Have Long & Unproductive Meetings? Try a Stand-Up Instead
We’ve all been in meetings that were about 30 minutes too long.
We laugh at “this could’ve been an email” GIFs, sigh, and continue with our days.
Yet, the truth is, unnecessary meetings are costing us way more than just time. Doodle’s 2019 State of Meetings Report estimated that poorly organized meetings are costing U.S. companies $399 billion.
One to two unnecessary meetings a week might seem insignificant, but when you consider a whole year’s worth of meetings, the impact is considerable.
As more companies move toward remote work, the number of meetings are also increasing. So, how can teams ensure their meetings stay productive? Stand-ups are one way to solve that.
What is a stand-up meeting?
A stand-up meeting, also known as a daily scrum, is a short meeting (up to 15 minutes) where each team member presents their current priorities and obstacles. It follows the agile software development framework, which is meant to streamline project workflows and improve cross-team collaboration.
To understand why stand-ups exist, you first have to understand the agile methodology.
For a long time, many companies were using a waterfall model for projects. This meant that teams would tackle projects one stage at a time and assume that requirements would stay the same through development. The issue with the waterfall approach is that:
- Teams are not always aligned.
- Unclear requirements often delay progress.
- Testing only begins after development is done.
Agile is built around iterative development, which makes teams more involved in the project’s progress. Teams work in sprints and through stand-ups, issues are addressed quickly and efficiently.
Stand-ups are typically daily. However, some teams have them on a less frequent basis. To maintain the benefits of the process, a stand-up meeting shouldn’t happen less than once a week. The main reason is that it makes it harder to track everyone’s progress and address roadblocks as they appear.
We also know that business priorities can change quickly. Having stand-ups too far apart can create information gaps between teams and slow delivery timelines.
Stand-Up Meeting Format
During a stand-up meeting, each team member should answer the following questions:
- What have you worked on since the last meeting?
- What are you working on now?
- Are there any blockers impeding your progress?
Regular updates help team members and leaders track everyone’s progress and assess what needs to be done to meet sprint goals.
Let’s use my role as a writer on a blog team as an example.
During a stand-up, here’s what I would say: “Yesterday, I finished writing X article and completed my second draft for Y article. Today, I will work on uploading Y article to the content management system (CMS) and will draft two outlines for new articles. My current obstacle is that I lost access to the CMS and need to connect with someone from IT to regain access.”
From there, my manager could suggest connecting me with a specific engineer on the IT side and follow up with me after the stand-up. Following this format gives everyone involved in the meeting a clear overview of what you’re working on and how that will affect the sprint.
Stand-Up Meeting Best Practices
1. Keep the meeting short.
If your stand-up meeting is an hour, you’re doing it wrong. This type of meeting is meant to keep all team members synced up. It is not a meeting to plan, problem-solve, or brainstorm.
Ideally, your stand-up will be between five and 15 minutes. While that may sound short, it works out well when everyone stays on task. That’s why everyone should prepare what they will say beforehand and stick to the script.
To keep the meetings productive, have your scrum master or team lead keep track of time and step in whenever necessary to move things along.
2. Follow-up after the meeting.
As mentioned before, stand-up meetings have very defined goals: to know everyone’s main focus and determine roadblocks that may affect the sprint.
Once issues have been identified, follow-up meetings with smaller team members can be scheduled to address them, whether it’s to brainstorm solutions or resolve them.
For instance, let’s say during your stand-up, your team’s UX designer says they have a roadblock with the app design requirements and need more instruction from the product owner. While it’s great to mention the issue, the stand-up is not the time to get into the details. Skip the problem solving and save that for a follow-up meeting with said product owner.
3. Keep it consistent.
Imagine attending a meeting every day and having no idea what to expect. It’s unsettling at best, chaotic at the worst. For stand-up meetings, three things must stay the same:
- The agenda – There are only three main areas a stand-up should cover: yesterday’s outcomes, today’s priorities, and current obstacles.
- The frequency of the meeting – If the meetings are irregular, how will team members stay on the same page? When you skip meeting days, things can fall through the cracks and lead to more issues down the sprint.
- The time length – Fifteen minutes is the magic number for stand-ups. Make them much longer and it turns them into something else that likely won’t be as productive.
Stand-Up Meeting Ideas
1. Actually stand up.
Have you ever let out a sigh when first sitting down for a meeting? Not because you’re dreading it but because you know it’s going to be a long one and you’re getting comfortable.
Well, that’s exactly what you want to avoid during a stand-up meeting. The reason why they are called stand-ups is that they’re meant to be quick. So quick, in fact, that you could be standing up. If your team is having trouble staying on task, take the no-chairs approach.
Have everyone stand up while each person presents. This will help ensure everyone gets to the point and doesn’t stray off-topic.
2. Use a prop.
Instead of following the go-around-the-table order, have someone start with a prop, like a ball or squeaky toy. Once they’ve presented, they’ll throw it to someone else. It will continue going around the room until everyone has gone.
Props can be very useful during meetings, as they help attendees stay engaged. The anticipation of receiving the prop next can keep everyone on their toes. It’s easy to drift off when you know your turn isn’t for another 10 minutes. This strategy encourages focus while making things fun.
3. Incorporate an icebreaker.
Most stand-ups happen daily. However, if your team conducts them less often, it may be helpful to use an icebreaker to loosen everyone up.
It can be a joke, riddle, question, or GIF. On HubSpot’s blog team, we have a rotating team member ask a question to start the meeting off. Past questions have ranged from, “What is your dream vacation?” to “What would be the name of your memoir in six words?”
It starts every meeting off on a lighthearted note before getting to the nitty-gritty work details.
4. Use a messaging system for asynchronous stand-ups.
To set it up, build a bot or purchase an external bot tool (like GeekBot) that allows you to:
- Send daily prompts to your team based on their working hours.
- Collect their answers and send them to the team channel.
What’s great about this approach is that it keeps everyone on the same page while working within their schedules. The automation is also a huge time saver and streamlines the process.
Text-based stand-ups also help everyone stay on task. Face-to-face meetings, whether in person or virtual, can easily stray off-topic and be huge time wasters. By limiting the number of questions members get, it helps stick to the point and get the key information needed for the stand-up.
On that same note, they prevent side discussions that can steer the conversation off track. Team members can direct message each other or start a thread that won’t disrupt the flow of information.
Following the stand-up format may not remove the need for longer meetings. However, it can improve communication between your teams and keep everyone aligned on the goals of your projects.