Covid-19 forced everyone to start thinking remote first. Companies started to replace meetings with video calls and eventually questioning if the meeting was necessary. Work went from 'why is everything a meeting?' to "just send me an email/slack message'. Over the past few months we spoke to dozens of remote companies, and we learned that while many have reduced the number of meetings, some actually changed certain meetings to adopt to new technology and ways of working. One of the changes we saw most consistency was the standup - their most frequent and hated meeting.
In this post, we will talk about:
Why do synchronous and asynchronous stand ups suck.
How the purpose of the stand up will change with the predominance of remote work.
The end of the traditional standup, and the beginning of a better alternative - a Rally.
How you can make your standup more like a Rally.
Why do synchronous and asynchronous stand ups suck?
Standups were originally designed for agile engineering teams. With the world going remote, many companies outside engineering have adopted this practice as a way to update each other on daily progress. They may not call it standups, but the essence is the same.
The problem with standups is that they are a distraction, and it feels more beneficial to management than to the team. For people working together, standups often don't deliver any new information, and for those working apart, the information is seemingly useless. Standups are also set at weird times to accommodate for everyone across all timezones. That sucks because it takes you away from your work state for a meeting that feels pointless. Finally standups are used as a way for managers to keep track of their teams. Sometimes this is effective, other times it feels intrusive.
How about asynchronous standups? Surely this is a better solution as it gives everyone flexibility and it feels less likely like management is breathing down your neck. A quick google search on asynchronous standups also reveals similar problems to the standups. People don't care about the update, the context is usually missing, and there is no conversation around blockers. Ultimately asynchronous standups don't provide much value either.
As one user on Hacker News puts it "Going async sends a message that people don't need to care about what their team members are working on. That's a dream come true for the people who just want to pull Jira tickets out of the queue, finish them in isolation, and then collect a paycheque." And another chimes in "it doesn't make for great team cohesion and knowledge sharing. Teams end up compensating with extra meetings and coordination overhead, which starts to defeat the point of async standups."
Is the answer then to cancel standups? Or to do some form of a hybrid async standup? Call me crazy, but what about extending the standup virtually and inviting a few more teams. Let's go back to first principles so I can explain why.
How the purpose of the stand up will change with the predominance of remote work
The original purpose of a stand up was to answer three questions:
What was I working on yesterday?
What will I work on today?
What is blocking me or stopping me from success?
The idea is to physically get off your chair, discuss the above three questions, and finish the meeting in roughly 15 mins. It is a meeting for the team, not for management.
Standups also have an unintended benefit that is not talked about - it brings the team together. In a remote world, isolation is the number one complaint many employees have. Isolation leads to a decline in mental health, productivity, and overall well being. Isolation can also impact teams, where they feel left out from the rest of the company and are forced to have more meetings to play catch up. This is why so many people crave going back to the office. It's not for the meetings, it's for the people. Even the most introverted people have found isolation daunting.
The problem is this crucial benefit is overlooked in standups, and people start to resent this meeting. The way to solve this problem is to reframe the purpose of the meeting entirely, so much so that it may even warrant a new name, which we call a Rally.
What is a Rally? And how will it replace the standup?
A Rally is not a formal standup, it is a collaborative get together. Our Rallys are daily and they are 30 minutes long. The original idea came from one of our first engineering hires: Nate Wildermuth, and it's stuck ever since. We spend the first 20-25 minutes chatting, playing a game, or running an activity (see below for examples). Occasionally this leads to a great idea (such as this blog post!) or a tonne of laughs that builds some terrific momentum for the rest of the day. We then take the last 5-10 minutes discussing what we worked on, what we will work on, and any blockers we have. Usually by the time we are discussing work, we feel much more energized and ready to take on the day.
"Standups are an endless series of trivia nights where everyone loses." Nate
Of course, we use our own video software for these standups. This is because we designed Rally to allow multiple groups to have conversations in the same space. We call these groups 'tables', and we call the space a 'room'. It is easy to hop around to different tables to chat, or sit at a table in case someone needs to chat with you. We also have a stage where you can present to everyone in the room. This way we can let everyone know what we are working on if we needed. Luckily we're not the only ones that do this. We have a number of customers who have been using Rally for similar collaborative meetings. After speaking with them we have come up with a framework for how we think about Rallys, followed be some examples.
A Rally consists of:
A recurring event lasting between 30 and 60 mins, few times a week.
The team running the event will invite close stakeholders. If the team is less than 50 in size, the entire company will attend.
People notifying who they want to talk to in advance so they can be efficient with their time, while managers keep an open table to allow anyone to talk to them if needed.
CEO's and senior execs are also in attendance and can choose to hop around tables to stay put and wait for questions.
Starting and/or ending with an activity or a game to get people excited.
While we use Rally every day, we have customers that use Rally multiple times a week for different types of get togethers. We consider all of these to be offshoots of the daily Rally:
1. Collaboration Rally: An hour long session where each team member discusses what they are working on in their team, then hops around to other teams to eliminate blockers. The benefit of this is having everyone in one place instead of setting up extra 30 minute meetings and one on ones. To this successfully, one of our customers runs this meeting every Monday and Friday morning. Each team member prepares what they want to discuss, and reaches out to anyone they need to speak to. On average there are 3-4 cross company conversations lasting 10-20 mins each.Since this is a dedicated hour for everyone, people use this time to catch up on work and remove any blockers they have across the company. It is also a great chance to have everyone in one place. Here is an example of what that looks like:
2. Sprint Demo Rally: An hour long meeting where members from the engineering team hop between tables to present their work. The tables are formed of teams outside engineering so any stakeholder can keep up with engineering work. The meeting usually starts with a presentation from one of the leads to the entire room, and finishes with an activity or hangout in case people have questions.
3. Virtual Cafeteria Rally: An hour long daily meeting for anyone in the company to attend. The meeting is at a set time where someone opens up a Rally lunch room. Teams will jump into tables and enjoy lunch together, as they would in real life, or find friends at other tables to talk to. Instead of having multiple video calls for smaller teams, all the teams are in one place. This way they can hop around tables as they overhear interesting conversations. HR managers have also shuffled people into random tables as a way for people to meet each other.
How can you change your standup into a Rally?
Start by calling it a Rally and not a standup.
Reframe the purpose of the standup so its not purely about work but about catching up and hanging out as well.
Start the Rally with a game, activity or fun fact. Here are some options you can try out:
If you are hybrid, encourage people to sign in with their own devices for this meeting so it feels like everyone is remote (on their own computers).
Consider having this meeting few times a week instead of daily
Consider not limiting this Rally to just your team, but inviting teams you collaborate with to join
You can improve your standups on any video platform. We're obviously biased because we built our own and we think it is more fun, easier to use, and gives more autonomy to each user! If you'd like to give us a try, why not head over to https://rally.video and sign up for an account. Have questions or comments? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org