Once upon a time, in an office far far away, there was a manager who ran daily standups. He ensured everyone was on time at 0900 sharp. Everyone was prepared with their points. Everyone got a chance to talk. Healthy discussions were done. And only then work started. He prided himself on how efficient these daily standup meetings were.
If it’s not clear yet, that manager was me. And how mistaken I was.
After a decade of doing this, in 2018, I got an opportunity to lead the team remotely for a few weeks. And everything changed. There was no meeting.
- Everyone sent updates and plans whenever they wanted. Over chat.
- If I saw any roadblocks, I simply tagged the person who could remove it.
- People congratulated each other on great work on chat too.
- If any task was turning into a larger discussion, we called a separate thread for it. Or a meeting if required.
This turned (obvious in hindsight) out to be a great way to work. And I have never looked back since then. I have come to be wary of most meetings, but here are some reasons why daily standup meetings should especially be avoided.
They are a huge waste of time
Imagine you have 6 people in your team, and everyone takes 5 minutes (it’s usually longer) to give their daily standup update. That’s a minimum of 30 minutes lost that could have been better utilised. Not to forget the other standup meeting that you as a manager have to join with your own boss too!
Meetings are well known for breaking the workflow and “deep work”. Most people require at least half an hour to disengage from the previous discussion and get back into a productive zone.
Multiply this across the organisation and you are looking at a huge time & innovation sink.
Daily standup updates are not relevant to rest of team
Most employees doze off (c’mon we have all done it!), or start tinkering with their screens as soon as their turn to give an update is done. Not only are status updates from others very rote & boring, they are also not relevant.
The marketing team doesn’t understand a word when the engineer reports something like -
Yesterday I added horizontal partitioning for our user table via PostgreSQL. I sharded it into 3 new tables, and these can be used in the next data migration.
Might as well be greek to the business facing team members!
They are no longer valid in 21st century
I can potentially understand the use case for it in the early days of white-collar work. Everyone gets into the office at 9 AM, grabs a coffee and starts their work. This is a fantastic opportunity to quickly check-in with everyone and remove roadblocks if any. The latter might take time to be resolved because large organisations had huge layers of dependencies and communication hierarchies.
But do you really need to do this in the age of remote work? You have the tools available for this, use them well!
They are borderline demeaning
You have spent time hiring some of the smartest people you could find. And now you are forcing them to read aloud a few bullet points just for the sake of formality. Human beings deserve more than that. I think a small part of our managerial monkey brain likes this control. It makes us feel good to peek over someone else’s work and remind them that you are watching.
Meeting daily is completely arbitrary
Who said that you have to do a daily standup meeting? Why not 3 times a week? Why not twice a day? A lot of new managers treat the practice of their own bosses as gospel without doing any experimentation to see what fits their own work culture.
Research on why daily standup meetings don’t work
- Standup meetings inhibit innovation
- University of Oslo study on pros and cons of daily standup meetings
- Common obstacles to efficient daily standup meetings
If you read this till here, I really hope you reconsider setting up meetings for your daily standup. Do them async, and you will take the first step in being a better remote leader.