As almost anyone who has ever worked in an office knows, meetings can suck time – and even productivity – quickly out of any workday morning.
That’s why lots of companies are trading in the long table and the endless agenda for morning standups, or scrum meetings.
Morning standups are just what they sound like: A meeting where everyone in your team stands in a circle to collaborate quickly, run efficiently through priorities, and give everyone a quick opportunity to speak.
Typically, they are held every day, but some companies may choose to hold them less (or more) frequently.
The benefits of a standup meeting are manifold. They bring a greater sense of unity to your team; they give team members the opportunity to celebrate small victories; they’re great for quick problem-solving; and in theory, they’re fast.
The problem is, morning standups aren’t always that quick. They can drag on just like a conventional meeting…. and drain valuable time and resources from creating, managing, and marketing a successful product.
Why Do Meetings Take So Long?
As you probably already know, meetings can take a really, really long time. In fact, a recent study showed that meetings have become longer and more frequent over the last 50 years, without any increase in productive outcomes. In the 1960s, executives spent less than 10 hours per week in meetings. Today, nearly 23 hours a week are spent in meetings.
Valuable meeting minutes are often wasted on discussing a low-priority issue, or a problem that concerns only a small segment of the team and should be solved in a different conversation.
Or, one person takes the helm and begins to “story-tell” – perhaps providing a lot of information that really isn’t helpful or relevant (we’ve all been there!) “Rabbit trails” may be easy to follow, but tend to annoy teammates for whom the issue at hand is most relevant.
A larger scale problem with meetings – even standups – is that they can focus too much on abiding by a certain structure, but not on productive outcomes.
Too often, we leave a meeting feeling like, Great! Now I have less time to finish my actual work.
In theory, a morning standup is meant to remedy that feeling and ensure productive usage of time. But it takes a certain amount of strategy to get there – to hold meetings that are efficient, improve the flow of productivity, and get everyone on the same page without sacrificing time.
Strategies for a Fast, Productive Standup
By simply asking team members to stand up, you’ve gained a good start on changing the “meeting culture” of your company. Meetings aren’t as likely to drag when people are on their feet. Standing helps team members remember they are ready to take action… and makes it that much easier to get back to their desks.
But if you want to improve the speed and productivity of your morning standup, you’ll need to know more than just the basic form and structure for a standup.
Appoint a leader.
Morning standups are definitely more collaborative than a conventional meeting… but they still need a leader.
A leader helps ensure that the standup stays on track, facilitates communication, and helps make sure that objectives are met and “rabbit trails” are reduced.
When the leader is absent, don’t try and muddle through without her or him. Assign a substitute and give your temporary facilitator control over the agenda.
Everyone gets to talk.
Although the standup has a leader, it is not his or her role (or right) to dominate the meeting.
Make sure that your morning standup is allotted enough time for everyone’s voice to be heard, but be timely about moving from one team member to the next. Leaders must be forward about asking people to “wrap up” in order to make time for other team members.
A fair time limit to set initially is anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute, depending on the size of your team.
Remind team members to be clear.
Clear and specific communication is crucial to keeping things speedy. Encourage a team culture where members use specific directives and similar terminology, and you’ll eliminate time wasted on misunderstanding or multiple explanations during your morning standup.
Resist the temptation to pull up a swivel chair to your standup, or allow half the team to stand and the other half to sit at desks. Team members should all assume the same position, putting them on equal grounds for collaboration and contribution. Standing up is also one of the primary keys to ensuring that standups move quickly.
Communicate expectations with an agenda.
Although they are not meant to be comprehensive run-downs of every aspect of your product development, marketing, and management, standups should still include an agenda.
At the beginning of the standup, the leader should quickly communicate the agenda so that team members know what needs to be discussed… and what can be re-prioritized for another day.
Cut out unnecessary meeting points.
In many cases, you may be covering information in meetings that may be more effectively communicated using a tool or software.
For example, team members may “save” quick task updates or simple problems for your morning standup, but oftentimes those points are more quickly communicated using a tool such as Slack.
Another point that you may want to cut out are status updates. While “Product Testing Update” and “Customer Feedback on Feature A” are certainly important, these points can be included in a reporting app such as Underway.
Skip the meeting, invite only necessary participants, or re-schedule.
If your morning standup is not going to add value, or it’s interfering with a high-priority project, skip it.
If you don’t want to skip your standup altogether, invite only team members who must absolutely participate in order for the standup to function.
Likewise, aim to be flexible with your timing and frequency. While most companies prefer a morning-time standup, you may want to aim to hold your standup in the afternoon, or even before the close of the workday. Pay attention to the natural rhythms of your team, and plan accordingly. In the end, this will help ensure that you hold a faster, more productive meeting.
Keep your project management tool at hand.
Pull up your project management tool, such as Jira or Asana, on a mobile device or tablet. Keeping your tool easily accessible means that takeaways quickly become actionable items in your project management system. Plus, it ensures that your meetings run accurately… and reduces time wasted on simply relying on recall to remember or verify information.
The “Perfect” Morning Standup
Ideally, the perfect morning standup gives every team member a chance to speak up, troubleshoots problems, and get everyone inspired and motivated to play their part in making your company’s product a success. And it does it all in about 10 minutes.
This might seem like a lofty goal, but remember to keep it simple, and don’t be afraid to cut out what’s not completely unnecessary.
Remember, that’s the whole point of standup – sacrificing conventionality and needless rules in exchange for speed and productivity.