Beyond taking steps to improve your next All Staff meeting, explore alternatives.
The twin challenges that All Staff meetings respond to are how to communicate effectively and at scale. While they may be the most direct manner to communicate to everyone in the company, the approach is filled with flaws. In the worst-case scenario it is exclusively a one-way communication channel where it is more about team leaders trying to put their work in a good light than what the audience takes from the meeting, but even in the best of cases, it is unlikely that everyone’s time is being best allocated. Despite these challenges, companies spend an enormous amount of time spent on these meetings, a Harvard Business Review piece estimated that a weekly Executive Communication meeting at a large company resulted in 300,000 hours a year in meetings.
Just because everyone is in the same room at the same time, people may still take away different messages based on the delivery and its relation to what is on their mind at that particular moment. Not to mention that putting a large number of people into a room will almost always result in side conversations. It is not easy orchestrating successful All Staff meetings, and perhaps the clearest indication of this can be seen in the titles of pieces highlighting best practices (e.g. The Perils of the All-Employee Meeting and Save your Next Staff Meeting from Itself).
Beyond taking steps to improve your next All Staff meeting, explore alternatives. Instead of aiming to get everyone in the same room at the same time, smaller meetings can interlace conversations from across the company in a more personalized fashion. Smaller meetings give added flexibility, which permits delving deeper as well as specifically on the matters of most interest to the group. Due to sheer size, a large group is limited to portraying a single thread without exploring the various implications it may have for different projects and individuals.
The primary downside to smaller meetings is scale, but that only holds if one looks at only the single meeting, a series of small meetings can provide the platform for deeper connection and exchange across a wide range of staff, while providing channels for the message to spread widely. A parallel can be made with broadcast advertising versus word of mouth advertising. While broadcasting can reach a larger audience, people are more influenced through conversation with peers. This does not signify the end of All Staff Meetings, but highlights the need to think further how messages spread internally in a company. The official communication channels can help get the word out, but it will be through smaller meetings that actions get executed. Some of this word of mouth will result naturally, but it can be facilitated by companies providing spaces and time for staff to connect with others across the company.