Cornell Martin

5 ways to transform your standup into the feel-good meeting your team deserves

How to build trust and improve alignment at work

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Another day, another standup meeting in the books. As with any habitual process, it’s often useful to stop and check how well your standup is working. How do you feel about what just went down? Do you and your team feel a sense of relief that you know exactly what needs to get done to reach the next milestone? Perhaps you feel engaged or excited, like everyone’s in the flow, and action items are getting done? Or maybe you just feel frustrated, like you want to scream "what a colossal waste of time."

It’s easy to get lost in the logistical minutiae of planning and forget to assess one aspect of work that’s highly correlated with drive and productivity: emotion. How folks feel about things. Though people often pretend that emotion isn’t a factor in how we go about our business, research offers plenty of evidence to the contrary.

A hallmark of team effectiveness is meaning. Do projects help teammates develop personally? Is the team recognized for their work? Effective teams feel good about working together and this has to do with how ready and supported they feel to take on the tasks at hand.

Meetings present a unique point of tension here. With packed calendars galore, perniciously eating into focus time, it’s no wonder we see a growing dislike of meetings, evolving to a love-to-hate relationship.

Unfortunately, this has an outsized effect on team effectiveness. Psychologically, it influences whether everyone feels like they’re on the same page, whether individuals believe they can speak up, or what work is and is not getting done and why. The emotional toll poorly executed meetings take on teams, the standup included, erodes trust and other positive work related emotions. This is no good, as trust is one of the leading indicators of whether a project will be completed on brief and on time.

So how should your team feel when you all walk out of your next standup meeting or close the Zoom app?

In general, your team should feel included, aligned (in consensus), clear on resources and help available, accountable for tasks set forth in the meeting (if applicable), and a sense of trust that everyone is working toward the same end goal.

Here are a few steps you can take to make sure that your standup meeting is engaging and including, resulting in the positive feelings your team needs to achieve success.

1. Feel Included

One of the strongest arguments for the daily standup is that it helps individual contributors (ICs) feel heard and included in the planning process. But what it's supposed to do and what it actually does are two different things. Does each IC see the aforementioned value clearly? Why?

A good first step is to get a pulse check on how each person sees their role in the meeting. Do they feel like a participant or inconvenienced? Are there adequate chances to voice concern? Is this meeting top down or bottom up? Are there a string of orders that confuses everyone except the manager? Are the priorities and delegation of tasks done by the group as a whole?

Empowering everyone in attendance to feel like they have a say in the process and control over their own work leads to a stronger commitment and more productive outcomes.

2. Feel Aligned

Alignment is an ongoing process. No two people will always be on the same page 100% of the time, no matter their working relationship. Not even Steve Jobs and the Woz or the famous film duo the Cohen brothers were always aligned. The objective is to make sure that everyone has the full picture of progress, without extraneous details that can be a drag on focus and clarity, and degrade morale.

Ensuring that stakeholders in a specific project or topic area have all the necessary information, such as priority changes, status updates, and frequent reminders of the goal, is essential. Even when everyone says they are aligned, it’s useful to check in on tensions which you might sense on the team. It can often be due to a block that might be hard to define, and the practice of talking through it to get to the core reason, or reasons, is a practice really effective teams excel at.

3. Feel Clear That Help is Available

One of the big advantages to being on a team is having others to consult for complex challenges. But, frequently people say they walk away from standup meetings feeling exasperated or slighted that they didn’t get a chance to voice concerns. This ‘silence’ often stems from management not creating an open culture where vulnerability is encouraged and collective troubleshooting isn't second nature. It’s also likely that there are reserved or shy personalities on your team that require a nudge before they speak up. Shyness is not a flaw or something to make anyone feel ashamed about. Consider ways to put these team members at ease. For example, using a written async Check-in to supplement standups, like Range, can help alleviate a bit of fear when addressing concerns to a group.

It’s imperative for meeting facilitators to reiterate that the standup is about the IC. The goal is to clear the way so they can continue to push forward unimpeded. If you’re leading a standup, you might ask the team, "Is everyone clear about next steps and actions items?" or “what can we do to help unblock you?” Stress that it’s better to surface roadblocks than to let things go unaddressed. Be clear about how the team should share blockers (keep in concise) and how others on the team should offer their help.

4. Feel Accountable and Empowered

People are most inspired to fulfill their commitments when they work in positive environments that are safe and where there’s a model of accountability from the top.

Bear in mind that you can’t force anyone to be accountable. It's an internal decision made by the individual, and is usually motivated by factors like having control of workload and feeling reassured that their work matters.

To facilitate accountability, start by setting clear expectations about short-term and long-term goals, noting the items each person is responsible for completing and reporting on, and using specific deadlines.

The standup meeting is the perfect forum for these discussions and exchanges. It’s essentially project management. The agile community embraced this standup philosophy so firmly because of its efficacy in managing timelines. The standup is a touch point for checking in on commitments and sharing when things go right or wrong.

5. Feel like you can trust your team

Opening up about an issue, sharing your accomplishments, and offering help when a team member is stuck all have something in common: they all require trust. If trust is missing, then the aforementioned actions become nearly impossible to uphold through the standup forum, making the whole exercise moot.

Trust is central to all effective working relationships. It’s difficult for teams to work precisely and quickly if they can’t trust everyone to share knowledge when it’s available, jump in when needed, or be willing to pivot when necessary. Trust is one of the most invisible parts of collaborating, but arguably the most important part of the process of working with others.

Lean into the feeling

Although it feels a bit ‘touchy-feely’, leaning into how your team feels about the standup and their work will help you not only build each other up, but also better serve the overall company goals. Drive, a sense of purpose, and a desire to not let the team down all come down to acknowledging and working through what’s just beneath the surface.

At the end of the day, it’s not about managers assigning tasks, but rather ICs taking on tasks, leading the charge, and moving in work forward in a way rewarding and successful.

And check out our Guide to Standup Meetings to learn more about the ins and outs of standups, and how to get them right for your team.

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