The Psychology Behind a Successful All-Hands Event

It is nearly the end of the year. Chances are, you have organized a stellar industry conference, multiple trade shows and too many workshops to count. The only thing standing between you and a holiday break is the big year-end company meeting. Even with the latest technology at your fingertips and an I’ve-been-here-before confidence, organizing successful internal events, can be stressful. When shifting your strategic mindset from external events to internal events, it is important to refocus on the basics, from venue selection to seating arrangements. Too often, these factors are an afterthought — but they have an outsize impact.

Industrial-organizational psychologists think about these factors every day, bringing psychology principles to the workplace to help employees, from the corner office to the newest hire, perform at their best. We asked three I-O psychologists for advice about what event managers can do to ensure employees get the most out of the event.

Seating Arrangements Send a Message

Dr. Kelley J. SlackDr. Kelley J. Slack, I-O psychologist for the Behavioral Health and Performance Group at NASA Johnson Space Center; CFO and managing consultant of Minerva Work Solutions PPLC.

Where people sit matters (cliques weren’t fun in junior high, either):

Seating conveys a sense of hierarchy, which can either help or hurt what you are trying to achieve. If you are having an all-company meeting and want to promote a flatter organizational structure with open communication, then having management sit close to the stage will contradict that message. Inconsistent messages such as these result in employees being hesitant to trust what management is telling them.

The Venue Sets the Tone

Kathryn KeetonKathryn Keeton, CEO of Minerva Work Solutions.

Make strangers feel comfortable engaging:

Some kind of meaningful icebreaker can help a lot, but the physical environment is important to consider as well. For example, don’t hold the meeting in a big formal board conference room if you are hoping to hear very personal points of view from your employees.

But design alone doesn’t always work. Sometimes, people need a nudge:

When arranging the seating chart, focus on on increasing diversity in your arrangement—both on the surface level and on a deeper level. This usually requires guidance for conversation starters so people are ‘forced’ to interact and share.

Create a Safe Space to Put Employees At Ease

Dr. Brenda FellowsDr. Brenda Fellows, president and CEO of Fellows Corporate Consortium, a global management consulting firm; adjunct professor at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.

It’s your job to encourage employees to contribute:

Attendees must be made to feel safe, comfortable and not judged. One way to assist them in this process is to have open communication with attendees before, during and after the event. Listen to thoughts, suggestions, concerns, and constructive criticism throughout the process and be willing to make changes along the way. When attendees see that their needs are being met and they are being heard and respected, they will feel more compelled to offer constructive feedback.

… before, during and after the event:

Remember to pay attention to details, use questionnaires to ask attendees questions prior to planning the event to gather pertinent data, and pay attention to implications of each decision and be willing to make changes accordingly.

Want to learn more about how to make the most of your events? Check out how you can use Feng Shui to make people feel at home in your event space.