Jun 9 2022

Open All-Hands Meetings

I love stealing/borrowing other people’s good ideas for management and leadership when they’re made public, and I always encourage others to do so from me. I call it “plagiarizing with pride.” So I was intrigued when I saw a new way of doing all-hands meetings published by my friend Daniel Odio (DROdio) on his founder community called FounderCulture. You can see the original post here.

We’ve experimented with different formats and cadences for all-hands meetings over the years. They tend to vary with the size of the company and complexity of the material to cover. Larger companies usually fall into the rhythm of doing quarterly all-hands meetings sometime after the end of the quarter, usually around a Board meeting, with a quarterly recap and forecast for next quarter.

But for early stage companies, there’s no tried-and-true method. We struggled with that for a while at Bolster. Weekly felt too much. Quarterly felt like too little. It seemed weird for me or my co-founders to just have a meeting where we talked at everyone…and it also seemed weird to just host an “open mic night” type meeting. Then I saw DROdio’s video, and we adapted it. It’s working pretty well for us. Here’s what we do in what we’re calling our Open All-Hands Meeting:

  • We hold an all-hands meeting every Monday for :30
  • A different team member is responsible for being the host/chair/emcee for each meeting
  • We run the meeting off of a dedicated Trello board with specific columns of information. Everyone is invited to contribute to the Trello board in the days leading up to the meeting. The columns are:
    • Values-Kudos-Good News: Anyone can call out anyone for doing something that demonstrates one of the company’s values, that is just a big thank you, or that is some other piece of karmic goodness they want to share
    • Wins: All client wins are shown here with some detail, each in its own card with its owner highlighted
    • #MAD: This is where we trade items on which we Made A Decision during the prior week, big or small. We’ve always struggled with the best way to keep everyone informed on things like this…and this works really well for that purpose
    • Learnings/Product Ideas: Anyone can populate this with anything they want as they go about their work and either come across learnings or product ideas they want to share
    • Announcements: Pretty self-explanatory, any corporate announcement, new employee introductions, etc.
    • Swim Lane Updates: Each we, we ask one or two of our functional or project areas to do a deep dive update — Product, Finance, Sales, Marketing, Ops, etc. — and this is also where we’ll do product demos of newly released functionality
    • Permanent Items: this isn’t a column that’s read…it just warehouses things we want on the board like the schedule of hosts, schedule of swim lane updates, instructions for running the meeting, recordings of prior meetings
    • BOLSTER 2022: this isn’t a column that’s read…it contains our mission, values, strategy, and key strategic initiatives and metrics for the year
    • Archive: this isn’t a column that’s read…it just contains the prior week’s items
  • There’s a series of light integrations between Slack, Hubspot, and Trello to automatically populate Trello based on certain channels, keywords, and emojis. Every week, the board is automatically wiped clean after the meeting
  • The host moves the meeting from column to column and card to card, sometimes reading the cards, and sometimes asking the person who submitted the card to read it or give color commentary on it
  • I do jump in from time to time, as do some of my co-founders or our other leaders, to give extra commentary or amplify something or help connect the dots. But that’s about as formal as my role gets other than…
  • …when we do have a quarterly board book and board meeting, I host that one meeting and recap the meeting, ask other leaders to comment on specific topics, and facilitate Q&A on the materials we send out ahead of time. So I’m hosting 4 meetings per year
  • The host can add a personal touch to any meeting. Custom wallpaper for the Trello board. Asking everyone in the company who has a pet to send in a photo of the pet ahead of time and introducing their furry friends during the meeting. Playing intro or outro music to fit the occasion. Doing spot surveys or game show questions to keep things lively. Interviewing new team members. Asking everyone to do a one-sentence “here’s what I’m working on this week” at the end of the meeting
  • Finally, the host passes the baton from one person to the next each week. No one can escape this responsibility!

In addition to the Open All-Hands Meeting format, I send the company an email every Friday with some musings on the prior week. The content of these varies widely – from “what I did last week,” to “here’s something I saw that’s interesting,” to welcoming new team members with their bios, to customer testimonials. Sometimes other founders write these. They’re a good way to add a personal touch to the operating system of the company — and we also send these to our board and major shareholders every week so they, too, can keep a finger on the pulse.

These two things together are proving to be a good Operating System for keeping everyone informed, aligned, and connected on a weekly basis.