Welcome to the New Town Hall Meeting

April 23, 2014 - 2 Comments

In the quest for speed, how leaders are engaging employees differently

I recently had a Fortune 100 CEO tell me he wants to “flatten access” in his organization.  It’s a familiar theme talking to customers around the world, as leaders seek out innovative ways to get their teams executing faster.  More and more I’m hearing about leaders putting a modern twist on the classic “town hall” meeting format – sort of a New England-style public meeting and social media all mixed together – as a new way to mobilize their teams.

What’s at stake, of course, is the company’s ability to get to opportunities faster – faster than competitors.  Shortening the time it takes to move from a decision in a conference room to galvanizing action on a team is the most often cited pain-point I hear when I ask customers about their collaboration challenges.  Here’s the rub:  most organizations aren’t great at engaging their employees, according to Gallup – only 30% of employees feel engaged.

When we think of innovation, we tend to associate it with technology.  The innovation being demonstrated in the online, virtual town hall meetings comes in the form of employee engagement, shifting dramatically how you communicate to your team. At the heart of the innovation is the recognition that people need more than “goals” or “priorities” when being lead.  My friend Peter Guber said recently that people have a need for “emotional understanding.”

The new town hall meeting is intrinsically designed to foster understanding – and in doing so, mobilize teams even faster for execution.

In our book The Collaboration Imperative my colleague Carl Wiese and I emphasized that successful collaboration starts at the intersection of technology, process and culture.  With this is mind, here are the three best practices I’ve heard and seen from customers for the “new” town hall:

1.  The New Town Hall encourages  video and “social media behind the firewall”:  A video-based meeting is critical to build trust, but the community must be able to interact asynchronously in three ways throughout the entire meeting, even when executives are communicating:

  • Chat (like a Facebook news feed where team members can discuss openly what they are hearing.)
  • Question-and-answer (like Twitter where one executive can receive an anonymous question and answer the question publicly to an entire team);
  • Polling (like a short-lived message from Snapchat).

2.  The New Town Hall leverages a “Second Screen”-based communication process:  Teams that use the new town hall format embrace the idea of a “second screen,” meaning they encourage team members to watch executives on video while interacting with the social tools available to them.  The intention behind the “chat screen” is to encourage people to be curious about what they’re hearing or to seek out information from within the community (and no doubt grumble a bit).  Executives must be visible on video in question-and-answer “video windows,” working inquiries personally, with answers everyone can see.  Polls are used to check in with the audience and gauge understanding.  This all seems disconcerting at first – it is different – but what is happening is people are “figuring things out faster” as one customer told me.

3.  The New Town Hall answers the “7 Essential Questions” of engaging to inspire action.  We’ve all heard about the idea of a transparent culture.  In my experience, most managers communicate “what” they want their team to do; on the receiving end, employees are thinking – “Why?  Who?  How?”  These “7 Essential Questions” need to be the “DNA” of how decisions are communicated, especially in how the social tools open multiple ways for employees to get answers to these questions:

1.  Why is this important – give me strategic clarity?
2.  Who made the decision?
3.  Who is accountable for the decision?
4.  How do I know the accountability system credible?
5.  What process what used to make the decision?
6.  What data supported the decision?
7.  What trade-offs were considered?

Many leaders tell me culture is an abstract idea.  The New Town Hall is a shining example of how leaders can operationalize culture.  In the end, as managers speed is a new weapon and the New Town Hall is an emerging innovation to go faster.  Speed may be the outcome, but as managers our teams will be more engaged – and the more engaged a team, the more discretionary effort they give you, and the more discretionary effort you get the more innovation you’re likely generating.   That may very well be the job description for any manager or leader in today’s hyper-everything world.

Good luck and good managing – and great engagement!  Ron


In an effort to keep conversations fresh, Cisco Blogs closes comments after 60 days. Please visit the Cisco Blogs hub page for the latest content.


  1. Ron, thanks for the clear outline. We are living this at GPJ and I can attest to the overall value of this approach in running a modern business. I would add that getting started is the hardest part, but once it becomes institutionalized it is game changing!

    • Chris — Great observation. Ultimately, the New Town Hall works because it is rooted in removing barriers between decisions executives make and what it takes to get teams ready to execute. While it does take some adjustment, I always tell customers this: your employees are already doing this. They’re just texting and IMing each other. When you put the structure and process of the New Town Hall in place, that’s when things click.