadership team about your employees’ biggest concerns.
Answering Hard Questions
When it comes to answering difficult questions at all-hands meetings, HR leaders overwhelmingly agree that fostering an open and honest dialogue with your team is key.
“Transparency is really critical for us,” said Courtney LaTurner, director, human resources business partner, at SecurityScorecard. “In order to best and effectively address some of these questions, we always have a Q&A segment at our town hall meetings.” She sends out a survey in advance, and then, “We have a prep committee that crafts the most thoughtful and transparent responses.”
Working with your leadership team, you can craft thorough answers and also anticipate other difficult questions to think through and address as intentionally as possible.
“We’ve received questions about the economic environment and about layoffs. I’ve been very transparent in my answers — and so I think it’s important to do whatever we can do to help relieve some of that anxiety,” Alioto said.
“Fortunately, we're still growing and are not considering layoffs, but in any case, my goal is always to be as transparent as possible, while also recognizing that sometimes you need to wait until there's more information to share.”
Alioto brought up a key point: People leaders don’t always have all the information available to them in order to share decisions that are still in the works. In cases like these, it’s better to communicate that your policies are in development, rather than allude to what might happen, and create more anxiety about “what ifs.”
Ultimately, answering challenging questions with empathy and understanding where your team members are coming from can really help in how you deliver and communicate your responses. “I think people ultimately want to be seen, heard, and valued, right? We’re all people working together for the same goal. I like to give answers as straightforwardly as I can because people appreciate authenticity,” Coleman said.
There's a fine balance between developing credibility and helping your team manage expectations while sharing your company’s thought processes. By being transparent, you keep your people’s concerns front and center.
Following Up After the Meeting
It's not uncommon to have questions left to answer after the meeting. Answering these questions is critical to creating an environment where all of your employees feel valued.
Additionally, team members may want a document to refer to so they can see how questions were answered and get clarity around a topic. Thankfully, there are multiple ways you can address your team members' concerns, including:
- Q&A summaries: Lattice’s Q&A Boards allow employees to access a log of submitted questions and answers even after the meeting takes place.
- Q&A follow-ups: Company leaders can also answer submitted questions using Lattice's Q&A Boards, Slack, or email after your town hall meetings.
By leveraging HR technology, you can answer your team members’ timely questions, keep track of questions from previous Q&As, and send out your company’s responses to further engage your employees.
Using the All-Hands Meeting as a Working Session
Q&A sessions are an effective tool for creating more engaging all-hands meetings. You can also use your all-hands meetings as working sessions to drive organizational change and results.
For example, LaTurner researched burnout and how it was affecting her team members at SecurityScorecard. She reviewed national averages of PTO, and found that many of her team members were taking well below the national average of time off.
LaTurner decided to take action through a unique strategy. During her company’s town hall, “We talked about counteracting burnout and we discussed how employees can better prioritize.” Then LaTurner shared company-wide data. “We shared with them what we were seeing on average with employees taking PTO, and we said, 'That’s not enough.'”
In the live meeting, “We sent our team members to log PTO.” Employees then did a calendar cleanup for prioritization and were encouraged to use the Eisenhower Matrix and cancel any unnecessary meetings and ensure their meetings were successful by sharing agendas in advance.”
LaTurner wanted her workforce to feel valued and understand how to better manage burnout. The live session was “really, really well received,” and resulted in a more engaged and connected workforce.
Creating the best all-hands meetings and forum to ask employee questions comes down to creating psychological safety for your employees. “You want to have an environment where people feel comfortable asking questions,” Alioto said.
By being transparent with your employees, keeping up to date with how your workforce feels, and answering tough questions at all-hands meetings, you inspire trust in your team. You also help create more engaging town halls where employees' questions, insights, and feedback are welcome.
Learn more about Lattice's Q&A boards by scheduling a demo of the platform.