While 71% of executives say that employee engagement is critical to success, 85% of employees aren’t actually engaged in their daily work.

What causes this gap?

Often, it’s some form of miscommunication between the employer (management) and the employee. Whether related to transparency in corporate decision making, involvement with company goals, or otherwise, it’s important that employees at all levels feel engaged and are able to interact with the wider company if they’re likely to stay long-term. 

We’re going to introduce you to town hall meetings, which are an effective way to include a wider team in updates and decision making. 

What are town hall meetings?

Town hall meetings (also called town hall forums or all hands) are a type of meeting that brings everyone in an organization or team together to discuss important topics. They are an opportunity for managers or team leads to present new information and for employees of all levels to contribute to the conversation. Town halls can vary in cadence, a popular occurrence is weekly or monthly. It’s important to schedule town hall meetings at a time that works for everyone, so keep in mind time zones or peak meeting hours.

Collaborate as a team

Have a meeting agenda for your town halls that everyone has access to and can easily refer back to. Try a tool like Fellow!

Why are town hall meetings important?

Slack’s 2018 survey found that 87% of employees want more transparency in the workplace.

Town halls are the best way for upper management to connect with employees on other levels, creating more transparency into organizational decisions. Opening up a conversation on big and upcoming topics to the wider team can help employees at lower levels feel aware and aligned with company or team goals. Long term, making the whole team feel included can improve employee retention and overall employee satisfaction.

What’s the purpose of town hall meetings? 

Effective town hall meetings reap all kinds of benefits, one of the most obvious being greater transparency into upper management decision-making. Other additional benefits include generating team alignment, getting early feedback on new projects, building company culture, and allowing visibility into other teams and projects within the company.

Depending on the organization, teams may see other unique benefits to running a town hall meeting. For example, a smaller company may benefit from introducing new team members or running short team-building exercises to start the meeting. 

11 tips for running effective town hall meetings

1 Set a recurring meeting cadence 

Establishing a recurring meeting cadence for the meeting reassures employees that they’ll always have access to updates within a specified time frame. Corporate transparency can go a long way by giving employees peace of mind that they’ll get progress reports on ongoing decisions regularly. 

If the town hall meeting is set virtually, sending the calendar invite on a recurring basis ensures that employees have dedicated time set out for the meeting in advance. Employees will be more likely to attend if they’re aware of the meeting time in advance. And from higher attendance rates comes higher engagement! 

2 Have focused objectives

Identifying a strong goal ahead of the meeting ensures that the town hall stays on track. Your recurring town hall could have one focus topic or a set of focus topics, depending on the importance of your topic(s), the frequency of your town halls, or the length of time that you’ve set aside for each meeting.

Using feedback from prior group meetings, building a collaborative agenda, or leveraging insights from an employee feedback meeting can all be great starting points for identifying a town hall goal.

3 Create a collaborative meeting agenda 

A collaborative meeting agenda is exactly as it sounds: a meeting agenda that allows others to contribute collaboratively. 

Collaborative meeting agendas can be built by any size or type of group that you think is relevant. For example, a collaborative meeting agenda could be created by a team of managers from various relevant departments, or by the whole organization.

Some ways to simplify creating an agenda for large groups is to include using mass-emailed forms that summarize results, importing tasks directly from a Slack channel, or having one ‘agenda champion’ from each relevant team or department represent their team at an agenda-planning meeting. 

4 Record the meetings

With all the new information presented and discussions shared in a town hall meeting, recording the meetings is a great way to keep tabs on what actually happened during the event. Doing so can be helpful for those who couldn’t make the meeting, or for anyone who wants to refer back to a discussion point. 

For managers, replaying the feedback shared in a town hall meeting can also be a great way to recall important information.

5 Follow a schedule 

Setting a meeting agenda ahead of time radically increases the likelihood of your meeting being successful. Building the schedule ensures that you’re going to discuss relevant topics, have time for questions, and stay within the allotted meeting time. 

Sending the schedule to your attendees at least a day or two in advance gives them some time to prepare thoughts on the topic(s) at hand. Doing so means that they’ll have some ideas for questions and possibly some initial feedback to share during the town hall. 

6 Have a meeting facilitator

Whether it be the CEO or someone else, having one meeting facilitator who can keep the meeting on track is crucial. When presenting or discussing topics, it can be hard to also manage time, so your meeting facilitator should be someone other than the main presenters. They will ensure discussing one topic doesn’t go on for too long so that the other pressing talking points won’t get lost or the meeting won’t end on time.

7 Share new content 

In a growing organization, everyone’s time is valuable. Rather than using the town hall time to reshare updates and older information, sharing new information adds value to the meeting and helps maintain attendance and engagement rates in the long term, since employees know they’ll learn something new by attending.

Sharing new information in a town hall setting also allows you to hear first reactions and immediate feedback from employees. Getting feedback right away can be a great asset in developing new ideas, and could also help with targeting rising issues early. 

8 Have time for questions

Since the whole point of a town hall is to interact with your employees and hear their opinions, it’s vital that your town hall have an open question period. Having one open question period at the end typically works fine, but in some cases you may want to consider having multiple. For example, if you have several focus topics, you may consider asking for questions at the end of each topic discussion so questions are relevant to the topic at hand. 

In addition to a question period during the town hall itself, you may choose to send out a survey or question form following the meeting for anyone who thinks of questions later.

9 Gather feedback regularly 

As with having town hall meetings regularly, meeting leaders should also be getting consistent feedback. Asking for feedback after the meeting, or checking in with a diverse selection of employees, can help you get constructive feedback for future town halls. 

To make the most out of the feedback you receive, you should establish key success metrics. How are you measuring the success of your town halls? Is it by attendance, engagement, compliance to the schedule, or another factor? Remember to choose a metric that is quantifiable, measurable, and easy to share with other meeting planners on your team.

10 Stay on time

Town halls are valuable, but they aren’t the center of your employees’ responsibilities. Starting the meeting on time, sticking to the agenda, and finishing within the allotted time frame ensures that you’re respectful of your employees’ schedules before and after the meeting. 

A productive town hall will likely give you new areas for discussion. To ensure that you stay on schedule, have someone keep notes of these discussion points and either save them for the next town hall or find an alternative way to have those conversations with relevant parties. Tabling unplanned discussion topics in a parking lot keeps focus on the issues at hand and helps you stick to your meeting schedule. Remember to handle one problem at a time!

11 Encourage shoutouts 

37% of employees value public recognition in their workplace. What’s a better way to openly recognize great work than by shouting out these successes during the town hall? These shoutouts can go a long way to making an employee feel appreciated and showing other teams that you’re seeing the value that individual employees bring to the company. 

Ahead of the town hall, you can open a forum or send out a nomination form to managers within your company so managers can choose to shout out their employees for work well done since the last town hall. The town hall organizer can then combine all these shoutouts into a neat presentation at the meeting. 

Free town hall meeting templates

Parting advice

Don’t worry about employee engagement going down the drain with virtual meetings taking over most organizations; even in a virtual-first world, we can use tools like town halls to stay connected across all levels within the company. Town halls can generate feedback, make your employees feel included, and ensure that your decisions are aligned with the overall company goals. 

And remember,  town halls don’t have to be just organization wide. Try running them with individual teams and departments too!