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All Hands & Offsites


All Hands, Company Comms & TGIFs

I call this whole area “mobs & comms”.  A.k.a. ‘Mobilization & Communication’.  It’s vital.  VITAL.

Unfortunately it is typically either done with amazing authenticity but not enough structure and planning, or done with too much thinking but completely misses the whole genuine transparency authenticity keep-it-real people element.

The good news is that it is a solved problem.  Well, the basic model is well known.  The tricky stuff is all in the implementation.  But we will get there.  First let’s take a look back to 1939… ok boomer, tell me a story about the 'old times'.

In 1939 Bill Hewlett and David Packard founded HP.   Now most of you know HP for it’s expensive printer ink, but long before that HP was at the heart of the early days of Silicon Valley and many of the management practices and other things we know today.   My children where all born at Stanford's Packard Hospital for instance!  

Among other things it was HP that was the genesis of the all-hands meeting and the ethos behind it.   By spirit is nicely captured in the early ‘HP Way Booklet’

“Both Dave and I believe we all operate more effectively and comfortably in a truly informal and personal name atmosphere.  Hopefully, with increasing growth we can retain this ‘family’ way of operating with the minimum of controls and the maximum of a friendly 'help each other' attitude."

By 1978 out where corner offices, and in came the company BBQ and shiny new concepts of ‘transparency’ and ‘inclusion’.  HP was thriving and all-hands where fully established part of many valley cultures.

Roll forward to early 2000s and Google et al modeled the culture around the informal and accessible cultures seen at HP and Intel.  [sidebar – it was actually Intel that pioneered OKRs].  At Google these Friday free beer powered all-hands were called “TGIF”.  And from there the concepts spread around the tech world to become the default.

Unsurprisingly through the 2000s Google didn’t sit still.  Flush with revenue and Wall St dollars Google spent heavily in this area and hired some of the world’s very best comms folks.  TGIFs, all-hands and the whole infrastructure leveled-up.  Sure there was still cheap beer, but the ‘science and art’ of all-hands was perfected.

Now ironically Google has hit middle age and suffers a ton of what I call ‘super-scale’ problems that all giants go through.  Yup, think Microsoft, Apple, HP, IBM, and more recently FB.  But that’s a discussion for a podcast sometime.  Bottom-line is Google today has reversed back from its predominance in this space.  Nowadays you have to look at the latest cohort of decacorns for the best-practices here.  But these are still based on the the principles Bill and Dave set-out, and Google perfected.

In my PlayBook and workshops here we can lay out the gameplan you need to follow.  The do’s and don’ts and standard cadence.  The classic formats from firesides to weekly news.  How to handle open Q&As without it becoming an anonymous bitching festival, but still promoting authentic and at times tough conversations.  The critical role of HR.  How leaders need to step up.  

We also get into the softer side.  The magic.  The critical role of the MC.  Plus beer.  And fun without forcing.  Inflatable dinosaurs.  Beat-boxers.  But I digress.

The other thing we can cover is how this fits together with annual holiday parties, summer retreats, ski trips and other company gatherings.  That's also vital.

Now did I tell you about the time I organized the world’s largest company gathering.  It was the summer of 2014 and we took >35,000 Googlers from around the world to Vegas.  Wtf?!?  Yeah no kidding.  Bad idea… on balance I don’t think so.  Yes sure HR was busy, but people certainly bonded.  Can I say more?  Well you know, what happens in Vegas…

Bottom-line is your 'mobs & comms' behaviors and attitude become your culture.  Not some fancy set of values in a poster on the wall.  And as your team scales beyond about 50 people and one location the 60 minutes with the biggest example and impact on that every week is your All-Hands or TGIF.  

Screw that company communication up, and you screw up your culture.  Screw-up your culture and you will find it almost impossible to mobilize your people.  It’s that simple.

Anyway, it’s Friday afternoon… Where's my beer?  Time for me to hang out with the SREs.  Now those guys can drink.

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