Town halls

This is a short meeting (30–60 minutes), hosted by senior management, that is intended to provide high-level information about a significant event or big-picture progress.

Good for

Major events that have department-wide results (business plan or annual budget, restructuring, etc); could also be UBC-wide, etc., as the situation warrants.


  • The audience hears the same message at the same time.
  • It puts senior management in front of staff.
  • Information can be delivered personally, to a large audience, in a relatively short time.
  • Staff have some opportunity to ask questions and receive answers.
  • Senior managers have an opportunity to update staff on organization-wide issues and reinforce links between their efforts and department or UBC-wide goals.


  • There is an impact on service delivery while staff attend the meeting: fewer staff at work yields longer waits for clients.
  • Large groups can intimidate some people, preventing them from asking questions.
  • Some people like to grandstand.
  • The logistics can be complex, and expensive if off campus.


Staff often want to receive information from the people they perceive as driving significant events or changes in an organization. This is often the managing director or superintendents.

Town Halls are usually scheduled to announce or communicate a significant event, such as a fiscal year review, business plan, or restructuring. The information shared is often “big picture.” Sometimes the details surrounding the event can be unclear.

It can be tempting to wait until more information is available before communicating, but employees may perceive this as avoiding the issue or a lack of respect or concern for their position. Often, people want to hear their department’s leader acknowledge their information needs and concerns and to get assurances that they will receive more information at a later date. Sometimes they need to vent frustration, although they are expected to be civil and professional towards management and other members of the audience.

Staff come to a central location, usually on campus, for a presentation. The information shared should address issues that will affect the audience directly. Often, there is a question and answer session. Q&A sessions are usually less confrontational when the information is not controversial (the introduction of a business plan as opposed to job losses). Light refreshments can be available; the meetings usually run 30–90 minutes.

Meetings should take place during the audience’s normal working hours because staff have other after-work commitments. Where client-service needs warrant, meetings can take place on a divisional level (e.g., all staff from Custodial Services or Municipal Services). When these smaller meetings are held, it is best when they are held within a short time span (on the same morning/afternoon or at least on the same day). Otherwise, the rumour mill ramps up: e-Mails are exchanged, phone calls are made, and the information can become speculative or distorted very quickly.

Handouts or information kits should be distributed or posted on an the staff tab on the Building Operations website so that staff can later review the information they receive at their own pace. This also increases the accuracy of “pass-along” information to those staff who may not have been present. Handouts should be distributed after the meeting; otherwise, the audience is more focused on reading the handout than on listening to the presentation.

Consider staff with special needs. Does anyone need an American Sign Language interpreter? Are venues accessible for people with mobility challenges?

Next steps

Follow-up department-wide meetings may occur, but it is preferable that managers and supervisors deliver additional information when it becomes available. This reinforces middle management’s role in the organization as a two-way conduit of information between senior management and the front line. Talking points or presentations should be provided so people receive consistent information.