The ineffable team-building power of a daily stand-up meeting

I was sick last week, and I worked from home for two days. I worked half days because I was tired and half-useless, and I stayed home because I didn’t want to infect my team mates with the same crud I had. Each day I called in for our daily stand-up meeting, and I was amazed by the energy and general oomphiness of the vibe coming across the phone.

Granted, my expectations were low. I didn’t have music on, no one else was around but a sleepy cat, and I was communicating through low-bandwidth channels like email and chat. And when I called in to the conference line we use when there are multiple offsite folks, the first thing I heard was laughter and goofiness as folks gathered for the standup meeting. Our stand-ups start and end loudly—they’re an energy boom punctuating our workday.

Stand-up is the venue for team-members to share project and task status. Yet, even if there were no actual information exchanged, stand-up improves our day at Pure Visibility by giving our team of analytics data junkies, paid search optimization experts, search engine optimization whizzes, and user experience designers a high energy moment of team in their day of analytical knowledge work. There’s something magic about just coming together in a circle for a quick meeting.

Here’s our recipe.

  • Stand-up is called stand-up for a reason – we stand, to keep the meeting short.
  • Call the meeting in a fun way. We assemble for standup through the wild call of a “screaming monkey slingshot“. If the monkey has gone walkabout, we might substitute a squeaky pineapple. We then use the monkey (or pineapple) as the token.
  • The person with the token talks, no one else.
  • When it is your turn to talk, provide the team an update on what you’re doing. Officially it should be:
    • whatever was accomplished yesterday
    • what is on the docket for today
    • any roadblocks or dependencies.
  • No problems are solved and no discussions are conducted. A problem/quandary can be raised and then solved by a subset immediately after standup is over, but no discussions, period (no discussions is helped by item #1)
  • Although we love storytelling, standup is not a place for storytelling, keep it simple and quick.

Helpful Hints

  • Start after the day has started. The rhythm of arriving, being heads down for a while, and then having the group meeting feels right. The idea is to get into the flow of the day before breaking, rather than starting with a meeting and trying to recall the flow of the day before and the plan for today.

Recent developments

  • Consider individual project standups outside of the whole team standup. We do them just after standup, our “standupafterstandup”.

Our Wish List

  • Call the meeting in an automated way at the same time every day. Our calendars ping us beforehand, but I would prefer an inanimate object calling the meeting. Inanimate objects don’t get bored, distracted, or go away to client meetings.

Just knowing what each other are working on, just knowing what the other projects are is good for all of us. And, I think there is some ineffable and important team bonding that happens just by standing around in a circle and listening to each other. Sometimes the most important take-away for me from stand up isn’t the status but the mood of the group or of an individual, and I know of no better quick temperature for the team than stand up.