Ah, the town hall. It often elicits cringes from managers and employees alike – but for many companies, it’s crucial for disseminating information, improving transparency, and encouraging collaboration and communication across various teams.
For the uninitiated: a town hall is an all-hands meeting among your staff. Smaller companies may find that these meetings naturally happen often, but as the office grows, it becomes necessary to organize something a bit more formal on a regular basis (usually weekly or every two weeks).
Though there are plenty of benefits to town halls, there are also challenges. Your team might find them boring, or even resent them interrupting their workflow – and that can undo all the potential engagement gained by having the town hall in the first place.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to keep your town hall running smoothly. Here are nine ways to have a successful town hall.
Take the time to prepare
The town hall isn’t the place to go over the finances line-by-line or spend 35 minutes on a single topic. You’re better off sending employees in-depth information on relevant topics a few days beforehand, and using the town hall as a forum to answer questions or go over key details.
This requires more prep work on the part of upper management, but it will ensure that the meeting itself is efficient and fast-moving.
Have an agenda – and stick to it
This plays into the above tip about preparation. An agenda ensures that all attendees know the basic outline of the meeting, not to mention the start and end time. It also ensures that town hall speakers are aware of their allotted time, and know to stick within it.
You don’t necessarily have to print out an agenda for each employee – you can email it out ahead of time, or – even easier – go over it at the top of the meeting.
Assign a moderator
The meeting’s MC can be your company president or CEO, or it can be a revolving duty among the managers. Either way, a moderator can keep the agenda moving, and ensure that the speakers stick to their allotted time.
Include remote team (and other branches)
A town hall must include everyone. That includes remote workers, part time staff, other offices or branches – everyone. Before your first town hall, ensure that your IT team has all the necessary equipment to loop in workers that are out of the office via phone or video. And moving forward, make sure all the tech is set up well in advance of each town hall to avoid wasting time once everyone is assembled.
Allow for anonymous questions
Whether you’re looking at a specific report, or the company’s general goings-on, there will always be questions. And there will always be employees that want to ask questions but prefer not to do it in a crowd.
You can encourage employees to ask question anonymously via your intranet site, or go old-school with an analog “suggestion box” style set-up. Either way, be sure to answer all questions in a timely manner.
Single out individuals – for praise
An all-hands meeting is a great opportunity to acknowledge team members that are going above and beyond. However, it’s not the right forum to do the opposite: reprimanding individual employees or teams in front of the whole company will cause embarrassment and frustration, and make employees keen to avoid town halls in the future.
Keep it comfortable
To have a successful town hall, you need a space large enough to hold your whole team. And ideally, everyone should have a chair. You can get away with standing room only – but only if you’re keeping the meeting around the 15-minute mark. If the agenda is extra long, you need ample space for everyone, as well as coffee, tea, water, and snacks.
Not your time – your employees’ time. On days with a town hall, try not to book too many other meetings with your team – and encourage your managers to do the same. Everyone has already lost a chunk of time that they need to make up, so try to allow them to do so without adding more to their schedule.
This informal rule not only ensures that your team is getting their work done, it also sends a message to your employees that you value and respect their time.
Ask for feedback
A town hall isn’t meant to be a one-way conduit of information. After the meeting, let everyone know where they can leave feedback or ask questions about the topics discussed.