There it sits in the calendar app in your iPhone: a reluctant blemish on your otherwise clean Monday schedule. Why are you giving up the first 30 minutes of your week to "check in" with your team? After assembling in an office or conference room, finding seats and coasters for coffee cups, the majority of the meeting is usually spent socializing on the weekend, before walking through that same email from last Friday.
Isn't there a better way to find out what you and your team need to do-- without all the angst of re-doing work, wasting time, and establishing terrible protocols? The answer for me and my company, a solution shared by many others in the tech space, is to change both the agenda and the format of the meeting.
We start by getting rid of the chairs.
The "standup" meeting is a new take on the status meeting that my industry has embraced. Every morning, my team gathers, standing around a room-- not sitting at a table-- and we talk about the day. The point is not to focus on what deliverables need to get assigned (or reviewed). It is about efficiency and addressing the most pressing problems. When you aren't sitting down, you'd be surprised how quickly meetings stop looking like coffee house social hours.
If you are the manager tasked with trying to change status meetings, there are countless valid reasons-- terrible meetings can be frustrating enough to make even the best employees want to leave. Standups change the mentality of why these meetings exist in first place. Startups use standups to keep everyone moving toward the right goals. This one 15-minute meeting can mean the difference between a highly-productive day that ends with a beer with your co-workers or a loss of sleep at night.
When we have our standups as a leadership team, we make sure to focus of each day's gathering on the issues that we can most easily solve as a group. Our team comes together and talk through the problems-- not necessarily the solutions-- that we have. You'd be surprised how often there is more than one novel solution to a question. With the standup meeting, you can spend a couple minutes thinking about solutions, but then you move on and DO.
Sure, we have our ongoing tasks we need to make sure we execute on. There are so many other tools to help with that-- the dreaded email is being replaced by other messaging tools like Trello and Slack, community boards that are not right for every organization but worth investigating if you are trying to identify ways to fill in the gap where status meetings once existed.
The team at Startup Institute also applies this meeting format to our work with students. We start every morning before presentations or workshops with a standup aimed specifically at addressing the challenges of the new world of startups that many of these people are seeking to enter. The questions we ask may have less to do with work-- what kind of leader are you? What do you look for in training? What is keeping you up at night?-- but they allow the group to unpack actionable wisdom to apply to their in-program experience, and later to their new startup careers.
In just 15 minutes, we want to set the expectation with our students that the day should start with you sharing information about what you still need to figure out. It creates the mindset that we know is important for the fast-moving world of technology: action, and iteration. In our leadership team standups, that's what we hope we are practicing, not just trying to figure out what we need to do that day.
Sitting is killing us; so is stress. With those facts, the old fashioned status meeting may have met its match. After all, standup meetings may help you save your employees from both, even it is just 15 minutes every Monday morning.
If you've never done a standup meeting with your team--give it a shot and let us know how it goes in the comments.