Cornell Martin

9 practical tips to make your next standup meeting way better

How to get, and keep, your standup on track and effective

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Standups help team effectiveness. At least, they’re supposed to. They should foster camaraderie, simplify the process of information sharing, and help keep project timelines on track. But plenty of teams miss some of the basics that make this agile staple so impactful.

The most effective standup meetings prioritize discipline and clear the way for everyone to feel supported. Here are some essential ways to make sure your standups always surface what's needed to keep work moving forward in the right way.

1. Keep it short

For in-person standups, standing is used to motivate people to keep it short. But sometimes we lose track of that intention, and essentially just end up in 30-minute standing meetings.

Tip: Keep it short by having concise questions and a ruthless facilitator willing to move things along and feels comfortable saying “That sounds like something to take offline.”

2. Keep it relevant

A colleague once watched a 20-person standup take place in an office. It was difficult for everyone to participate, and two employees were actually excluded, awkwardly eyeing the glass conference room windows.

Tip: Once your standup size exceeds what is relevant for most people, attendees start to tune-out, only tuning-in long enough to share their update. General advice is to keep team size to 7 plus or minus 2, though I’ve also had successful teams and standups that were smaller (2-4 people).

3. Structure is your friend

No one wants to be in a standup where someone rambles on, diving into ever more granular detail about how they implemented something yesterday.

Tip: Structured questions can help keep your standup relevant and succinct. A classic set is:

  • What did you work on yesterday?
  • What do you plan to work on today?
  • What are you blocked on?

I’ve also had standups where we have clearly visible weekly goals, and the standup was structured as:

  • Are you on track or not on track for your weekly goals?
  • What is relevant for everyone else to know?
  • What do you need help on, if anything?

4. Be wary of update black holes

With in-person standups and Slack-based standups, updates can often feel like they’re broadcast into a black hole. Like no one is really listening or engaging with what’s being shared.

Tip: For in-person standups, this is generally a sign that the standup content is no longer relevant. Consider changing the format, or re-assess the standup attendee list. Is there a way to split it up into standups for two smaller sub-projects (and have leads attend both)?

For asynchronous standups, such as in Slack, make sure that the standup content is getting rolled up in a way that is actually useful for people to digest. For your team, that might mean having people do their standup check-ins in the main team channel rather than one just for standups. Or it may look like bringing in tools like Range that let you easily aggregate all your team check-ins in one place.

5. Value synchronous time

Synchronous time is valuable, and we should treat it as such.

Tip: Especially for remote teams, try to limit the status updates to asynchronous forms of communication (Slack, Range, etc). Then, when you do have synchronous “standup” or team video calls, you can use it to review flagged items, check in with people’s reactions to announcements, and address issues that require multi-person discussions.

6. Iterate, iterate, iterate

People often think they have an aversion to process. But what they are actually responding negatively to is introducing processes that feel unnecessary, don’t benefit them, and are mandated from above.

Tip: Continue to sense your own reaction to standups and your teammates’ enthusiasm and engagement as well. Do people seem to know what’s going on? Are they chiming in to offer help? For asynchronous standups, are they even reading other people’s check-ins and leaving comments?

Iterate by responding to annoyances or pain points. If you change your standup to reduce long rambly updates that last 5 minutes each, I guarantee your team will welcome the process changes.

Don’t be afraid to evolve and adapt your standup to adapt to your team’s changing needs.

7. Build up team identity

One of the main purposes of standups beyond knowing what’s going on is to deepen the sense of belonging on a team. What differentiates the 5-10 people you work with from the hundreds or thousands of others at your company?

Tip: To build a sense of connectedness and belonging, you can add different questions into your standup format, such as, “What are you most looking forward to today?” or “What was a highlight of your weekend?” You can use our free team-building question tool, Icebreaker, to source questions for yours. There are also card decks that have thoughtful questions you can pull out during in-person standups.

For asynchronous standups, you have a lot more options. Range has more than 350 daily team-building questions that are organized around weeklong themes such as trust, conflict, or risk-taking. Through answering these questions, team members get to know more about each other, as well as understanding how best to work together.

8. Make it valuable for everyone

If you’re managing a team, make sure that the standups are serving not just you, but the other people attending as well. Find a time and process that fits your team’s schedule — so maybe not 8am in the morning, even if you’re up bright and early.

Tip: Be wary of processes in general that are more for you than for everyone else — that’s how you’ll get a team that resents process.

9. A final note

Can people get the help they need if they’re blocked on something? Does it help people (other than yourself) to know what everyone is up to? Does the team feel more connected as a team?

Even better, start to think about how to evolve your standup beyond a daily check-in. How can you use tools like Range to integrate the Check-in portion with the rest of your workflow — team meetings, weekly all-hands, objective updates, etc.?

Make sure you’re covered with these few basics and you’ll be well on your way to better and more enjoyable standup meetings.

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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