Stand up and share
Keeping up with what your colleagues are doing and how it might affect your work, and making sure they know the same about you is often easier said than done, even in a small team. One low tech but effective way to keep information flowing is the “stand-up meeting”. This type of approach is widely used in technology companies and in media companies on a daily basis, often at the beginning of the day to help identify and problems that need to be addressed in the day’s work. In the settings where I’ve worked I’ve seen this technique used more often on a weekly basis.
Shortly after I started my new job, my boss decided we needed something similar in our small office (we are around 30 people), and so a group of colleagues and I who are on our “learning committee” have been experimenting with different formats for these meetings. I’ve also participated in good and bad versions of stand-up meetings in previous jobs. Done well they can be a quick and effective way of keeping in touch, so I thought I would share some dos and don’ts and other tips on organizing them from my own experience. Feel free to add yours.
A few Dos:
- Have a facilitator – for the first few times at least. The facilitator’s job is to organize the meeting, remind people to come, and remind people of the ground rules of the meeting at the beginning and during the of the meeting.meeting, in particular making sure the meeting is short and snappy (see below for more tips for the facilitator). It’s probably best to rotate the role of facilitator so the burden doesn’t fall on the same person each week, also making sure the meeting can take place whoever is in the office on the day of the meeting.
- Organize the meeting at the same time in the same place each time. The meeting should take place whether or not the boss is there, or even when other team members are expected to be absent. This way everyone knows exactly when and where the meeting will take place. The meeting can be in a formal meeting room, but it can work equally well in an open space such as a reception area or office “corner” as long as everyone can fit in the space comfortably when standing.
- Keep it short – a sharing meeting should aim to be no longer than 30 minutes. Start as soon as possible after the scheduled start time – when there is a critical mass of people, and no later than 5 minutes after the scheduled start time, rather than making sure everyone is there. Latecomers can join the meeting once it has started. If this is established early as a pattern then people are more likely to turn up on time.
- Stand up (don’t get too comfortable). If people stand then it makes sure people are awake, and it gives people an incentive to keep the meting short. Make sure everyone is in a circle facing each other so everyone can see the other participants.
- Let everyone have a chance to speak. One way to do this is to go around the room in order to make sure everyone gets their chance, then going back to any latecomers afterwards. If a more spontaneous approach is used to pick who speaks then its important for the facilitator to circle back and ensure everyone has had a chance to share.
- Let people “pass” if they have no information to share. The facilitator or the team leader can gently coax a reluctant participant into sharing about something the know the team member is doing that would be interesting to the group, but pressure to share should be encouraging and gentle.
- Participants should keep their updates brief (no longer than 1 minute). They should update on something that they think other colleagues need to know about to help in their work or something where their progress will either depend on the inputs and actions of others. Updates should be encouraged to be brief and factual highlighting any connections with other colleagues work. If needed the meeting facilitator should gently refocus any contributions that are too lengthy or off topic by reminding of the purpose and also emphasizing the need to be quick to allow everyone to participate in the short meeting time. The facilitator might also set a good example by providing the first update.
- It might be a good idea to pass around a “speaker’s totem” that is held by whoever is speaking at the time. If you are holding the totem you can speak, if not then you don’t speak. This helps avoid side conversations and focuses attention on whoever is giving the update. The totem can be any small object that can be easily passed around. A stress ball or something similar works well.
- If an issue comes up that needs further discussion – don’t work the problem during the meeting. It’s OK to ask for clarification on an update – but working the problem should take place bilaterally outside the meeting. At most participants should agree who needs to work together to follow-up afterwards, and agree to do so.
- Don’t have the boss speak first. Team leaders are likely to have more and longer updates than others and so it is important not to have the meeting focus too much on the boss and the boss’s concerns to ensure that others have a chance to speak and ask questions and not feel that they need to “perform” for the boss, or to feel intimidated to share their own concerns. If the boss is the facilitator then they need to set a good example by keeping their own update short or a single topic, or by choosing not to go first.
- Don’t give a long string of updates on whatever you did in the past week (you can always share good news by e-mail). Instead focus on one or two things that will be valuable to other colleagues.