How to get started with stand-up meetings?
It’s a well-known fact that a lot of time is wasted within organizations during meetings. In order to save time and to increase the level of knowledge transfer and collaboration many teams, primarily software development teams, are using so-called stand-up meetings. A stand-up meeting is a short (5-15 min) status update meeting, where all team members get together and share what they are working on and if there is something holding them back. Instead of sitting down at a table in a conference room, all meeting participants stand up (even those joining via Skype). The goals of a stand-up meeting are to provide visibility and enhance communication, to support improvement, to reinforce focus on the right things and to improve the team spirit. In this article, I’ll go through the steps of how to get started with stand-up meetings with your team.
1. Determine if stand-up meetings are suitable for your team
First of all, you need to determine if stand-up meetings are suitable for your team. A stand-up meeting is not just a regular meeting where you have gotten rid of the chairs and the table in the meeting room. Stand-up meetings, sometimes called scrum meetings or just stand-ups, follow a certain format that is suitable for teams who work together on a joint initiative or project, who benefit from knowing what the others in the team are currently working on and who can help each other out. The stand-up meetings are run every day and everyone in the team joins. For instance, if you have a sales team where every sales representative has a unique portfolio of products that they sell to different customers, then your team would most probably not benefit from stand-up meetings. However, if you have a team working together on launching a new product then stand up meetings might be the answer to get everyone coordinated and effective. In order to decide, you need to put the time invested by everyone on the team in relation to the positive outcomes of stand-up meetings.
2. Find a place
The stand-up meeting should ideally take place where the work happens. You don’t want people wasting time going to a meeting room somewhere far away from where the work gets done. It’s good to have visual boards where you can put Post-it’s or write down things like obstacles or other problems/issues you need to take offline and deal with outside of the stand-up meeting. If you have team members in other locations they can call or video conference in. However, if you are using technical equipment to gather the team, you need to make sure that you can trust it to be up and running properly. You don’t have time to troubleshoot microphones and cameras or repeat what is being said because of poor audio connections.
3. Set a time
The best time for the stand-up meeting will depend on your team – what time-zones your team members are in, their working habits, etc. Agree with your team what time works best for them. For a lot of teams, the stand-up meeting is the first thing that happens in the morning before they go on and do their work. It’s the ritual that signals that work has begun and it sets the focus for the day. However, having the stand-up meeting early in the morning can be a bit tricky if you have a team with flexible hours or team members who come in later due to family commitments or traffic jams. If you set the time later in the morning, at around 9.30, people might consider the time before the meeting as “slack time”. Some prefer to have the stand-up closer to lunch at 11.45 and then have a lunch break after, this way you don’t waste valuable work time by introducing yet another break for the meeting. Whatever time you and your team decide on for the stand-up meeting make sure that the team commits and that you have the stand-up meeting the same time and same place every day. Always start on time and don’t let the stand-up meeting extend 15 minutes.
4. Decide on the format
The typical format of a stand-up meeting is that each team member answers three questions:
- What did I accomplish yesterday (or since the last stand-up)?
- What will I do today (or until the next stand-up)?
- What obstacles are impeding my progress?
You can change the wording of these questions or the order as you see fit. The important thing is to update the team on what you are working on and to raise roadblocks along the way. In order to make the meeting efficient, it’s important that everyone knows the format of the meeting – who starts, who goes next, who facilitates, and so on. Again this is for your team to decide. Some teams have a rule that says that the person who came in last is the first one to start and then you go clock-wise/counter-clockwise around the ring. Other teams throw a ball or pass a token to the next speaker so that team members stay more alert.
Agree on a meeting facilitator for each meeting. The meeting facilitator should make sure that updates don’t take too long and that the team doesn’t get stuck discussing problems. All issues should be noted down, preferably on a whiteboard or on the wall so that everyone can see them. They should be dealt with, but not during the stand-up meeting.
Make sure to have a clear signal of the start and finish of your stand-up meeting, whether it’s ringing a bell, playing music or clapping your hands.
5. Select culturally suitable symbols/rituals
In addition to increasing knowledge transfer, the daily stand-up meeting serves to bring the team closer together. It’s important that the symbols and rituals of your stand-up meetings fit the culture of your team. For instance, a huddle might be a perfectly suitable ending to a stand-up meeting for a sports team, but it might feel extremely awkward to a team of financial analysts. Playing the Bob Marley song, “Get up stand up”, might be a great way to signal the start of a stand-up meeting for a marketing team, but it might be totally unsuitable for a group of nurses. The rituals and symbols should help to add energy, increase efficiency and bring the team closer together. If people feel awkward, alienated, or ridiculed by the rituals or symbols of the stand-up meetings you are not achieving the attended goals. Ask your team members in one-on-one about the format of your stand-up meetings and how they feel about them.
6. Stick to it
You are never going to find a time that is ideal for everyone in the team, and when you first introduce the meetings you will probably have team members who will claim to be too busy to attend. If you have introduced and started with stand-up meetings with your team you need to stick to it and make sure that everyone else does as well. If you cancel the meeting every other day or delay the meeting you are signaling to the team that it’s not worth your or their time. In order to achieve the goals of the stand-up meetings, you need to stick with the routine and let everyone get used to it. After a while, you can adjust the format and even change the time for the meetings to optimize it for the team, but in the beginning, it’s better to just stick to the initial setup until everyone gets used to it.
A great work practice in today’s digital world
I think stand-up meetings are a great work practice today where digital communication is overwhelming our lives. It’s so easy for people to get stuck behind their screens. Instead of walking over to a colleague to ask for help people spend hours writing lengthy emails to each other. By introducing stand-up meetings you can break down the digital barriers and get your team communicating with each other in the most productive way – in person! Good luck with your stand-up meetings!
(If you have difficulties reading this article, you can access the full article in pdf here)