By Gemma Jiang, Diane Boghrat and Jenny Grabmeier
What is an “all-hands” meeting? What’s required to assemble an effective planning team? What should the planning team consider in setting parameters for the meeting?
What is an “all-hands” meeting?
Here we consider all-hands meetings in the context of our experience with a large cross-disciplinary institute, where members are geographically distributed. An annual all-hands meeting is an effective mechanism many such organizations employ to bring all members together in person.
An all-hands meeting differs from a science conference in two main ways. First, its participants are identified members within the boundary of the organization. It is usually not open to a wider audience. Second, its topic areas extend beyond the research projects supported by the organization. Such topics can include strategic planning among leadership, community building among early career researchers, professional and interpersonal capacity building topics, and development of team science competency.
Every all-hands meeting is unique, as it needs to be responsive to the current context and developmental stage of the organization. Exploring the big questions of why, who, what and how helps to set the parameters.
WHY: Why are we having this meeting? What is the intention behind it?
WHAT: What are the objectives and key deliverables? Which sessions align with which objectives?
WHO: Who makes up the planning team? What are the roles and responsibilities of each planning team member?
HOW: How might we make this happen? What is the process?
We describe two key considerations and processes for organizing a successful all-hands meeting: assembling the planning team (which addresses the “who”) and setting the parameters (which addresses that “what” and “how”). For the “why” question, beyond the annual in-person get together for all organizational members, the key issues will take into account the current context and developmental stage.
Assembling the planning team
We utilize the RACI framework (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed; Miranda and Watts, 2022) for this purpose. The “accountable” and the “responsible” roles make up the planning team, who make decisions and carry out tasks for the meeting. We suggest that the planning team should have no more than five members.
We recommend the program or operations manager of the organization serve in the accountable role, with primary responsibility for monitoring completion of the processes and tasks by the planning team. The program manager is typically equipped with in-depth knowledge of the overall organizational landscape.
The responsible role refers to the individuals responsible for completing the processes and tasks. The responsible report to the accountable.
The all-hands planning process usually involves four types of responsible roles:
- Meeting content curators: This role is responsible for setting meeting objectives and developing the content for each session, typically composed of a subset (2-3 members) of the organization’s leadership team with diverse subject matter expertise who are identified through appointment, nomination or volunteering.
- Meeting facilitator: This is a complex role that is responsible for facilitating the process of generating meeting objectives, coordinating meeting sessions, and preparing session leaders before the meeting. Additionally, this role provides facilitation during the meeting and is often contracted to professional facilitators such as team scientists.
- Meeting communicator: This role is responsible for communicating with all meeting participants through website, emails, and team communication platforms such as Slack. Sometimes this role can be taken up by a communications specialist if resources allow, or by the program manager or meeting facilitator.
- Logistics support: This role is responsible for meeting logistics such as transportation, accommodations, catering, and technical support. This role can be contracted to professional event planners if resources allow or filled by the program manager and other support staff.
As well as responsible and accountable, the RACI framework also identifies the “consulted” and the “informed”. The consulted role is only involved in the planning process when needed, such as a session leader who is consulted by the meeting facilitator about a specific session. The informed role refers to all all-hands meeting participants who receive updates from the meeting communicator throughout the planning phase.
Setting the parameters for the meeting
In addressing the “what” and “how” questions, a combination of approaches is often useful:
- The organizational leadership team is a good place to start because they have the best situational awareness of happenings within the organization. A simple method is to invite each individual leader to complete the following sentences: I would like to suggest [a session or topic] in order to achieve [an objective]. I will consider this session successful if we walk away with [deliverables]. A productive conversation which yields important insights to the what and the how questions usually follows. Sometimes a set of meeting objectives can be derived from such a conversation; other times, it takes a few follow-ups by the planning team to finalize the objectives. It is important to align meeting objectives with the developmental needs of the organization at the time of the all-hands meeting.
- It is also a good idea to solicit suggestions from everyone involved in the organization. This can be done through systematic consultation or responding to suggestions that are volunteered. The planning team determines the sessions to include in the meeting based on identified objectives and time available and also identifies session leaders, who are generally those who proposed the sessions included.
- The meeting facilitator and session leaders work together to craft each session. The session leaders set the objectives of a specific session and provide content expertise, which is complemented by process expertise from the meeting facilitator. For example, a session leader may suggest a provocation to start a session, while the facilitator suggests how this can be capitalized on by conversation prompts and small group formation addressing specific tasks.
In the context of the meeting objectives (the “what” question raised earlier), the content and facilitation plans for each session are developed through an iterative consultative process, after which the planning team drafts the agenda. In most situations, feedback is sought from the organization’s leadership team and selected members before a finalized agenda is released. The whole planning process typically takes two to three months.
What are your experiences with organizing all-hands meetings? Do you have additional suggestions for assembling the planning team and for setting meeting parameters? Do you have success stories or lessons learnt to share?
Miranda, D., and Watts, R. (2022). What is a RACI chart? How this project management tool can boost your productivity. Forbes Advisor. (Online): https://www.forbes.com/advisor/business/raci-chart/
Biography: Gemma Jiang PhD is senior team scientist at the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences (IRISS) of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA. She applies complexity leadership theory, social network analysis, and a suite of facilitation and coaching methods to enable cross-disciplinary science teams to converge upon solutions for challenges of societal importance.
Biography: Diane Boghrat is program director for the Imageomics Institute at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, USA. Her work focuses on developing complex multi- and interdisciplinary STEM programs with an emphasis on cultivating relationships, community engagement, and operational success.
Biography: Jenny Grabmeier MA is research strategist and facilitator at the Ohio State University (OSU) Translational Data Analytics Institute in Columbus, Ohio, USA. In her role she oversees research awards to catalyze new interdisciplinary, big data-enabled teams and projects, employs a variety of facilitation methods to support team ideation and strategic planning processes, and collaborates with other OSU institutes and entities to advance large-scale interdisciplinary research initiatives.