Rethinking Stand-Up Meetings

©2007 Steven M Smith

Stand up meetings are popular in software development organizations now.

What makes a stand-up meeting more effective than a traditional meeting to socialize status information?

Nothing. The effectiveness of a stand-up meeting, like the traditional status meeting, depends on the participants. If you have the right people at the meeting, you can be effective whether the participants are sitting down, standing up, or standing on their head.

The theory behind a stand-up meeting is that a physical reminder of the duration of the meeting will keep it shorter. The longer the meeting, the more your body signals it’s time to stop. The proponents of stand-up meetings like this natural time-boxing signal. Every participant feels the signal to some degree.

The signal may be too strong, however, for people who have a physical problem that make standing difficult. For instance, I twisted my ankle recently, it’s painful when I stand on it.

If I am a good teammate who listens and participates appropriately, does it matter whether I’m standing or sitting down with my ankle propped up? No, of course not. It matters how I participate, not the position of my body.

I have heard that proponents of stand-up meetings claim that the meetings helps build teamwork. If your teamwork is better, I am THRILLED for your team. But I doubt whether the stand up component made the difference.

When I started my career, I had to wear a tie every day. The next job required a suit. Management told me clothing built teamwork. I think standing up during a meeting is like wearing a tie. My teamwork isn’t any better wearing a suit and tie than it is when I wear shorts and a t-shirt And I don’t believe my team’s effectiveness changes whether they are standing up or sitting down during a meeting.

If you want to have effective meetings of any kind, you need leaders in the room. That’s the kind of people I referred to as “the right people” earlier. Leaders who organize the meeting; leaders who lead the meeting; and leaders who follow other leaders.

If you have people who see no value in meeting with their teammates, having people stand up might help the meeting from lasting too long. But there is more to an effective meeting than preventing people from being trapped in a room.

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