Questions are powerful things, especially in the hands of organisations.
According to Harvard Business Review:
Questioning is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organizations: It spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among team members. And it can mitigate business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards.
This is why it’s common to have a Q&A section in your townhall, but let’s turn this on its head: try asking your employees questions during a townhall instead.
In our experience supporting various MNCs in their townhall operations, we’ve learned that starting with a poll can be highly beneficial. This could be a multiple choice, open-ended, or even word cloud poll, and can include anything from one to five questions.
Here are the benefits:
1. It's a simple and familiar icebreaker
Even if the meeting is relatively informal, a talk by the CEO, regional manager, or any other member of upper management can set a very serious tone. An icebreaker at the beginning of a corporate townhall meeting can help put everyone at ease, encouraging everyone to be more engaged and open-minded.
For instance, a poll question as simple as “What did you have for breakfast?” could be fun when displayed in a word cloud.
Who eats sushi for breakfast?!
Establish a basis of understanding
Corporate townhall meetings are traditionally one-way monologues. But the purpose of a townhall is to align the company and address concerns. By starting out with a question, you can show that your employees’ concerns matter and that you are listening.
This is because questions encourage the suspension of assumptions, clearing up any existing misunderstandings and opens everyone up to understanding the perspective of the other party.
Keep everyone focused on the topic at hand with multiple choice questions. For instance, using multiple choice questions to ask where everyone would feel comfortable cutting costs, and then offer them some options.
Let people get comfortable with the technology
If you’re using a tool like Pigeonhole Live to host your townhall operations, starting with a simple poll could help them get familiar with the app. This would set time aside to show everyone how to get onto the Audience Web App and let them explore the functions.
Getting your employees onto the app at the beginning of the townhall meeting will then allow everyone to start asking questions right from the beginning, ensuring that you have plenty of questions when it’s finally time for your Q&A.
Ease tension, especially in difficult situations
Of course, we don’t suggest asking questions like “what did you have for breakfast” if you anticipate the tone of the conversation to be severe. When dealing with a potentially challenging town hall meeting, it is important to address the mood in the room. People may feel afraid or angry, especially if their livelihood may seem to be at stake.
Polls can also be used to ease the tension in the room, by giving everyone a chance to express themselves. A series of multiple choice questions can be a safe way to approach a topic in a controlled manner, introducing a respectful conversational tone while allowing everyone to get a chance to be heard.
Shift the mode of dialogue
Starting with a question can also encourage more question-asking during the meeting. By asking questions, you encourage others to do the same when it's their turn to speak, which could lead to a more conducive meeting. Take for instance, the two statements below:
A: Management made these changes without consulting the team!
B: Why did management make these changes without consulting the team?
Both statements state the same fact that changes were made without consulting the team. But phrasing it in the question sounds less accusatory and more inquisitive. The conversation that follows after will be more collaborative than defensive, and opens the doors for more effective conversations.
In corporate townhall meetings where an "us-against-them" mentality could be harmful, management taking the first step to understand the perspective of the rest of the company shows care and understanding, and encourages everyone to do the same. Only then can you reducing the chances of miscommunication and start the process of realignment in your team.
Want to try it for yourself? Sign up for a free Pigeonhole account and test it at your next Townhall.