Making All Hands Count


This article is written by Brad Grabell, who was formerly in charge of running All Hands at Properly as Chief of Staff and is a current member of the Strategy & Operations Sprint at The Commons. To read more from Brad, check out his newsletter.


All Hands means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some leaders view it as a podium to speak to the entire company, some see it as a showcase for newly launched initiatives, and others view it as a state-of-the-business address. In my opinion, it's none of the above.

What is All Hands?

All Hands is not just any regular meeting. In fact, it's not even a meeting - it's an event! It's in a completely different class.

All Hands is your company-wide EVENT to get everyone on board with the current direction of the company. It's meant to transparently share the TL;DR (too long, didn't read) and create alignment across and within every team. But above all else, it's about building and maintaining a connected workforce and strong remote culture. By nature, it's supposed to be special.

Let's pause

Okay, wait. Before you continue, if you haven't checked out my previous post on The Most Expensive Meeting You've Ever Had, you'll want to take a look. Even Pre-Seed Startups are spending upwards of $50k per year to host these events.

Understanding the cost of All Hands fuels the motivation to make it your most efficient and engaging company-wide meeting.

Okay, let's continue

Every minute MUST drive consistent, high-value, because every 60 seconds can easily cost well over $100. So, the question is, how do you make every dollar count?

To make every dollar count means creating incredible impact. And to have impact, you need a highly-intentional, structured, engaging event that goes far beyond a well-designed presentation. Beautiful slides aren't enough, and a voiceover from a well-respected executive just doesn't cut it.

It's the collective efforts across the entire business that make an All Hands... All Hands.

Building an Impactful Event

So what does this 'impactful All Hands event' look like? How do we create something that justifies the costs we undertake to run All Hands?

Share the deets from the beginning

An 'agenda' sounds a little formal, but it's a fantastic quality-assurance checkpoint for you, and an even better indicator to the audience that you've got a show prepared for them. All agenda items should also be time-bound, and here's what I'd recommend;

  • Welcome (5 mins)
  • Health Checkin (5 mins)
  • Wins & Learnings (10 mins)
  • Team Spotlight (10 mins)
  • Customer Story (5 mins)
  • Internal Comms (5 mins)
  • Q & A (10 mins)
  • Cultural Norms (5 mins)

We'll get into the details of each below.

Celebrate from the start

Bring out the confetti! Start off with shouting out team members who are just joining, work anniversaries, promotions and workplace awards. Pretty much any good news will do!

Health checkin

No, we're not going to the doctor. We're checking in on the health of the business. We do this by transparently sharing the most indicative metrics of our overall performance.

Generally speaking, you want to choose somewhere between 2 and 5 metrics. As you stretch beyond 5 metrics, members of the team often struggle to understand what's actually most important. When you have too many priorities, you don't really have a priority at all.

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Everyone on the team should be able to relate to at least one, but ideally most, of the metrics shown weekly. Teammates should know how their decisions and roles have impacts on the overall business performance.

As an added bonus, after you've shared the 2-5 company-level metrics, it's great to have rotating teams speak to their own department-level metrics. This often provides context to other teams on contributing factors to the company-wide metrics.

  • For example, if a company-level metric is eNPS (employee net-promoter score), the people/human-resources team could showcase employee satisfaction pulse survey results containing engagement and culture scores. This builds a fuller picture for the team to understand company-wide metric fluctuations.

Wins & learnings

This is a crowd-sourced part of the All Hands event which involves teams sharing both accomplishments and challenges over the last 7 days. This serves two purposes;

  1. To have transparency across the business by encouraging teams to openly share what's going on; and
  2. To build a collection of celebrations and learnings that the entire business can benefit from.

As an added benefit, wins & learnings also help to bring diverse people from across the company onto the stage. It's a chance for individuals to contribute to All Hands in a small way.

Team spotlight

A team spotlight is a deep dive into a function or project around the business. The presentation should be about something current and/or highly-relevant to the entire team. This not-only contributes to a wholesome understanding of different operating arms of the business, but builds empathy amongst teammates and brings diversity to the All Hands stage.

A good spotlight shares both the context and importance of the project being presented. Everyone in the [virtual] room should understand how the project started, why it's important for the business, and how it's relevant to them.

Customer story

We want to bring people closer to the customer. As you go from startup to scaleup, people get further and further away from the customer.

In any B2C, or even B2B, it's important that people remember who they're really serving. You want every decision your colleagues make to be in the best interest of the customer. The only way they can do that is to listen to the customer... and to listen to them often.

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Whether its a sales, marketing or product call recording, make sure that you go beyond just sharing the call. Have the employee who was on the call provide context about the customer and explain the lessons we can learn.

Sometimes, there doesn't have to be a lesson. You might choose to share a story about a customer who loved your product to help energize and motivate your team.

Internal comms

These tend to be the more administrative items, but they're still important. You may use this section to remind the entire company about an upcoming performance cycle or the date of the next company offsite.

The point of this section is to keep it short and action-oriented.

Q & A

As you reach the end of your All Hands, you'll want to leave some time for employees to ask about any portion of All Hands, business performance, or something else. Having an open Q&A also exemplifies an important part of a transparent culture.

Usually, if one person in the event has a question, there's likely multiple people with the same question. However, this is not always the case. If there are questions asked that are too specific and/or the answer will not provide high-value for majority of the company, you can share that you'll get back to that question async.

Cultural norms

Many startup companies now have a set of cultures that they hire by and operate with. If you have important cultural pillars, using the end of All Hands to spontaneously shout out colleagues is a great way to reinforce the culture.

It's always a great end of the event when people from across every department of the business are giving kudos to their colleagues for being a team-player or going above and beyond.

Of course, shout outs are just one way to build upon culture at the end of your event. There are a number of other small activities, like hackathons, that you can facilitate at the end to leave on a high-note.

Let's wrap it up

Okay, so here's the bottom line;

  • All Hands is not just a regular meeting, it's an event to get everyone rowing in the same direction and to build upon company culture.
  • Every minute can costs well over $100 for even a mid-sized company, so you need a highly-intentional, structured, engaging event that maximizes the impact of every second.
  • The structure I shared is one of many, but it's my favourite so far. Start w/ a warm welcome, be transparent about company performance, share projects, wins and learnings from across the business, get close to the customer, engage in dialogue w/ Q&A and finish with a culture-building activity that will energize the team.

That's it for now!

Interested in more?
Mentor Spotlight: Aritra Ghosh
Mentor Spotlight: Aritra Ghosh
Meet Aritra, Product Manager at Azure (Microsoft) and Product Mentor at The Commons!
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