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The complete guide to leading effective all-hands meetings

An all-hands meeting should bring together all levels of staff, from the CEO and executive team on down to the newest individual contributor. Ideally, these gatherings align leadership and staff on the business direction,, providing updates and insights into current priorities.

Unfortunately, attendees too often leave these meetings feeling overwhelmed by a flood information, or resentful poorly delivered bad news. 

But employees can leave these meetings feeling empowered and appreciated, while leaders accomplish their objectives too. 

Leaders typically want to use this meeting to deliver mass information, and perhaps discuss how the info ties to company values. It is essential to cover relevant information while addressing core values and goals. However, these meetings also present opportunities for leadership teams to clarify goals, expand on previous messaging, answer employee questions, or even take steps to unify their staff. 

Executives, department leaders, and managers should strive to host purposeful, consistent all-hands meetings. Throughout this guide, we address how to promote participation, address critical objectives, and structure a successful and efficient all-hands meeting. The best large-scale or all-company gatherings are inclusive, concise, and accommodating – meaning they’re both hybrid-friendly and attuned to the needs different employees (and their most prominent behavioral drives).

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What is an all-hands meeting?

The all-hands meeting (often called all-company meetings, or town halls, somewhat interchangeably) calls “all hands on deck.” The idea is simple: to assemble everyone within the organization together at once, so they can all receive the same information in the same manner. This particular type of meeting should always address, in some form, the current state and future of the company. The leadership team should aim to address the company values, challenges and answer pressing employee questions. 

In addition to all-hands meetings, which are information-driven, companies may also host more open-ended Q&A sessions. Town halls and all-hands meetings give employees access to owners, decision-makers, and high-level leadership members. 

Why are all-hands meetings important?

These meetings are critical for employee engagement, and to keep a business moving toward its goals in unison. The format of the all-hands gathering provides ample opportunity to re-center the staff on company values, or showcase recent collaborative efforts. All-hands meetings deliver mission-critical components of communication, including:

  • Transparency & alignment. Leaders should unify the staff through a message that impacts everyone. Aligning efforts across the organization and providing information transparently can ensure that staff members understand their purpose. 
  • The opportunity to celebrate wins and acknowledge challenges. Recognize big moments, department successes, and individual wins of all sorts and sizes. When employees hear about the company’s success, they’re more likely to set and achieve their own goals. Take this chance to give your employees some public appreciation (at least those who are comfortable being mentioned in a public setting).
  • Employee engagement. As more employees work remotely, leadership teams struggling to keep staff consistently engaged. Everyone at the all-hands event, from the interns to the VP, should have a voice and be welcome to participate. That doesn’t mean that employees suddenly run the whole show. But the leadership team, possibly with the help of a moderator, can conduct the event in a manner that promotes participation and engagement.
  • Visible leadership. It’s common for managers, executives, and other leaders to work behind closed doors. All-hands meetings are the perfect opportunity for some of these leaders to take center stage. It can also serve as a chance for leaders at other levels to shine. Giving people who aren’t regularly visible the chance to display their work, or even tout others’ accomplishments, is key to employee voice.
  • Returning the focus to company values. Company values should entail more than a bulleted list in a business plan, or a fancy quote on the company website. An all-hands meeting gives leadership the time and space to show how these values manifest in everyday work. 
  • Establish trust. Some information just doesn’t fit in a memo or company-wide email. Hearing about bad news or upcoming challenges straight from company leadership can reduce the likelihood of rumors and misinformation. It can also build trust, albeit gradually.
  • Conversation. Every all-hands meeting should allow everyone the chance to ask questions and provide feedback. The ideals of transparency and open discussion are the guiding tools to boost employee morale and promote ongoing success. Even if time is limited during a live session, providing an option for reflection and feedback, through Google forms or surveys, for example, is critical to gauging and sustaining employee engagement and equity.

All-hands meetings: cadence and length

When meetings run too long, even the company president can have trouble keeping people’s attention. You don’t want to slog through an exorbitant amount of data, or and run long and have to excuse everyone. Your company’s size and the frequency with which you conduct all-hands meeting will generally determine how long they last. 

To start, determine the best cadence for the event. Then focus on the length. In doing so, consider these factors:

  • How big is your company? Small businesses can host informal all-hands meetings weekly or monthly. A medium-sized business might need to hold these meetings monthly or quarterly. Bigger companies may need to find formats that support quarterly or semi-annual frequencies to accommodate their larger team. 
  • Which formats serve your teams best? If everyone can fit on one Zoom screen or into one conference room, then you can probably host meetings more frequently. If you need more supportive platforms, you might need to consider spacing out the meetings to ensure everyone can attend. There’s no one-size-fits-all model for hybrid work, but there are best practices generally worth pursuing.
  • How often will you have major talking points? Few people want to watch the big boss make small talk. If you don’t have updates for the entire company every month, you don’t need to host monthly all-hand meetings purely out of perceived obligation.
  • Can you make the cadence and length sustainable? Is a monthly 45-minute session more sustainable than a quarterly two- or three-hour meeting? Consider the benefits of holding shorter meetings more regularly, or try different cadences until you find the right balance.
  • How can you devote enough time to each topic and speaker? Delegate parts of the meeting to different members of leadership, or your Human Resources/People Operations teams. Make sure everyone is prepared to present, reviews all relevant materials in advance, and has a general sense of the time allotted for their portion of the meeting. Doing a dry run is generally key to staying on track when it’s time for the live session. 

Schedule your all-hands events far in advance, at your preferred cadence, but ensure that you space them out far enough that the leadership team has valuable discussion points. Without pertinent information, or the right platform for staff, you’re doing a disservice to your audience. 

All-hands meeting agenda topics

All-hands meetings should only include information that is relevant to everyone. It’s easy to derail these meetings by focusing on department-specific topics, or overloading staff with information that doesn’t relate to them. Use the following format as a general guide, to ensure that the all-hands meeting is informative, relevant, efficient, and engaging. 

Company overview and updates

Open the meeting with a quick overview to set the context. Some might refer to this as a state of the union, or something similarly broad. During the company overview, you can provide updates on:

  • The financial health of the company 
  • The business’ near- and long-term outlook
  • Product development and milestones
  • Strategies for reaching company goals
  • Updates from the department heads

This portion should not take long, but it should come from the CEO, President, or the business owner. It’s an opportunity to inspire continued alignment with the company’s vision and mission.

It’s also an opportunity to tie the individual work of employees to organizational goals. Remember, many employees in the organization don’t interact with leadership on a daily basis, so it’s helpful to connect directly with them wherever possible. 

Team or business unit spotlight 

It’s not mandatory at every all-hands meeting, but featuring a specific business unit, team or initiative is commonplace. The featured unit can rotate with each meeting, serving as an opportunity to pass the mic to another member of leadership, another manager or even a high-potential employee whose voice is less often heard.

Special projects and cross-functional initiatives are perfect for thisSpecial projects often require resources from a variety of teams. So it’s a chance to showcase the teams involved in these initiatives and acknowledge their efforts. 

Announcements, milestones, and pertinent updates

Delivering the bulk of the meeting, you can cover essential topics, celebrate staff members, and check in with various departments. Cover topics that staff want to know about, such as:

  • Promotions, work anniversaries, and new hires: Take a moment to acknowledge those moving forward, celebrating their time with the company, and those new to the team. 
  • Milestone accomplishments: Leaders can share the company’s milestone accomplishments. These milestones help employees assess their ability to contribute to company goals and impact significant milestones. 
  • Changes to organizational structure: Teams can come together or evolve into two separate teams. Use this as a chance to notify everyone of structural changes. Then no one is missing out on these updates. 
  • Layoffs and furloughs: Tough information such as the notice of layoffs shouldn’t come from a team manager. This information should always come from top-level leadership. No one wants to hear that they might be losing their job through the grapevine. 
  • Department changes: Although this might seem specific to individual departments, these updates can keep everyone engaged. As department leaders deliver their updates, they can connect those updates to larger company goals and other departments’ accomplishments. 
  • Mergers and acquisitions: Acquisitions can seriously disrupt normal operations; it’s best to prepare all staff members for upcoming changes. Even if some teams won’t feel the impact, it is a significant step for the company.
  • Fundraising events: Spread the news of upcoming events and explain what the event would benefit. Give some details on how staff members can get involved. 
  • Milestone accomplishments: Leaders can share the company’s milestone accomplishments. These milestones help employees assess their ability to contribute to company goals and impact significant milestones. 
  • Special projects and cross-functional initiatives: Identify the teams involved in these initiatives and acknowledge their efforts. 

Q&A: Creating a two-way dialogue

The Q&A section requires a bit of planning, and there are multiple ways to collect questions and feedback. To create a two-way dialogue: 

  • Survey the company for questions and concerns before the meeting.
  • Encourage questions and concerns from members who might not speak out in a public forum.
  • Address those questions directly during the announcement or company overview portion of the meeting, if possible. 
  • Set aside time for live Q&A. Ensure that there are ways to solicit questions that don’t exclusively favor bolder team members. For example, allow employees to submit questions through their managers or team leaders. 
  • Consider the size of your company. If there are many questions, or the company is large, you might arrange for a follow-up town hall event. 
  • Follow up afterward to collect feedback for the next meeting’s Q&A section. Consider using surveys, or collect feedback through management.

Additional all-hands meeting tips and best practices

There are many ways to run a successful all-hands meeting that won’t leave your staff feeling drained, overwhelmed, or downhearted. Everyone should have the opportunity to receive meaningful information and participate. 

Before the all-hands meeting

Take these steps to prepare for a smooth meeting:

  • Set a fixed date and time (e.g., the first Monday of each month).
  • Send invites well in advance, and make sure to regularly assess and update the invite list
  • Offer regular reminders. These can even take the form of physical posters in the office, reminding staff to submit questions for the Q&A. 
  • Build a clearly structured agenda. Use realistic time estimates to allow speakers to cover their points without rushing.
  • Put all presentation slides and materials in one place. When hosting remote or hybrid meetings, it is imperative that the meeting run smoothly without others having to load slides or upload their presentations.
  • Appoint a moderator. It’s often simplest to have one person control screen-share capabilities, or manage presentation modes.
  • Sync with your AV and IT staff. Rely on your technical staff to minimize the chances of tech-related problems during the meeting.
  • Select a champion for remote teams. This person can help relay missed information, and serve as a liaison or voice for remote staff.
  • Gather questions before the meeting.

During the all-hands meeting 

Be authentic. Honesty and transparency will go a long way in building trust within the company. Authenticity is more than a buzzword. It’s something employees generally want, but don’t always expect from leadership team members. 

Express your authenticity by taking these steps:

  • Acknowledge that you, and aspects of the company, aren’t perfect.
  • Connect with staff through storytelling. Use storytelling in a context that fits within your company culture. Storytelling doesn’t have to include your personal life. Instead, use stories and voices that represent the business. 
  • Accept that remote members may have distractions happening behind their screens. Barking dogs, kids playing, and more might be hidden by their mute buttons, but the employee is still experiencing those obstacles. Give grace and assume the best from your people.

Encourage audience participation. Your all-hands meeting might be virtual, or feature a mix of in-person and remote attendees. Make sure there’s an avenue for all staff to participate.

Managers have struggled for years to increase meeting participation. Use these methods to promote involvement in a positive way:

  • Start the meeting by checking in with some participants. You might ask some team managers how they are feeling, or see if a few employees near the front submitted questions for the Q&A. Ask your attendees how they’re doing, and if they’re ready to get started. 
  • Gamify participation. Toss around a ball to encourage questions, or offer a small prize to anyone who speaks up. Encourage and reward participation rather than pushing people into engaging, or singling out more reserved team members. 
  • Ask people to pause and reflect after you have delivered essential information. Give everyone the chance to process and absorb before jumping into questions or concerns. 

Allow various speakers to share the stage. It’s vital that every team and department feels represented. Encourage department heads and key team leaders to present information that highlights their team’s initiatives or accomplishments. Connect with as many people as possible by highlighting the leaders that they see and interact with daily. 

Make it fun. Virtual meetings and in-person meetings have the same opportunity for an engaging and enjoyable experience. Implement games such as trivia, use interactive tools like Jackbox and Mentimeter, or promote company pride during the meeting. 

Avoid these all-hands meeting mishaps

These pitfalls are common, and they can be challenging to overcome in the moment. However, identifying these issues alongside some careful planning can ensure your all-hands meeting runs smoothly. 


  • Shy away from, or downplay tough subjects. Layoffs, bad news about losing a significant client, or changing benefits are hard to discuss. Your staff deserves to hear it from their leadership team and to have all the information that is relevant to them. 
  • Play the blame game. Blaming external factors such as the economy, competitors, and bad marketing tactics means that the people leading the company aren’t taking responsibility. If leaders don’t take responsibility, then the employees won’t either. It is immature and avoidable.
  • Forget to say thank you. Always thank people for speaking up, submitting questions, and participating. 

There’s no perfect template for an all-hands operation, but by being transparent and concise in your messaging, accommodating workers of every behavior and work style, and encouraging employee engagement, you’ll be on your way to a smooth and repeatable operation.

Shefali is a content- and engagement-focused marketer who loves talking to people and telling stories. She is an avid climber, hiker, and traveler, and thinks the Oxford comma is the most important punctuation mark

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