Achieving Efficient Team Communication with a Daily Standup

Do you find it hard to know what’s happening in your team at all times?

Do you know who’s doing what, when they’re doing it and if they’re experiencing any problems whilst doing it? Does everyone else know the important work that the rest of the team is doing?

Is everything that needs to get done actually getting done? Is anything falling through the cracks?

I expect you’ve answered yes to at least one of the above questions.

Images of juggling balls and spinning plates come to mind.

But what if there was a simple solution to tackle this multifaceted challenge?

There is! (You knew I was going there, didn’t you?) It’s called a “daily standup” and it’s as effective as it is straightforward. It’s not a magic bullet but will greatly improve team communication and visibility of who’s doing what and when.

Getting Everyone on the Same Page with a Daily Standup

A daily standup is a daily meeting, that should (ideally) be conducted while standing up.

Meetings are often long and tedious. People use them as a way to distract themselves from doing real work. The idea behind a stand up meeting is to make people as uncomfortable as possible, so the meeting runs as quickly and efficiently as possible. The target time for a daily standup is 10 minutes.

These meetings are common in the tech industry where it forms part of an Agile way of working. This is where work is delivered in small increments, usually in one to two week intervals, called sprints. Team members have a daily scrum which has formed the basis of the daily standup now used in other industries. Outside of the tech world this practice isn’t particularly common, but there’s a lot of gain from using them.

What Happens in a Daily Standup Meeting?

The daily standup is a short meeting for a whole team to attend. This might be a small project team or the whole company if you’re a startup.

The purpose is to keep everyone up to date about work in progress. More importantly, it also communicates anything that is blocking someone else’s progress on the work they need to do that day.

The daily standup sets out to answer three questions:

  1. What did I do yesterday?
  2. What am I going to do today?
  3. What, if anything, is blocking my progress.

It usually takes place at the same time each morning, follows the same format and each person takes their turn in the same order. It gets everyone on the same page at the beginning of each day so work can run smoothly and efficiently.

Running a Daily Standup in Person

If you’re responsible for organising the daily standup in your team, it’s usually you who will kick things off. An example, taken from one of our own standups at Sapling, might go like this:

Yesterday: Podcast outreach, article review, budget planning, finances, workshop planning.
Today: Article editing, landing page updates, launch competition, founders meeting.
Blockers: Waiting to hear back from a competition partner

Everyone in the group follows with their answers to the three questions. Once everyone has answered, there may be some brief discussion. Otherwise the meeting is closed.

Everyone knows what has been done, what is about to be done, and where the sticking points are.

When Daily Standups Go Wrong

You might encounter people being late, or taking too long to communicate their three points. It’s important that the daily standup begins, and ends, on time. It should start regardless of whether everyone is there. Team members can always tag onto the end if they need to. And from the start, emphasise the importance of keeping things short.

One thing a daily standup definitely isn’t, is a forum to discuss personal matters or future projects. These discussions should be held outside of the standup, in a separate meeting, only involving those who need to be there. It might be tempting to quickly solve an issue there and then, but the standup isn’t the time or the place.

It’s important to encourage your team to get everyone engaged. Saying what you’re going to do today, and then not being able to do it, isn’t a punishable offence. That’s what the blocker bit is for. A blocker can simply be running out of time because a previous task ran over or your laptop blew up. No one is going to be publically penalised for not sticking to what they said they were going to achieve yesterday.

Watch out for running themes though. A recurring blocker can be identified and acted upon, separately.

Running a Remote Daily Standup

A daily standup doesn’t have to be with everyone in the same room. It can be conducted via a conference call, through Skype or Google Hangouts. It can even be carried out online using a tool like Slack, in a dedicated channel.

But if you’re relying on the telephone – a word of advice: use a proper conference telephone. I once worked for a company where most of the team were office-based. Myself and one other team member worked remotely. The office team passed a mobile phone around on loud speaker, with both of us dialled in, them taking it in turns to talk into it. I’m not sure how old this mobile phone was, but at best, I could hear around 50% of what was said. Not very efficient, or a good use of time.

At Sapling, we use Slack for our daily standup as we all work remotely across a number of timezones. It works extremely well and even though the meeting doesn’t take place at the same time every day, anyone can scroll back up to see what was said previously.

If you find it tiresome to type out the same snippet of text when answering your three questions every day, use a look like TextExpander to save yourself the hassle.

Integrating Daily Standups into Your Team or Business

Hopefully, you’re working with a team that’s open to new concepts and ideas. Sometimes, people can be hesitant, or closed to new ideas. But the first step is communication. Afterall, the point of a standup is communication, so if you don’t communicate that right, then something’s amiss.

It’s important to get your team’s support. Share this article with them if you like!

Explaining from the start that it isn’t a management tool to monitor what everyone’s doing is vital. A standup benefits everyone. It lets everyone know who’s doing what. Even what you, the team leader, is doing. Transparency is everything.

Set a trial period of one week and set the standup time. To keep it to ten minutes, schedule it to begin 50 minutes past the hour, say at 09:50. That way, you can make sure you’re done by the top of the hour. Add calendar reminders for the whole team and have a designated spot where you’ll all gather (even if it’s online!). Make sure everyone understands the concept of the three questions and most importantly, give it time to bed in.

The Benefits of a Daily Standup Are Team-Wide

Standups keep all team members in the loop and identify what’s blocking the progress of a project. They help foster an environment of communication which could filter into other meetings and other areas of the business. With all the transparency and openness, your team will be bonding and growing stronger together too.

You might be thinking that this is only for big organisations and it’s not for you. Don’t be dissuaded; no team is too small. Even if there’s two of you, you can still benefit!

So if you’re struggling with blocked lines of communication, try a daily standup. Because who doesn’t want streamlined workflows and more efficiency?