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#285 – The All Hands of the Future

Friday Ship | January 28, 2022

Parabol retrospective used for an all-company async AMA

This week, we held our second-ever all-company async AMA.

In other companies, a common practice is the All Hands meeting: a full-company meeting, where the leadership team presents information or talks through a slide deck to inform everyone about what matters to the company at that time.

We’ve shied away from this type of use for synchronous meetings for a few reasons:

  • They’re very top-down: Leaders decide what’s important to share, and how to share it, then everyone else sits and consumes that information. We prefer our sync time to be interactive.
  • They can create weird incentives: How much airtime an initiative gets in the All Hands reflects how ‘important’ it is, so folks start to vie for more time, even for more niche or small projects. If everything is important, is anything important?
  • They’re expensive: Besides the time required for leaders to put together the presentations, the entire company has to find and dedicate the calendar time to sit and take it in. The larger the company, the more expensive that time spend is. And, the more distributed the company, the more precious and valuable that the overlapping calendar time is.
  • They can discourage real answers, and thus discourage real questions: If there is a Q&A portion to the All Hands, it can often be rushed and stressful. Leaders are put on the spot to answer a difficult question with a time crunch. Too often, answers end up being vague or devolve into PR-style spin. If leaders had time to really consider the answer, they could give more genuine answers, which might encourage team members to continue asking good questions. As it stands, discouraged team members resign themselves to not bother asking the burning questions.

But, as we’ve grown to 20+ across three teams (and are still hiring!), we’ve found that we were missing an opportunity for team members to get questions answered beyond the bounds of their teams. Sure, our Slack channels are open, but for some types of deep questions, it’s hard to get the attention needed in a quick chat. Dedicated time is called for.

So, we started pondering how to do an All-Hands meeting that fit with our values.

First, we took inspiration from other tech companies that do AMA-style meetings rather than a traditional All Hands. AMA stands for ‘ask me anything,’ and as the name suggests, it’s a forum for participants to ask anything they’re curious about, rather than presenters creating something based on what they assume or decide is important.

We then remixed the format to make it our own:

  • Instead of having one leader, we participated in answering questions as a leadership team, to share the load, and reinforce the idea that Parabol is built by all of us, not one of us.
  • Instead of asking questions on the spot, we asked the team to participate in an async retrospective to submit questions anonymously ahead of time. This allowed everyone to think ahead, and also to be honest and ask spicy questions. 🌶
  • Instead of getting everyone together live on a call, we recorded a series of videos, with one for each topic. That allows everyone to watch in their own time, even at 2x speed, and skip to the bits that were most interesting to them. It also means new team members who join us in the coming weeks and months can hear these answers in their own time.

This was only our second go-around with this practice, and we found an unexpected benefit: When the whole company can submit questions anonymously, with no one needing to talk over each other or stand in line to ask, then you can get a sense of what’s on ‘our’ mind as a company, a pulse of how we’re feeling.

There are surely things to improve about the process, but for now, we’re excited to be trying a format that feels like a good start for us, and our culture.


Parabol metrics for week ending Jan. 28, 2022

All green lights this week, as teams are fully back in their rhythms after the holidays. It’s nice to see our annual V-shaped recovery in the meeting metrics!

This week we…

published our internal guide on Async Communication Guide for external audiences. We created this a bit back to help new team members adjust to asynchronous working, and we’re publishing it to help other teams do the same.

added a way to randomly assign a facilitator in retrospective meetings.

Parabol feature: randomly select new facilitator during a meeting

…considered different approaches to make integrations more visible within the product.

…continued work on a new website – coming soon!

Next week we’ll…

…be closed Monday through Wednesday for Lunar New Year. As part of our inclusive holiday calendar, we’ll be taking some time off.

finish up Sprint #95, a slightly longer sprint to account for the holidays.

Have feedback? See something that you like or something you think could be better? Leave a public response here, or write to us.

Aviva Pinchas

Aviva Pinchas

Aviva is a product and marketing leader with a passion for remote work and organizational design. She previously worked on WooCommerce at Automattic, one of the world’s largest fully distributed companies. Aviva lives and works in Austin, TX. 

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