When good daily stand-ups go bad

When good daily stand-ups go bad

A good daily stand-up meeting is the heartbeat of the team. We gather as a team for a quick status update, focus on our goals and find out who needs help.

Daily stand-ups encourage the team to move quickly and flexibly adapt to the flow of work. It also promotes transparency, accountability and a positive team culture.

But sometimes daily stand-ups suck. For such a simple ritual, there are so many ways it can go wrong. Here are some tips to avoid the most common mistakes that teams make.

Tip 1 — Keep it friendly

For some people daily stand-ups can be stressful. It can be intimidating to stand in front of your team and tell them how your work is going. Especially if you’re having a problem, or your work is taking longer than you estimated.

A group of individuals become a team when they work together. That will only happen if they feel that their team is a safe place. When they feel that they are respected, trusted and their contribution is valued.

The team should look forward to Daily stand-ups because they get some kudos when they make cool stuff and they get some help when they’re having trouble.

Daily stand-ups should be a no blame zone. If someone is struggling politely ask if they need help.Everyone’s doing their best, but sometimes we all underestimate how long our work will take or get stuck on a problem.

Even better, when someone gives their update and they’ve done something awesome, give them some encouragement.

One of the biggest motivators for people in creative fields is receiving recognition and respect from your peers. So give them a kind word, a meaningful nod, a rousing slow clap…

Tip 2 — Identify problems, don’t try to solve them

It’s so tempting. You need to talk to a few people about a problem and the whole team is right there. Why not just dive into the details and take 2 minutes to fix it right now.

This is a terrible idea. Most problems don’t involve the whole team, so while 3 people are having a really important discussion, everyone else is just staring at the wall.

The worst thing about solving problems in a stand-up is that it’s contagious.

Once one team member sets the precedent, others will follow. And before you know it, your stand-up will drag on for ever and your legs will be exhausted.

So don’t fall into the trap of trying to solve problems, just identify them and move on. When you identify a problem that needs more discussion, save it until after the meeting when you can discuss it for as long as you need and everyone else can go back to work.

Tip 3 — Get in, get done and get out!

A good daily stand-up is short, sharp and focussed. To keep the meeting moving and keep everyone on point, stick to the script: every team member should answer 3 questions:

  1. What have I done?
  2. What am I going to do?
  3. Am I stuck on anything?

If you find the team regularly running over time there are a couple of tricks you can try:

  • Time-box the meeting to 15 minutes.
  • Create a sense of urgency by setting a timer. Timers have a magical effect in meetings simply by providing a visual reminder that time is passing.
  • Pick a meeting location that’s booked directly after your stand-up, so the next team that needs the room forces you out.

Tip 4 — Who are all these people?

Keep the stand-up small. Obviously the larger the team the longer the stand-up will take, but the problem goes deeper than that.

What do the movies Ocean’s 11 and The Avengers: Age of Ultron have in common? Reviewers complained that there were too many characters to keep track of.

Movie’s with too many characters are confusing. Daily stand-ups are the same.

If your team has more people than Danny Ocean took to rob the Bellagio (11) or than The Avengers assembled to defeat Ultron (9) then there are too many characters in your daily stand-up to keep track of.

As human beings we just can’t handle teams with more than about 12 people. If the team is too big, there will be people in the stand-up who barely work together and certainly don’t need to hear each other’s status. There will probably even be some people who don’t know each other.

Tip 5 — Don’t play hot potato

See if this sounds familiar:

“Hot potato is a party game that involves players gathering in a circle and tossing a small object such as a beanbag or tennis ball to each other while music plays. The player who is holding the ‘hot potato’ is out when the music stops.” — Wikipedia

Lots of teams play hot potato with blame. When a team member has bad news, they accuse someone else of holding them up. Then everyone takes turns throwing blame around the circle until finally someone is stuck with it.

Don’t let your stand-up turn into turn into a hot potato meeting.

Normally this is a symptom of deeper issues within a the team. Sometimes it happens because a team is under stress, or maybe are a lot of interdependencies between team members and not enough trust.

If someone is genuinely holding up the team, instead of blaming them why not help them? Does someone else on the team have free time? Maybe the people who are waiting, could help instead of just waiting?

Tip 6 —It’s OK to watch

Attending a daily stand-up as a spectator is a great way to find out how the team is going. But just because you’re there doesn’t mean you have to talk, it’s perfectly OK to be a spectator.

Make sure everyone knows that they shouldn’t feel obliged to say something. No-one wants to hear status filler like “checking emails”, “reviewing documents” or “attending meetings”.

Tip 7 —Talk to the team, not a manager

If your daily stand-up involves everyone in the team taking turns reporting their status to a project manager then it’s not a daily stand-up. It’s just a status meeting where you have to stand-up for some reason.

The daily stand-up is not the time to plan work or give a manager a project status update. Daily stand-ups are for the team to synchronise their work. Those other things aren’t fundamentally bad. Work still needs to be planned and project managers still need updates. But it’s not a stand-up so make it a seperate meeting.


Well that’s all I can think of for now. If you have any daily stand-up tips or horror stories let me know in the comments below.