Erik Barnlund

Company Town Hall Meetings

Making it safe to voice opinions and create a stronger culture.

Do your employees have a voice? If you feel like they’re happy or satisfied, can you measure it? I often ask CEO’s these questions when we discuss corporate culture.

When I’ve inquired if their staff was happy with their culture or excited to come to work every day, I often hear, “I think so,” usually accompanied by a puzzled look.

I challenge that response with, “How do you really know?”

One of the best listening practices we’ve come across at Mavidea is a monthly town hall meeting. And it’s been fascinating.

Imagine this: a CEO, an Office Manager, the Customer Service Rep, the Web Manager and everyone else inside the organization is sitting in a circle. They’re quickly reviewing the key metrics from previous months and hot topics they see on the horizon.

Any of the meeting’s participants are welcome to say what’s on their mind. The only expectation is that comments stay positive. Also, we expect the content to focus on ideas that help us move forward as a company.

The conversation is lively. Solutions are proposed. And new paths forward are discovered.

The emphasis turns away from hierarchy and towards tackling challenges as a team.

As time goes on, our leadership has begun to feel more personally accountable to the staff members as people and our employees feel increasingly accountable and connected to the business.

Safety first.

A big reason for the success of our town hall meetings is that they’ve become a safe place to voice opinions and ask questions. It’s so simple and so productive.

Leadership gets asked a lot of questions that come from a good place. Our people want to contribute and understand. They want to help!

When we get questions from our team, they are usually trying to discover how they fit into a particular plan or how they can better support our goals or directions.

Another upside:  I believe our staff has become more educated about how a small business operates, and about our business measurements. They’re more knowledgeable on the ways our services fit our client’s business models.

Executive decisions vs. the town hall.

Having a town hall doesn’t mean you’re making every decision by committee. There’s a time and place for executive decisions.

It all comes back to culture. The idea is to make a safe place within your organization for open, positive conversations whether they’re hot issues or not.

It takes management sponsorship of the idea that it’s okay to bring discussions to the table.

After that, it’s about creating a space for conversation to happen.

Just having an open door policy isn’t enough.

Usually, when you look at the numbers and time commitment involved, an open door policy just isn’t practical. On top of that, it’s not generally viewed as safe.

Most employees don’t feel that it’s safe to share an opinion with a VP or director. It’s more practical to bring employees together as a group. Managers also need to support the policy that we have safe places to carry on those conversations.

In our organization, we’ve had to build on this concept over time. But overall, we’ve discovered that a team discussion program has been good for us.

Five steps to great town hall meetings.

  1. Define the expectation – At Mavidea, our leadership continuously reinforces the significance of town meetings and the importance of sharing ideas. A number of times I’ve tasked the culture club to bring up topics that might seem taboo, controversial or emotional. Surprisingly, when “we the people” generate the discussion, it becomes a safe conversation.
  2. Have a short agenda for the meetings – We review last month’s KPIs and the What’s Important Right Now goal. We follow with a Q&A session.
  3. Focus on high level, abbreviated facts and numbers Drill down on the selected topic and be sure to identify your subject matter clearly.
  4. Get out of the way! – Once you’ve identified your topic, stop talking! Unlike the Quarterly Business Reviews where I’m presenting a lot of information, my goal at town halls is to listen.
  5. Leave with a rallying cry – Summarize the primary direction from your meeting into a rallying cry. Wrap it in a theme that’s exciting and something the whole group can get behind. Make plans to follow up with a specific plan for each person to bring your group’s idea to life.

Does your staff feel it’s safe to share information? Do your employees have a voice?

If you’d like to talk about leveraging town hall meetings in your organization, get in touch! At Mavidea, we love to talk with other business owners about creating effective town hall meetings and other elements of small business culture.

Because where it’s safe to share information, the next wave of business leadership will grow.

Meet the team!