Stand Up!

A lot of folk I speak with seem mighty pissed off these days. What about? The humble meeting, that’s what. I was running a workshop recently and the group got really animated about meetings. How poorly prepared, badly run, and terribly followed up they are. And don’t get us started on late arrivals.

One of the group suggested having meetings standing up. Keeps people on their toes (har har). These stand up meetings are usually short, and to the point. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So this morning I hopped onto Twitter and posed the question:

“Someone suggested running meetings with no chairs in the room as a way of getting stuff done quickly. What do you think?”

Good old Twitter – you’ll never let me down…

Callum Saunders loved the idea

Rob Jones suggested “sit down and focus”

Lara Newman told us that where she works they call the idea “The bird table”. I love that

Gary Smailes got in touch to say Tesco run meetings on their feet

Lord Manley suggested email as an alternative, is this a choice of two nightmares I wonder?

Jo McMahon likes stand up agile meetings – keep it brief and focussed

Green Contact likes 15 minute flash meetings – keep it sharp

Mr Airmiles has experience of stand up meetings – and he thinks they are great! He and I have previously spoken about desks that you can wind up and down to stand and sit at too.

Flora Marriott did the maths for us. stand up = definitely. Toyota might claim to have invented it, she adds.

And Greg Savage (yeah him again) popped by to share some great thinking around whether or not meetings should even take place.

I’ll be covering other aspects of the dreaded meeting soon. Meantime I love these suggestions – and I’d be keen to hear if other people have more to add.

Update: here is an interesting addition to the debate courtesy of Tobias Mayer over at Agile Anarchy. Don’t have meetings is his suggestion.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

24 thoughts on “Stand Up!”

  1. For me there has to be an agenda for a meeting. I find that if I get an invitation to a meeting and there is no detailed agenda, an effective technique is to mail the organiser and ask for an agenda. Then delete all agenda items that can be dealt with by email. The result is often an empty agenda. No meeting required!

    1. Hello Alan – thanks for coming by. Yours is an interesting idea and I can see times where it would work. I would hate for email to become a substitute for useful conversation though – I will give your idea a try and see how it pans out. Thanks – Doug

  2. I was asked by a team leader to help her and the team have more productive (and shorter) meetings. Before I made any moves, I spent some time watching them from a room on the other side of the building! The Team Lead sat in one side and everyone else opposite, with 2 tables in between.
    I explained what I’d observed and suggested removing the tables – chairs only! Straight away there was more engagement and the meeting was shorter.
    Next time I suggested one of the team facilitates or takes the lead running the meeting. The Team Leader was surprised at how much more everyone was willing to contribute, but still a bit too long!
    3rd step – I suggested standing up meetings, no longer than 20 mins. It was not well received at all but they tried it, and it worked! They took their own initiative and started doing it every monday, around their own desks – result!
    Great idea Doug!

  3. Doug

    My twitter response was a) short and to the point and b) reflective of my sarcastic mood this morning HOWEVER….

    Stand up meetings are another fabulous example of treating the symptom not the cause. I agree with your grumbling participants that meetings are a pain because of all of this things they list (I’d add politics, power play, blackberrying and agenda-benders to the list) BUT solving it is about getting some simple disciplines around meetings and sticking to them – SAT DOWN!

    There endeth the rant…..

    1. Hiya Rob – thanks very much for an interesting and alternative perspective. And please I hope the rant never endeth. Cheers – Doug

  4. Love the thinking Doug! Standing up does create a different dynamic and energy. For some this may be their preference and even their best way to contribute & learn (I’m thinking kinesthetic learners).

    To Robs point though, this doesn’t resolve the issues of meetings being poorly prepared, badly run, terribly followed up and with late arrivals. Perhaps by standing up the meeting becomes more exciting and enjoyable and so people deal with these issues of accountability, but the sceptic in me says if those are your problems then standing up (alone) won’t fix them…

    The issues you’ve listed are ones of accountability. I’ve found that the best way to create accountability is to get participants to state their needs, expectations and commitments verbally to everyone in the room. This in itself creates accountability as well as expectation and appreciation. It might sound like a “soft” approach but I’ve seen it work at all organisational levels. With good leadership the group maintains individual accountability and the meeting disciplines follow. Perhaps it’s more of a case of “Stand Up & Be Counted”!

    1. Hey David – stand up and be (ac)counted? You are right to reinforce Rob’s point about poor preparation etc.

      And your point about accountability is an excellent one. Too often folks mistake silence for agreement. Far better to get needs expectations and commitments openly stated than assumed. I appreciate your thinking very much.

      Cheers – Doug

  5. Scrum suggests daily standup meetings, kept to 15 minutes or less. These work because they have a clear format and focus: they essentially allow all team members to realign. The best of these meetings are held in front of a visual taskboard, where index cards or sticky notes are moved along a timeline from Not Started to Done. Standing up makes sense, as there is a lot of stepping up to and away from the board.

    Having people stand up instead of sit down, and have nothing else about the meeting change is, as robjones_tring expresses, treating the symptom. It is more likely the focus and format of the meeting that needs to be addressed. What is the goal of the meeting? What are the inputs? What are the expected outputs? Meetings should start on time. In the meeting, the agenda should be prioritized, so if we run out of time we are sure to have discussed the most important topics. Meetings should end on time.

    Better yet, don’t have meetings at all, have conversations. I just wrote about that on my blog.

    1. Thanks Tobias. I’m really enjoying having a read of your blog and the extra depth you have added to the stand up concept in your comment is very useful thanks. And yes – more conversation, something I try to continually encourage too.

      Cheers – Doug

  6. Meetings beget meetings. They breed like rabbits. Should meetings be subject to a bit of birth control ?

    Not having them in the first place is a great start. The conversation thing is so ofetn better.

    The purests will rightly say that if you have to have a meeting that you should invite the right people in the first place and prepare properly. Life isn’t always like that. Often when you are in one meeting you decide that you need another one to resolve some question. Another meeting, a delay often of days and then often another meeting to share the result, more days away…

    A bit of meeting birth control might be a better plan. Go (in a break if need be) and get, or call up or IM whoever it is right there and consult them . If they come along, definitely dont let them sit down.

    The result isn’t just fewer hours spent in meetings. Its days and weeks of delay avoided.

    Shoot me if I write anything entitled The Joy of Meetings…

    1. Meeting birth control – a brilliant idea! And a great point about all the delay we can avoid.

      I promise – you write it, I’ll shoot you.

      Cheers – Doug

  7. Great article, and enjoying the debate above. For met the biggest meeting sin is not keeping to the agreed meeting times. If a meeting is due to finish at 3pm, don’t keep droning on at 3.15 before asking everyone individually for AOBs!

    I’ve made it personal policy to make my excuses on the dot of the finishing time and leave. If there are further items to discuss, they’ll have to be discussed another time!

    1. Nice idea thanks Sam, and thanks for popping by. I really appreciate it when folk add to a post that’s been going for a while, cheers!

  8. Standing up meetings. Used to have loads when I worked in a production environment. Daily meetings to go through what packing lines were broken down!!!

    Theres a place for it, as well as walking meetings. Just think the traditional environment is all a bit stale.

    The other factor is how our personality preferences effect it. Just in MBTI language E/I and J/P will no doubt have different thoughts!

    1. Ian I think your point about the average meeting environment being stale is spot on. And re: preferences (sorry I don’t speak MBTWhy?) perhaps we should be more creative and offer different people the chance to run meetings in different ways. You can’t please everyone but mixing it up a bit might help?

      Cheers – Doug

  9. Part of the agile methodology of project management is to have daily 15 min meetings called ‘scrum meetings’ where everyone involved in the project answers three specific questions and nothing else:

    1) what did you work on yesterday?
    2) what are you working on today?
    3) what barriers are in your way?

    There’s more to the agile methodology, but just wanted to add how a standing up meeting is useful in certain contexts.

    1. Brevity works 🙂 and I can see how this method may be helpful though I can also see how its predictability and fixed nature might become pretty turgid too? I’m just hard to please is all.

      Cheers – Doug

  10. One of the best things a manager I used to work for did for meetings was send out all the information out that needed to have a decision on before the meeting and tell people they needed to read the information BEFORE the meeting.

    Then, if it came apparent that people hadn’t read the information, she would either a)if no-one had read the information, she’d terminate the meeting altogether and say that she’d go with HER decision alone; or b) if only 1 or 2 people hadn’t read the info, they would be excluded from the meeting and any chance to contribute to the decision.

    (Obviously exceptions were sometimes made in case of holidays/sickness etc.)

    Worked pretty well. She’d keep notes of what decision was made in what meeting and who was excluded and would refer back to it if people questioned the decision made – basically, if you were excluded from the meeting, you didn’t get to challenge the decision made!

    It may seem a bit harsh and I did find it awkward at times but if I cared about a topic/topics being considered at a meeting, I’d definitely read the stuff beforehand!

    1. Yes maybe a bit harsh, but if you know the rules I guess it gets you on your game eh? Were her meetings shorter than others too did you notice?

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