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The 4 Must-Have Elements Of A Great All-Hands Meeting

Facebook recently added another controversy to an already tumultuous year when a live recording of a company all-hands meeting was released online. In the recording, Mark Zuckerberg is heard using a no-spin tone with his team.

Mark later posted on Facebook regarding the matter and admitted just as much there.

I’ll let you decide whether or not what he said was controversial or not (I think not), but the whole event got me thinking about all-hands meetings in general, and how startup leaders have becomes very accustomed to using them as a way to communicate with their team.

At CoSchedule, we’ve done a company all-hands meeting for as long as I can remember. Even when we were just five people in a single room, we found that it was important to congregate in the conference room and hold a casual all-hands gathering celebrating the principles and values we use in our day-to-day work.

In the early days, we used our all-hands meeting to review our most recent KPI‘s like MRR or trial to paid conversion rates. We ended up using the time as a retrospective of sorts – determining action items that would be used to improve our results in certain areas. This was a really great way to keep everyone focused on the same goals.

Now, as CoSchedule has scaled past a team size of 50, our all-hands meetings focus on showcasing each team and the day-to-day metrics and enhancements that they are making.

No matter what size of team you have, an active all-hands event each week is an important part of developing and maintaining the best company culture that you can. Here are a few of the key components that I have found to be a crucial component of any all-hands meeting.

1. Take Hard Questions

All-hands should always be an open-forum type of meeting, meaning that it should always include plenty of open dialogue and discussion. This will keep your team involved in the decisions that are being made as a company, and provide you as a leader with a place to get feedback and council from your team.

The open-format also allows you to keep a constant temperature on what your team is thinking and feeling about the direction of the company. The key here is to be open, honest, and willing to take on any hard question that your team may throw at you.

In fact, taking hard questions is one of the most important parts of all hands experience in my opinion. In the early days, these questions came about very organically as people would just ask questions when they had them. Call it a win for working in such close proximity!

As our company has grown, we have formalized the process a bit more and now we have a dedicated time each week at all-hands for founder Q and A. We also allow team members to submit questions ahead of time using an anonymous form. Much like Zuckerberg in the recording linked about.

Fortunately, the questions we get a CoSchedule usually aren’t quite as strong of a lightning rod.

The point here is that leaders have to be willing to be transparent and answer the hard questions their team is asking, no matter how difficult or complicated they are. You have to remember that answering hard questions is part of your job and shows competency as a leader.

[Tweet “Leaders have to be willing to be transparent and answer the hard questions their team is asking, no matter how difficult or complicated they are.”]

Your willingness to take the hard questions head-on, and show the team a bit of your thought process, will build trust and unity – two key components of a highly functioning team.

2. Celebrate Wins

At every all-hands meeting with dedicate time to celebrating the wins that our team accomplished throughout the week. At CoSchedule, we call this section of our all-hands meeting ‘weekly wins’ and we usually place it at the end of the meeting to ensure we go out on a high note.

We leave this portion of all-hands very unstructured. It is simply a wide-open opportunity for anyone to throw up a win as they see it. The only rule we have is that we make sure there are at least three wins shared at the end of each meeting.

Fortunately, we frequently go over the limit, which is always a great sign. At CoSchedule, there is always a lot of clapping and cheering as each win is shared.

3. Talk About Your Losses

I am a Cubs fan, so I have become accustomed to thinking of things in terms of a ‘W flag’ or an ‘L flag.’

Like many aspects of baseball, there’s a history lesson here.

These are flags that raised at Wrigley Field after each home game depending on whether the team won or lost. ‘W flag’ = the Cubs win. ‘L flag’ = the Cubs lost.

(Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune)

Historically, these flags were used to communicate to the neighborhood the results of the game, but like many things regarding Chicago Cubs baseball, they are now etched in history and are still practiced today.

The point here is that just like celebrating wins, your team should also be talking about its losses. After all, we all tend to learn more from failure than success.

As I present business recaps each quarter, or as an individual team provides an overview of what they have been working on, we frequently use a ‘three wins and three losses’ framework.

This means that we share three things are going really well (three reasons to fly the ‘W flag’), and three things that are not going so well (three reasons to fly the ‘L flag’).

This simple framework provides for great discussion and transparency with the entire team.

4. Let Your Team Shine

Last but not least,  the most important part of your all-hands meeting needs to be your team. All-hands should be their time to shine.

[Tweet “The most important part of your all-hands meeting needs to be your team. All-hands should be their time to shine.”]

As companies grow, you become less like a single team, and more like a team of teams.

This means that there are many things that each team does the rest of the company doesn’t know about. It’s just not possible (or necessary) to share all of that information. This is why over the years, we’ve dedicated more and more of our all-hands agenda to giving teams the opportunity to showcase what they are working on.

This practice not only helps the team demonstrate how they contribute to the goals of the company, but it keeps the rest of us informed about the great work they are doing each week.

This section of all-hands includes presentations by team members on a fairly regular cadence. Over time, we should hear from each team member at least once every few months. This includes the sharing of team wins and losses, demos of recent projects that they’ve completed, and shout-outs to team members that have gove above and beyond the call of duty.

If all of your team isn’t shining, it isn’t an ‘all-hands’ meeting

In addition to these 4 must-haves, a good all-hands meeting should include a lot of different elements. We also use this time to make key announcements, celebrate our core values, and sometimes to just being silly.

Done correctly, your all-hands meeting to be one of the most important things that you do each week, and also one of the most valuable tools that you have as a founder to communicate with your team and help set the right tone for your culture.

Published by Garrett Moon

Garrett Moon is the author of the 10x Marketing Formula and CEO and co-founder of CoSchedule, the web's most popular marketing calendar and the fastest growing startup in North Dakota. You can follow Garrett on his blog, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter.