Posted By: Rosemary

As we enter the season of gratitude and celebrations, visions of employee appreciation, holiday parties, and year-end goal setting may come to mind. Cool! The celebration of your accomplishments and appreciation of the contribution of team members is an annual tradition worth keeping. It also may be time to slow down the tempo for the holidays before the speed-up of a New Year.

If you’re lucky to be planning this year’s All-Hands Meeting, you’re not slowing down at all, and perhaps even stressing a tad about how to kick-off 2020 in an inspiring way. Unfortunately, we have seen too many All-Hands meetings that miss the mark and benefit that bringing a team together can contribute to an organization’s success. The Team at Innovation Minds has assembled 5 Tips for planning and hosting your next All-Hands Meeting so your team will leave inspired and ready to spring into 2020 with an innovative mindset.

Tip #1: Know the “Because” of your All-Hands

Do you already have a draft agenda and proposed speakers for your All-Hands… maybe without knowing the real “because” and benefits of your gathering of staff? As the Head of Learning and Development for large global organizations, I can recall getting recommended agenda items from throughout the company, frequently based on political jockeying for floor time verses a real value proposition behind the event for both the organization and attending staff.

If you’re in the role of the agenda police in your organization, knowing and sticking to the “Because” of the All-Hands can help you navigate the politics of talking heads and placeholders for power points. Each agenda item should be clearly linked to your overarching meeting goals that may include:

  1. Fostering your company culture
  2. Celebrating winners and projects
  3. Tapping into the wisdom of your team
  4. Building connections with all staff including remote teams.
  5. Developing and aligning on organizational strategy
  6. Bridging the gap between leadership and staff
  7. Dialoguing on key issues and challenges
  8. Accelerating innovation and risk-taking
  9. Fun factor, play, and inspiration.

Note: For the achievement of some of these goals such as “building connections” your agenda will need sufficient and unstructured “white space” for staff to connect in organic conversation.

Tip# #2: Build Excitement & Appeal to All Brain Preferences

The success of your All-Hands begins with your invitation. Wearing the various hats of all team members, does the invitation speak to the meeting’s value and various brain or thinking preferences reflective of your team’s diversity? Remember meetings notices can create almost immediate scepticism and a sense of intrusion. Eye rolls and how will I get my work done questions pop-up as we imagine visions of power points numbing our brains.

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Since taking time out of the week for your retreat is likely to be identified as a challenge, early notice is key, as is the creation of an agenda that reflects the diversity of the team. A best practice is to assemble representation from throughout your organization on your All-Staff Planning Team, to be certain that everyone will engage on topics of relevance and interest. This also takes the pressure off you as the lead organizer of the meeting as your planning team co-creates the agenda.

As for building excitement, consider a look and feel in your invitation that will capture attention, excite and energize your recipients.

Tip#3: Start Before You Start

After, getting up earlier than normal, you are now prepared for this quarter’s All-Hands meeting and enter the team retreat location early with your Starbucks in hand. You know already you have wasted time as you scan the room that is still being set up (sigh) and observe people trickling in at their own pace. It must be time to hit the traditional morning refreshment bar and find a friendly face to chat with for the next 20-30 minutes.

Maybe there’s a different and better option: Start Before you Start!

Plan in Pre-Meeting or Walk-In time, which has been carefully crafted for both results and employee excitement. You are greeted as you walk into the meeting with an innovative vibe that tells you today is different from any other day. Yes, you “feel ”there is an energy of innovation in the room, yet you have a choice of environment and activities that suit your personal preferences and comfort level. (Introverts, Extroverts and those in between).

Here are a few examples of inspired starts to All-Hands meetings that we have developed or attended in concert with Talent and Innovation leaders:

Cool Ideas for the Start of your All Hands Meeting/Team Retreat:

*There is a Learning Lounge set-up in a corner of the meeting space, where you can view each team’s pre-developed Poster Boards of their greatest accomplishment or current project and chat with a project lead. See the value of Poster Board Sessions, which originated in Academic circles here, As a note, Poster Sessions also represent a great pre-conference project that helps to build engagement in your All-Hands Meeting and celebrate each team’s accomplishments.

*Try a technological expo and Ideathon to prompt innovative thinking. As an example of an Ideathon visit https://www.innovationminds.com/2020vision. Ideathons provide an opportunity for employees to play with the latest technology innovations while connecting the future of technology to their own organizational challenges.


Setting the Stage:

Rather than entering a dead meeting space, set your retreat room with upbeat music and multi-media that features your teams in action. To learn more about the impact of music on behaviour see this article by Eventbrite.

*If you have the budget, you may consider contracting a pre-event performance artist who will not only engage, entertain and surprise staff but speak to key components of innovation and product development. Aerial Artists dazzle and defy the status quo and provide an opening multi-sensory audience/customer experience for attendees.

*A visual artist such as creativity expert, Whitney Freya engages staff in the creation of a collaborative art piece that can then be showcased as team art on your campus or donated to a community non-profit organization.

*Did you know that Jazz has a lot to teach us about creativity?

A Jazz Quartet in the morning can set the right ambience, that you then reinforce as a creativity theme in the opening of your meeting.


*There’s the Unconference Format that seeks to maximize the design of All-Hands Meetings by participants. This format puts trust in the team to focus on and discuss issues of importance to them. In this format, participants identify and sign up for topics of interest to them as they arrive in the meeting room. Don’t forget virtual facilitation and online sign-ups to include and engage remote team members.

Regardless of your theme and approach, the message of our Start Before you Start tip is to pay attention to the pre-meeting vibe and importance of first impressions. If as experts indicate, we decide if we like a person or not in the first 7 seconds of meeting them, we also decide if we like your meeting or not in the same amount of time. As a rule, you should be set with a vibe and ready for the first staff member to arrive 60 minutes prior to the start time of your meeting or retreat.

Tip#4: Model & Maximize Creativity and Connection

Model Creativity:

Wouldn’t it be awesome if your All-Hands meeting modelled the art and science of Creative Problem Solving? So very often we hear or have witnessed that meetings present lots of ideas and discussion but no real action. The Creative Problem-Solving Process or CPS represents a healthy balance between divergence and convergence. Review your meeting agenda to see if your design principles include time and space for clarification, ideation, development, and implementation. By the way, it’s the same model used to create new products and solutions, bring ideas to market, and implement solutions to business challenges.


Here are key CPS questions to explore as you step back from your agenda:

  1. Will your All-Hands meeting clarify organizational vision, goals priorities and/or challenges?
  2. Is there space and place for ideation by employees?
  3. Does the All-Hands gathering allow staff to develop their projects and ideas?
  4. Are there logical next steps to implement ideas and input from all staff and do you have a plan for the follow-up?

Maximize Connections:

As we have reviewed the evaluation of All Hands meetings and retreats, we hear a reoccurring theme. Allow for more white space on the agenda. Don’t skimp on the breaks and space for informal connections between participants to occur in your meeting agenda. We recognize for meeting planners, it’s a careful balance between too much unscheduled time that can be reviewed as wasted and sufficient time for participants to connect and collaborate. Program activities that foster connection between staff can also be beneficial. Warning: Avoid forced and outdated icebreakers that prompt eye-rolling not to mention anxiety. Opt instead for setting the right environment for connection and opt-in challenges with valued prizes to the winners. Think gamification applied to learn something new from another team member.

Tip # 5: Inside Out:

The value of getting outside and a new pair of eyes on your project is key to the Pixar Braintrust. Your All Hands meeting can help you support innovation and do exactly that. Getting perceptions and ideas on key projects by staff who are outside of the project can bring cross-functional magic and a greater likelihood of project success. We know in the innovation space that we have a tendency to get too close to our own creations. Hosting 55 minute Brain Trusts on core projects where feedback is welcome as part of your All-Hands agenda, can be a programming element that supports solution finding and product development. For keys to modelling your Brain Trust around the Pixar Model, read this article from Fast Company. The Innovation Minds 360o Assessment on organizational innovation benchmarks how your organization gathers multiple perspectives in solution and product development as well as problem-solving. Does the end product represent the collective wisdom of staff, partners, clients and outsiders who can offer a different perspective?

An example of Inside Out Agendas:

I had the opportunity years ago to receive a VIP special invitation to join the Disney Imagineers Annual Conference. What do I remember? Well if I told you, I would have to shoot you due to carefully guarded non-disclosures. What I can tell you is that organizers brought in people from the outside to talk about their business and/or perspectives on innovation. I do remember the cast and creators of a popular morning show noting the key to their 20 + year longevity was not only engaging their audience in the selection of hosts but to maintain customer loyalty by changing only 1 element at a time. They noted by example if they changed the set, they didn’t change the talent. Apparently a key to television audience loyalty is familiarity and while change and innovation are key to keeping up with the times, there is a threshold for the degree of change accepted by customers/audiences. Hey, that concept can apply to many business models.

So consider including in Your All Hands meeting, a refreshing outside perspective even if their business has nothing to do with your own.

That’s our five tips in this article on accelerating innovation and engagement at all team meetings.

Our Team at Innovation Minds looks forward to hearing your ideas and examples of All Hands meetings and team retreats that inspire innovation and employee engagement. Some of the best ideas are those that are shared and re-imagined.

Let’s connect and collaborate.

By Rosemary.