The Dreaded All-Hands Meeting – 5 Reasons Your Meetings are Lousy

The first in a two part series on All-Hands Meetings.

There it is!  That email you’ve been waiting for.  That one piece of corporate communications that gets you all excited!  That tidbit of company propaganda that gives you goose bumps.  The All-Hands Meeting Announcement!  Eee-haa!  Delete!

So where did this term, ‘all-hands’, come from and why are these meetings generally so awful?  Well, the best I can tell is that all-hands is primarily a nautical term; you know, “all hands on deck.”  But since I grew up on a farm, I’m guessing it could also be a reference to farm-hands as well.  It‘s generally something you say when everyone’s help is needed, especially to do a lot of work in a short amount of time.

As to the second question, why are these meeting so awful, I’m afraid you’ll just have to blame yourself.

An all-hands meeting in today’s business jargon is basically a town meeting.  According to Wikipedia, “A town meeting is a meeting where the population of an entire geographic area is invited to participate in a gathering.”  Today’s all-hands meetings gather the workforce and are generally trying to accomplish something.  Normally better communications of some form or another but often times they leave us wanting.

Your meetings are probably lousy for one or more of the following reasons:

1. You’re killing everyone with a death by PowerPoint march.  I once had an executive at Boeing show 57 slides in 60 minutes and not once did he mention our business unit. Talk about a snooze!

2. Your attempt at transparency is transparent.  If you are going to share information, then share it.  If it’s not the secret to Coke or Pepsi, or personal information, then share it.  John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods was quoted recently in and interview with Charles Fishman of Fast Company as saying “The world is getting more and more transparent. You’re in a fishbowl these days. You can’t hide in the boardrooms anymore. With the speed with which information can be sent around and the way activists and journalists dig and dig and dig, it’s very difficult to hide things. I think that is an irresistible trend. And it’s a healthy trend.”

3. You’re making the meeting about you and not about them.  You already know what is going on (hopefully), your job now is to tell as many people as you can and engage them to join you in this noble battle of competition.

4. People are no better off for attending.  I recently asked a CEO why people should come to his all-hands meetings and he said “because they are mandatory.”  Bad reason!  Leadership is about creating the ‘want’ in people.  They should look forward to the all-hands meetings.  They should be better informed, more skilled, more productive, more engaged as a result of attending the meeting.

5. No one sees their face in the company’s success.  By their very name, all-hands meeting should be about the people attending.  What can the staff do to help?  Remember “all hands on deck?” The staff doesn’t know how they contribute to the success of the company and so they have no line of sight between their everyday experiences and the successes or failures of the company.

I’d rather not leave this topic on such a negative note but for the sake of brevity (and editing), we’ll stop here and pick up next time with a few really good ideas to make All-Hands meetings sing!

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