How to hold stand-up meetings that foster accountability
The stand-up meeting (also known as the daily scrum) is one of the true crossover ideas of the agile development movement. Visit the offices of most leading companies today, and you’re bound to see groups of employees standing in a circle, discussing their projects. This meeting style has spread far beyond software development teams because it sharpens focus and fosters accountability in collaboration. Stand-up meeting participants make explicit, face-to-face commitments to their teams, and they know that they will have to share progress against those commitments during the next meeting. That’s pure, distilled accountability.
The structure is simple. Three questions are asked of and answered by each member of the team (wording varies):
What did I achieve yesterday?
What will I do today?
What obstacles are impeding my progress?
Strict time limits and the relative awkwardness of standing keep these meetings much shorter, and therefore more efficient, than the standard hour and half-hour blocks we’ve grown accustomed to in corporate life. Standing without laptops, absent the allure of under-the-table smartphone use, keeps the group at attention and accords the current speaker the respect he or she deserves.
Remote teams can simulate the meeting style, minus the physical standing and proximity, by being even more vigilant about timekeeping, participation and focus. Remote teams typically have a harder time keeping tabs on what colleagues are working on, potential and actual challenges, and daily progress--which is why a meeting and communications framework that ensures more visibility in these key areas is even more critical for remote work relative to on-site.
Greg Smith expertly summarizes the value of the stand-up meeting style:
“From an adoption perspective, the resistance to using stand-ups is low. From a value perspective, teams quickly see the how the stand-up identifies risks and issues early. The stand-up gives them more time to react and still hit their goals.”
To use the stand-up as an engine of accountability, place importance on the following:
Make sure people show up on time. This can be one of the most important parts of your team’s day, and should be treated as such. There are many interesting ideas for solving this potential pitfall on this thread (ranging from asking the latecomer to buy breakfast for the group, to making them sing and act out “I’m a little teapot”).
Ask everyone to talk. Teams can’t keep their members accountable if they don’t know what they’re working on.
Don’t solve problems during the meeting. You read that right. The stand-up should surface issues to tackle “offline,” between collaborators. Most issues are too complex to solve in 15 or 30 minutes anyway.
Don’t write the recap during the meeting, as this distracts the scribe. Instead, record the meeting and send out the action items and recap after the fact.
Are you using stand-up meetings with your team? Have you ever used them with remote teams? What are your tips for making them more effective?