In the early days, it’s easy for you and your small team to know exactly what’s most important. Energy is high and collaboration seems to just happen, without putting too much effort into it. Together, you collectively crush it every day to bring your concept to life.

But as your small team doubles, and then doubles again, the ease and flow of working together becomes a major pain point. This is a common challenge, especially for fast-growing companies.

Unfortunately, once you grow beyond about 10 people, the days of effortless alignment are over. It’s impossible to replicate with a team of 10 or 20 or 50 what you once had with a team of five.

But, you can create the next best thing; the version of what it should be at your new scale. Where everyone is working with high energy and is pushing in the same direction.

Achieving a collective focus in your growing team takes a few routines, done really well. One of my favorite practices is the all-hands call.

Quick Primer

All-hands calls are the ultimate alignment tool. Much like they sound, they’re meetings that bring together every teammate in the company to hear the same message and have a common experience. It’s where the CEO and other leaders convey direction and focus, going deep on topics and issues that matter most to the company. Because of this, they’re also key to building company culture.

All-hands calls are usually held quarterly to maintain the flow of communication and engagement, emphasizing what needs to be achieved in that quarter. Once in place, they’re also the practice you’ll lean on to keep the team together during periods of rapid change, or a crisis within the company or beyond.

Lately, I’ve been working with founders on their all-hands agendas in the context of the COVID pandemic. People are wrestling with a myriad of practical challenges and emotions that there’s no playbook for, that they inevitably bring to work. Protracted social distancing, working while homeschooling kids, anxiety about the illness and financial insecurity can all weigh heavily. Then there’s the impact to companies, which can range from minimal to crushing.

This is all to say that when planning an all-hands call, one size does not fit all for your agenda. Context is key.

Case Study: COVID-19 All Hands Call

I’ve been working with Groove for the past couple of years*. After a major product launch last year, they started 2020 strong, with an ambitious strategy to expand their influence in the customer support space. While growth has slowed since the COVID pandemic, cash flow is solid so they don’t expect any crushing blows. Their strategy and expansion into a broader platform remains the same, but the roadmap will change based on new projections and some recent insights from their net promoter scores.

With this in mind, here’s how we planned their latest call, along with tips for how to plan your own:

All Hands Plan

#1 Plan Ahead

Time: 1 hour work effort plus 1:1 time with employees, two weeks before

Two weeks before the call, set aside time to reflect on where you’re at as a company, how you’re feeling about progress on your main priorities, and what the team needs right now. This will ensure your agenda is relevant and you’re making the most of the time.

If an employee survey is part of your normal routine, try to sequence it so that you get results before the meeting. This way, you know what’s on people’s minds ahead of time and can proactively address important and timely topics.

What we did: 

Since Alex Turnbull and his cofounder weren’t sure of the team’s frame of mind in the midst of the pandemic, they decided to move up their quarterly 1:1 meetings with each team member to get an accurate pulse. They learned that the team is generally energized and the impacts of COVID don’t seem to be their key focus. This enabled them to tailor their key messages based on where the team is at; going deep on the business versus broader or more personal impacts.

#2 Decide on Your Key Messages

Time: 1 hour work effort, one week before

Now that you’ve taken time to personally reflect and done your homework to find out what the team needs, decide on the two to three key messages you want to share with the team. When the call ends, what do you want to make sure people know? How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do the same or differently as a result of what they’ve learned?

People process info in different ways and different speeds, and need lots of repetition. Use a small number of slides to reinforce key points and important details.

What we did:

Alex sketched out two main topics that were most important:

1) Where the company is at right now given the pandemic, and

2) What’s changing re: priorities and why.

He also wanted to create an experience for the team to feel connected to each other and their impact on the company. He wanted them to know that the company is going to feel some effects, but they’re staying the course on the strategy, with some modifications. He wanted the team to leave the meeting feeling excited, focused and confident in their ability to get it done. And he wanted everyone to think about how they might need to readjust their own work priorities based on changes to the roadmap.

#3 Set the Agenda

Time: 30 minute work effort, one week before

Next, set an agenda that achieves your key messages, with enough time that you don’t have to rush and attendees  stay engaged throughout. Make the experience dynamic by having multiple speakers, by varying formats, and by including opportunities for employees to participate.

Here’s what the agenda looked like:

Agenda: 60 minutes

  • Team activity (20 min):  Each team member shares what core value they’re most vibing on right now in their work. We chose this to encourage engagement, reinforce what makes individuals and the team great, and reinforce their strong culture.
  • Where we’re at right now (15 min): Review company roadmap and metrics, the bigger economic picture, how customers are responding, and cash flow overview.
  • Update on goals (20 min): What’s changing and why
  • Close (5 min)

#4 Prepare Your Talking Points and Other Logistics

Time: 15 minute work effort, 1 day before

Confirm all final details. Finalize your slides; decide if you’re going to facilitate team participation through chat, live discussion, or a combo of both; and confirm flow of handoffs.

Do a mental run-through and jot down specific points you want to make. Practice talking out specific messages that you want to go smoothly. This also ensures that you make the most of your team’s time and keep folks engaged.

#5 Have a Great Call!

Time: 60- 90 minutes

Take a few minutes before the call starts to mentally prepare for how you want to show up. Make sure everyone’s on video. Remember to record the call.

Decide on a position that’s comfortable and helps you maintain high energy throughout the call (e.g., standing at a table versus sitting at your desk).

#6 Debrief

Time: 5 minute work effort; more if you listen to the video recording

Get informal feedback from your leadership team and teammates who will give you an honest opinion. Verify that people understood your points and ask whether there were questions that weren’t covered in Q&A. Check how people reacted to the messages and how they’re feeling about what they learned.

Review the video recording to assess how effectively you conveyed your key messages. Was your tone and tempo engaging? Were your points crisp or did you meander? What went well and what would you change for your next call?

With just a few hours of strategic preparation, an all-hands call can be transformed from simply a company event to something much more. Use your next one to get your team pointing in the same direction, collectively working on the things that matter most, and sharing in your company culture.


* Thanks to the Groove team for agreeing to let me share the deets on their company and our work together.