Town Halls: Are they Worth It?
Let’s Talk Town Halls
In their best, most ‘platonic’ form, town halls allow corporate leadership the opportunity to educate, interact with, and inspire their employees through effective communication. But town halls are tricky to get right, and even when they go smoothly, there are some massive hidden costs that can make town halls surprisingly costly investments.
How many employees do you have at your company? Okay, now take that number and multiply it by 27. That is the base cost for just a one-hour town hall. Let’s break that down.
The average US salary is $56,310, which breaks down to an hourly rate of $27.00. So if you have 20 people in your company, then that one-hour town hall costs a minimum of $540. If you have 300+ people in your company, then that number explodes to $8,100. And that’s just the low-ball figure. You also have to factor in the opportunity cost of your sales people not selling, customer service not servicing customers, and engineers not writing code.
That’s an expensive meeting.
Spending money to get everyone aligned, build culture, and engage the team is a worthy investment, but like any investment, we should understand the return we’re getting.
Are Town Halls Worth the Investment?
Done right, town halls reinforce company culture, create togetherness, energize the team and create alignment on strategy. Done poorly, they can drive resentment, waste time, and create confusion. Seems like a perfect illustration of ‘high risk, high reward’. But in reality, the impact of town halls can be found across the spectrum, with most town halls ranging right in the ‘mediocre’ range. They’ll energize the folks who are already on board with the company’s mission, and everyone else will enjoy the hour’s worth of material to criticize and gossip about.
It can be hard to gauge whether your team is really benefiting from the town halls, or if they’re doing more harm than good. Combined with the initial hourly cost of just everyone’s attendance, the amount of time it takes to organize the meeting, and the amount of resources it takes to prepare the presentations, it’s important to know if the town hall is worth the investment. What are you getting from all that expense?
Navigating The Question and Answer Minefield
After pleasantries, introductions, and presentations, almost all town halls include a question and answer segment, where any employee can pose a question to senior leadership. These are often an exciting blend of healthy communication and cringe-inducing awkwardness. Ideally, this is a great way to connect with your team and make them feel heard and appreciated. But even under ideal circumstances, the town hall style question and answer format has some distinct issues:
- Inclusivity and Accessibility: The fear of public speaking is thought to affect 75% of the population, appearingmore prevalently in young and female employees. So the majority of your team will experience at least some anxiety at the thought of publicly asking a question, and in some cases that anxiety will prevent the question from surfacing at all. Further, up to 50% of the population is thought to be introverted, so having a town hall format where someone needs to get up in front of their peers and face their boss’s boss’s boss with a question is intimidating. Ultimately, you’re losing good questions because the format excludes so many people.
- Group Think: There’s a phenomenon in behavioral science known as Social Influence. Basically, if a person is placed in a group of actors where the actors give intentionally incorrect answers to simple questions the person will conform to the group’s point of view 75% of the time. This can contribute to “groupthink” which is the ”practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.” It’s possible that not only are you excluding people and questions due to the format, but you can also create a distorted view of the organization based on the dynamics of group think. It takes just one bad-faith question or clumsy answer to start a swirl of negative rumors around a company.
- Division: Town halls are performative. You and the rest of your leadership team are on stage and everyone else is in the audience. Everyone in the business is expected to stop what they’re doing and come together to listen to you talk for at least half an hour. There’s often little discussion and so the “us and them” dynamic can be reinforced through the format of a town hall.
How to Improve the Town Hall Experience
Town Halls tend to produce a certain amount of anxiety, both for the presenters and the audience. There’s a degree of expected participation and enthusiasm that can be nerve-inducing, and the performative element can be both emotionally and physically exhausting.
So how can LoopingBack improve Town Halls?
LoopingBack encourages thoughtful, more intentional communication, and even though LoopingBack is a virtual tool, it can be easily incorporated into the more physical Town Hall meeting experience. There are different ways to incorporate LoopingBack, but a great way would be to use LoopingBack as a way to share information and gather questions before meeting in person. Let’s look at some of the most common pain-points of Town Halls, and then let’s see how LoopingBack might alleviate them.
- The initial leadership welcome speech followed by corporate performance presentation – Speaking and performing publicly is not a skill in everyone’s wheelhouse. Instead of making every member of your company sit through a potentially awkward or tedious presentation, have members of senior leadership use LoopingBack video messaging to update the company on their respective departments. And instead of insisting that every member of senior leadership perform and present the same way from a stage, each member gets to infuse their own personality into their messaging. It’s a more comfortable experience for all involved.
- The question and answer format – Posing questions of senior leadership can be tricky in the best of circumstances, and it’s made all the more difficult if they have to do so in a public setting in front of all their peers and superiors. Instead, you can use LoopingBack to invite questions digitally, and then use the physical meeting to answer them in person. This accomplishes two things: It provides a more inclusive atmosphere for questions, and it allows senior leadership the time to develop thoughtful answers.
- Lack of active participation from team members – Town Halls are typically led by senior leadership, with those at the top of the organization providing the primary content and presentations. While it’s always a good idea to have senior leadership actively involved, it can create an ‘us-vs-them’ mentality among everyone else if the only people actively participating are the top brass. Instead, you can use LoopingBack to invite more active participation across the organizational hierarchy. In addition to the more high-level updates from senior leadership, you could invite other team members to give shorter video updates on various aspects of their respective departments. You could have an account manager talk about a recent acquisition, a member of the engineering team present a new feature, etc. Using this approach diversifies the voices being heard at Town Halls, and it can also serve as a great way to shine a light on employees who otherwise might not see a lot of spotlight in their typical workdays.
Making Town Halls More Effective and Intentional
Town Halls will probably never top anyone’s list of favorite things, but they can be made more effective, accessible, and inclusive through the use of digital tools like LoopingBack. By using LoopingBack to make the more tedious parts of Town Halls a bit less daunting, that frees up time in the physical meeting for fostering relationships and team-building.
Town Halls are expensive, so let’s use that time wisely.