Running an effective All Hands Meeting

December 22, 2022

By implementing an All Hands and running it effectively, you’re able to gather alignment across your startup to ensure your team is set up for success and on the same page, marching towards the same goal. Here's my framework on how to run one in your org.

If your company is 15 people or larger, you probably need to implement an All Hands Meeting. This is because you as CEO are no longer talking consistently with every person on the team, but you still need to ensure everyone in the org is aligned.

By implementing an All Hands and running it effectively, you’re able to gather alignment across your startup to ensure your team is set up for success and on the same page, marching towards the same goal.

Before I dive into my particular method for All Hands meetings, I want to note that there are many different ways to run them, and you have to figure out what is best for your company and its culture. Pick and choose what works for you and what resonates.

In addition to how I’ve seen great All Hands run, one of my favorites in particular (and a Mochary Method favorite) is how Mathilde Collin from Front runs her AHMs. Here is a link to how she does it. I highly recommend reading her outline, then coming back and reading mine below.

Setup for All Hands: Do the pre-work

In a small team (15 people or less)…

Cause everyone to do pre-work. They write down the following:

  • What they accomplished last week
  • What they’re doing this week
  • Questions/asks they have for the rest of the team to advance their goals

It helps to create a database in your Notion workspace (or similar) to have a template everyone can use each week. In this template, consider adding the company goals for the quarter to the very top of the page. This helps everyone remember to tie their actions for this week to one of the company goals, so they feel like they’re advancing the company towards something very important.

For example, if a company goal is: “Close $2M in sales by end of 4Q22”, a teammate’s actions for the week might be: “Take ___ # of sales calls by the end of the week both inbound and outbound” because it ties directly to that goal. Another example might be: “Improve ___ feature as an engineer to help sales team meet their quota for the quarter.” As you can see, this encourages teammates to think about their peers, work together towards a common goal, and support/uplift one another.

In a larger team (16 people or more)…

This might be a more appropriate time to bring in representatives for each department (what you might refer to as “team leads.”) This is to reduce the amount of reading someone has to do to grok what each department is up to; one representative outlining their team’s work is easier to digest than reading ten engineers’ updates individually.

The representative is responsible for filling out their team’s accomplishments for the previous week and what their team collectively will accomplish in the following week, so that everyone has clarity on how the department is advancing the company’s goals and which departments they are working with. They also write challenges their department is facing to solicit help from other department heads and ICs.

Not only do I love the “challenges” part of each department, but it helps on multiple fronts: soliciting asks per department also helps when it comes to seeing which departments might be overstretched and under-resourced. The more asks there are of specific departments and the more things they’re accomplishing to advance the company towards milestones, the better understanding you have on how much resourcing is appropriate for each department. Your hiring will therefore improve if you implement this tactic.

I knew a company who tracked how many cross-department asks there were per team, and used that info to determine forecast numbers on approximate number of hires in each department for the following quarter. The company IPOed this year, and they attributed much of their success to this habit when I spoke with the leadership team.

Finally, when soliciting department updates, it helps to have department goals tie back to company goals pasted at the top of the document. For example, in the Sales Team, what are their goals for the quarter, and how do they tie back those goals to one or more of the larger company goals? That way, the representative can keep in mind what their larger goals are, and how they can motivate their direct reports to tackle those department goals and move collectively towards measured success.

During All Hands

You’ve now done the pre-work, and you’re ready for All Hands. Operationally, it’s important to delegate responsibility to one person to ensure that the logistics of All Hands run smoothly. This person is usually the CEO’s Chief of Staff, but if a CEO doesn’t have one, they can designate someone on the HR or Operations team to run it. This person is responsible for screensharing, doing breakout rooms, and other logistics to run a successful all hands. This person is also important to help rally responses for the pre-work, and they can ensure presenters at All Hands are prepared and that their slides are ready if they have any.

Part 1: Good Things

When a company grows beyond 20 people, it can become difficult for everyone to know their teammates deeply - but this is so important because you can hardly expect people to do great work if they don’t know each other well or trust each other.

Facilitate this trust and connection by doing Good Things. Start by opening Breakout Rooms on Zoom by splitting everyone up into pairs. Most people in a team, especially as the size grows, usually feel a strong desire to know people from other departments better. It helps create unity and understanding across different department lines, and unites everyone under the common umbrella of the larger company.

Therefore, it is helpful if the Logistics person is able to determine which departments each person is in, and connect them cross-department. For example, you could connect someone from your Sales Team to match with someone from the Engineering Team, so they get to know each other better. But if this takes too much time, feel free to place teammates in larger groups (say, groups of 3) so the chances of meeting someone new are higher.

Allocate five minutes for the breakout room time for people to share one good thing in their personal life and their work life. If you wish, you can ask people to pre-write these into an agenda as well. This encourages the team to ask each other questions about the good things, therefore leading to teammates feeling like their colleagues care deeply about them. Moreover, everyone loves sharing good news on something that’s happened to them.

Part 2: Announcements

Once good things are done and everyone is back, you can cover company-wide announcements next. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Company-wide logistics
  • Welcoming new team members
  • Any upcoming events and reminders

Part 3: Deep Dives

Next, if you wish, you might choose to do a Deep Dive into topics relevant to the whole company. Some examples of this include:

  • **Written brainstorming sessions around things that need full company buy-in**, such as Mission, Vision, and Values (determining what they are and how they apply to the company)
  • Larger company-wide strategy: the CEO can present what direction the company is going and why; how different departments interact with each other; goal setting for upcoming quarters; how the company is doing overall, and so on.
  • Company-wide finances: you will want to update your company on a regular cadence on how the financials of the org are doing. This means informing them how much runway is left, how much revenue has been generated, forecasting sales in the future, and any other pertinent points of information.
  • Showcasing a specific department: hopefully, each department in your company is mission-critical or will be (if it isn’t, you might have bloated headcount!) It can be helpful to invite department heads to showcase the work they’re doing (even better if it’s cross-functional to promote cross-department collaborations) and how it’s leading to the company’s goal.
  • Note: you should be very careful to not let this segment turn into a “political” segment, where talkers say lots of amazing things they want to do, but they don’t actually execute on any of it. Sometimes, this section can be hijacked by performative people on your team, where they want to curry favor and influence from the rest of the team, but they actually end up not doing very much. It’s even worse if you allow these talkers to claim credit for the work of other people on your team.
  • To avoid such behavior, Matt wrote a great piece in the Curriculum about this here (the long story short is to always judge performance based on actual Feedback, not on shiny presentations): Politics

Part 4: Motivation

I think All Hands Meetings are one of the best places to improve employee morale. This is because as social creatures, we desire to be around other humans who have something in common with us.

As a result, a great All Hands Meeting can fire up your teammates, ready to take on the competition as they find common ground in a “one team” mentality. Simultaneously, a demotivating All Hands can leave your team dejected and wondering whether the company is heading in the right direction.

This is not to be mistaken with blind optimism - this hurts your credibility as CEO if you are not able to express candidly where your company’s struggles are. But motivation can lie even in the hardest problems to solve, and it’s even more motivating when you as CEO are able to admit to your team that you don’t have all the answers. When consulting and painting a transparent picture while outlining the strengths and difficulties of a situation, this leads to your team trusting you more, trusting each other more, and feeling like they’re part of “one team.”

So how do you motivate your team? There are a few ways, and Matt Mochary writes about how to do this on the individual level here:

Motivating your team

All of those ideas are great, and I recommend to all of my coachees they should implement it if it resonates with them.

Additional ways to motivate your team during an All Hands include:

  • Discussing path towards Product-Market Fit: how are you getting there today? What’s the plan to conquer the quarter?
  • User stories: what is a story you can share about a real user whose life is better because your company and product exist? Share it with the team, so they associate the problem with a real face, name, and story. This is powerful: it is the “why” behind what they’re doing.
  • When I worked at On Deck, each week at All Hands, Brandon Taleisnik would put together a Wall of Love collage on Figma. In it, it featured all the people who loved the product and whose lives were better because of it. It’s a great way to showcase many motivating stories at once, if you have lots of them.
  • Mission vision values: reiterating this occasionally (especially at the beginning of a quarter) can be helpful to “rah rah” your team and keep them focused on what’s coming next (along with rolling out what the company-wide goals are and what happens if you succeed)

Part 5: Reading the pre-work

You’ve gone through the first four parts, and now everyone is feeling connected (good things), informed (logistics & deep dives), and inspired (motivation).

Now, move into the reading section. Give everyone ten minutes during the call to read each others’ pre-work write-ups on what they did, what they’re going to do, and what blockers they have. It’s a great time for folks to comment on each others’ asks to offer help, and to gain full visibility on what the heck the rest of the team is doing.

Note: as your team grows bigger than 20, Notion will start to break. Moreover, reading for ten minutes live on a call is… well, expensive use of time.

As a result, I strongly recommend implementing a pre-read if possible, so everyone can read each others’ writings asynchronously.

If you choose to implement pre-writes and pre-reads, you’ll want writing to be due 24 hours before AHM, so everyone has the remaining 24 hours to read and get their comments in. It is difficult, but possible, if you have a great Logistics enforcer and publicly praise people for getting this work done.

Part 6: Feedback

In every meeting that doesn’t suck (read: Run efficient meetings that don’t suck), it is the meeting owner’s responsibility to collect feedback on how the meeting went.

Therefore, I encourage you to ask everyone at the end of the call to take 2 minutes to fill out a survey on how the meeting went. It’s two simple questions:

  • What did you like about this AHM?
  • What do you wish were different next time?

Make sure you collect this information from everyone and process it live on the call. This is so important because you want to be able to read the feedback and hear the feedback giver say it aloud. I usually recommend not anonymizing feedback so everyone sees it is safe to share criticisms with you, provided that you receive it well.

From there, you can choose whether you want to take the feedback or not. If you say yes, write down what action items you’ll implement next time - if your Chief of Staff is running the meeting, it will likely be action items they will take onto their plate. Capture those actions into your agreement tracker. If you say no, make sure you say why it doesn’t make sense for you to accept.

Part 7: Celebrations

Once all of this is done, you will want to close out with celebrations!

Celebrations are a great way to get people to feel the joys of working alongside one another. It shows you are dialed in as CEO and that you care about everyone on the team. And when done right, it leaves everyone feeling invincible as they run towards conquering their projects.

For smaller teams, you could experiment with popcorning celebrations around where one person celebrates someone, and the celebrated person then celebrates another person, and so on; or, you as the CEO can celebrate every person in the company if you know every person on the team. (In my experience, when I ran AHMs, I was able to celebrate up to 20 people for their individual contributions to the team because I maintained a pulse on what everyone worked hard on throughout the week.)

For larger teams where this is not feasible, consider celebrating each department as a whole. This is a great time to showcase the various projects everyone is working on and how it’s all necessary for your overall company to function.

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Regina Gerbeaux

Who’s Regina Gerbeaux?

Regina Gerbeaux (@_rpgbx) is the executive coach to some of the fastest scaling startups in the world. She is also a founder currently interested in the food delivery and logistics space.

Regina was the first person trained by Matt Mochary (executive coach to the CEOs of Coinbase, Brex, and many more) in the Mochary Method Curriculum.

Her tactical templates and operational write-ups have been referenced and used by fast-scaling companies, including BioRender, CoreDB, dYdX, and many more.

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