I was talking to an independent consultant the other day, and she told me that, while tempting, she didn’t want to go full-time at the business she was consulting with. The reason she didn’t want to report to the client as a full-time employee was that she didn’t want to go to that team’s “all-team meetings” (also known as “all-hands meetings” or “group meetings.”) She felt that her relationship would go right out the window as soon as she had to attend one of those dreaded meetings. She would go to that meeting kicking and screaming, and then cringe through the whole thing. Instead, she’s happy as someone who can focus on doing her work, getting results, and establishing great relationships with her clients.
The lesson learned from this discussion – “all hands” meetings can be de-motivating and take away from good work.
So clearly something is wrong with all-hands meetings. So wrong, in fact, that this highly capable consultant who would otherwise consider working for the company full time has ruled it out for this reason only. Yikes!
So what’s so bad about these all-hands meetings?
First, as the name implies, the “all-hands” meeting is usually “required” or “mandatory”. So, by definition, a certain percentage of the population doesn’t want to go for whatever reason but is there anyway. The “mandatory” element builds in a tough audience from the start.
Next, oftentimes all-team meetings make the attendees cringe — especially the ones didn’t want to go. Perhaps they didn’t want to go because they know the proceedings will make them cringe.
Perhaps you know what this cringing looks like – I call this the “horrified at the all-team meeting gesture” where participants look away from what is happening at the front, heads down, hands over eyes. This gesture is often seen when the events are so embarrassingly awful that participants have to look away. They cringe at the terrible proceedings unfolding before them.
But Walter, you may ask, what could a manager or director or senior vice president be doing that is so bad? What is it that they could be doing that is so awful that people on the team can’t bear to watch?
OK. I’ll give you two common actions and tell me if you’ve never witnessed these:
1. Performing skits that attempt to entertain
This was a large part of the premise of the comedy series “The Office” (I recommend the The UK Version, but the American Version has the same premise). In this series, the manager believes that as part of being a manager he must entertain his team. He tells jokes, does dances, acts out performances and he does a whole host of things that make the office workers cringe. Unfortunately this isn’t a parody of what happens in actual offices, but a stone cold documentary.
The humor from the show stems from the phenomenon that people in management positions often mistake being a leader with being an entertainer. Managers who try to entertain are, by definition, amateurs at entertaining (they should be professionals at managing). Their ideas as to what is funny and what works as entertainment are usually poor. Also, many people find it a waste of time. Attempt to entertain only if you have professional entertainers there to assist you (and probably at great expense). Even then, know that a percentage of your audience will consider it cheesy.
Attempting to entertain should be considered a highly risky endeavor and, at best, would constitute advanced “style points” of being a manager. At worst, it negates all of the good work done as a manager.
Similarly, you can be a great manager without ever having to entertain the troops.
2. Publically praising the wrong people, the wrong projects, and the wrong work
All-team meetings are often used as venues for the leader to publically praise people on their hard work. They will call out different people for what they did and why they are great. This, too, should be considered risky, since the leader of the meeting will risk praising the hard work of someone at work that others have noted to be ineffective, difficult, or otherwise produce poor work.
Here’s how it works: The director says, “I want to thank Jeremy for his amazing work.” Now, perhaps Jeremy has indeed produced great work – for the boss. But imagine if Jeremy is also the proverbial “A**hole at work” — Jeremy has been unresponsive to multiple people, yelled at others, lied to get ahead, called people he doesn’t like “stupid,” has dumped work on them or taken credit for other people’s work. And now the director stands in front of everyone and says how much she likes Jeremy? You can expect that many in the room will cringe.
Not only that, many in the room will wonder just how clueless the director is, to publically call out someone who is clearly an awful co-worker. Then they will get depressed, knowing the difficulty of shedding light to the manager on the problematic aspects of Jeremy.
Now, the same thing can happen for projects. Let’s consider Project Y: It is over budget, the people working on it have extended the timeline multiple times, and it is generally considered a debacle. Then the director says, “I want to thank all of those on Project Y who have worked so hard to make it a success.” The director may earnestly be trying to show support for those on Project Y, but by highlighting project Y – even with an eventual positive outcome, those on Project X, W, V and U (projects that, if run smoothly, didn’t get attention from the big boss) get upset about the public praise, because now they feel like they are being ignored, and the boss has no concept as to who is doing the good work. Cringing ensues.
In previous articles, I discuss “public feedback” (another common all-hands meeting error), where the manager attempts to provide corrective feedback to the entire team. “Public praise” has a similar problem. Providing the manager’s view of who the top performers are in front of everyone and in real time has own dangers.
These cringe-worthy actions are exacerbated because these all-team meetings are often deemed “mandatory.” This means that the people who will not be entertained – no matter how high-quality the entertainment — have to sit through the entertainment. This means that the people who feel that they are not being recognized, while the less deserving do get recognized, will have their worst fears confirmed.
A disastrous all-team meeting might even be a galvanizing reason someone will want to leave their job (i.e., leave their managers), as they will see many things they don’t like about the job compressed into a single event and channeled through the senior leadership’s so clearly on display. As in the case of the consultant I was speaking with, all-team meetings are the first reason she didn’t want to join an organization.
So what I’m saying is: All-hands meetings should be considered high-risk. Managers and directors risk inadvertently embarrassing themselves and their team, and also inadvertently make it seem like they don’t know what is happening on the team and how the team feels at the precisely moment they are trying to assert their leadership.
In my next article, I’ll enumerate more reasons all-team meetings are high risk.
In the mean time, please share your memorable “cringe-worthy” moments at all-team meetings!