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We have status meetings every day, consisting of 8 - 10 people. These are scheduled to last 20 minutes and be stand-up meetings. Frequently they last 30 or even 40 minutes and the discussion goes all over the place. Typically more than half the people (including the meeting leader) sit during the meeting.

I have spoken with the meeting leader (also the team leader) because my contribution lasts about two minutes (if there are questions) which means I have 18 - 38 minutes wasted time.

I've tried:

  • speaking to him directly, saying that this is too long
  • just leaving the meeting (didn't go down well)

What else can I do? Or should I just resign myself to losing this part of my life every day?!

  • 2
    Your calculation of wasted time is strange. You count the contributions of your colleagues as wasted time. So your contribution may be wasted time too. Hence 20 to 40 min of wasted time per day! How can you make work advance?! – Nicolas Barbulesco Jun 21 '15 at 11:08
  • A duration of 20 min is already very long for a stand-up meeting. Normally, it's 5 min. And even 5 min of 10 persons each day may be a lot of wasted time. – Nicolas Barbulesco Jun 21 '15 at 11:12
  • 5
    The good news is that you are not losing this part of your life every day. Your employer — probably your company — is losing this time. You are paid for this time, I suppose. – Nicolas Barbulesco Jun 21 '15 at 11:16
  • A standup is supposed to be where each person says what they are going to do today. Nothing else. Anything more complex is deferred and picked up by the people involved after/later. – Grimm The Opiner Jul 10 '17 at 10:22
  • Try to take notes in the action-item-method. This will avoid endless discussions, as this documentation style involves a special field to note the personal concerns/opinions of certain members. This will make them feel "heard" and less discussing. – Do Re Jul 10 '17 at 11:07

11 Answers 11

42

Left this as a comment, but I'm dead serious: take away their chairs.

Stand-up meetings are stand-up because it makes it uncomfortable for everyone to stay too long. If people are sitting that's not fair to those standing and it's encouraging them to hang around. This is especially a problem if the meeting leader is doing it. He's setting the example, and he needs to get it short.

If at all possible have the chairs removed from your meeting room before the meetings or move them out of the way, away from the table and don't let people sit. If possible, just remove the chairs from a meeting room for a week and watch the meeting time fall.

If you can't physically remove the chairs for practical reasons, get the meeting leader to be very clear that it's a standing meeting in literal terms, make people stand up.

After people are used to standing you can stop removing the chairs, but you need to do something to drop the time, and making them stand proves you're serious about this, and it really does provide incentive to keep it short.

As Andrew notes, make sure you respect accessibility and disability concerns; if some of your team needs a chair because they can't reasonably stand up for a meeting's length, of course you should provide them a chair.

Consider sending out an email stating that next weeks meetings will be standing meetings but if anyone needs to sit they should reply back so you can accommodate them.

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    @Wikis If you can borrow a conference room for even a week it should be enough to affect the change you want. – Rarity Apr 12 '12 at 21:12
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    Probably obvious, but there are people who cannot stand up either at all or for more than about a minute or so. Basically, just make sure legitimate disability is taken into account. – Andrew Apr 12 '12 at 21:59
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    This was going to be my suggestion as well. I would add speak up when the meeting goes of track and suggest the affected people meet after the standup to discuss it. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 16 '12 at 2:29
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    @jberger frankly most of the concept of "standing meetings" fails with a distributed team. But that's a situation so removed from the current question I didn't consider it; it would have to be a separate question with a separate solution. – Rarity May 29 '12 at 21:53
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    If I worked somewhere with standing-meetings then my response to anything I'm asked would be "Nothing to report" or "I'll have to get back to you on that" and I know quite a few others who would do the same because we will want to get the heck out of there ASAP. Kind of defeats the purpose of the meeting. – Dunk Jul 18 '12 at 19:17
25

Keeping a meeting short is a skill, and it's a lot harder than it looks. It also requires the support of the meeting leader, but it sounds as if he wants to help but doesn't know how. Some ideas:

  • Clearly define what is on and off topic. For example, our daily standups answer 3 and only 3 questions: what did you do yesterday, what are you doing today, and what's getting in your way?
  • Clearly define a time limit. I've heard of teams bringing in a game timer. After one minute, the discussion gets tabled.
  • Clearly define an acceptable outlet for off topic discussion. Teams occasionally need more than 15 minutes to talk about things. When you notice that happening, schedule another meeting with that topic as the primary agenda item. It's amazing how well this works, because people aren't desperate to get heard while they have the floor. I know some teams who regularly schedule such a meeting immediately following their standup. People who don't care are free to leave at that point. Our team does pretty well with about one extra design meeting per week, lasting about an hour.
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    +1 for the time limit and scheduling specific meetings for complex topics. – voretaq7 Apr 12 '12 at 22:43
11

stand up meetings should be held standing up.

They should also take no longer than 45 seconds per person, there should be no discussion.

They are not status meetings for management, management should not speak if they are present.

They are there to force communication between the team, not for management to grill people.

If you feel the time you are spending not talking is wasted, think about how the other people feel when you are talking, you either don't get the reason this meeting is important, or it is not being held correctly. You should care about what every member of the team is saying!

8 - 10 people should be < 10 mins.

Use a timer on a mobile phone have it beep at 30 secs to warn the speaker to wrap it up.

  • This is what I've done at every job that I've worked, either as PM or Lead Dev. I'd also add that an effective standup will have a short list of questions to answer, e.g., what you did yesterday, what you're working on today, and if you have any blockers. That's it. Timer goes off, next person's turn. Additional discussion takes place later between the relevant people. – BryanH Feb 8 '16 at 17:51
7

I would start by just asking an open question, "Hey guys, I just wanted to ask about the format of these meetings. I think it's important to share status, touch base, and make sure we're all pulling in the same direction, but it seems like we go over time a lot. Would anyone mind if I propose some ideas on how to keep the meetings short and on schedule?"

Notice that I'm suggesting an approach that doesn't attempt to put anyone on the defensive, blame any one person or sub-group for the state of things currently, and instead focuses on trying to find out if there is agreement, with a promise to bring ideas to the group on how to change it.

Then see what happens. Take the feedback carefully, but openly. Start suggesting changes, maybe even this: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2012/02/meetings-where-work-goes-to-die.html

This doesn't always work. A close friend of mine was inundated with a weekly meeting where the participants used the meeting as a reason to socialize with each other. When that friend tried to change things up, they took the approach of trying to crack the whip, keep people on the agenda, and forcing people to move along. They met with a lot of resistance, and got kind of a "bad cop" reputation. This eventually worked, but took longer than appealing to a shared sense of concern about the meeting themselves. It also worked probably because said friend had some clout, and could get away with telling people to simply get back to work. If you're not in that position, you'll likely need to be a little more grassroots about it, or find someone with some clout to come over to your side and fight with you.

7

Aaah, I see myself here. I would admit that in my own observation, I had been a culprit for many meetings which are disgraced and prolonged and while people won't speak-up, I realized that something needs to change. This year on - we would start off the meeting just some time before lunch, and I promised to them, that if meeting extended and stretched beyond lunch, I would pay for it! Fortunately after that bet, I guess I have been watching the clock and indeed didn't end-up paying for lunch :)

What did I really do? I learnt several limitations that were primary distractors.

  1. Have a very clear and most hopefully only 1 agenda. Quite often, all team members work on many things simultaneously so we tend to do many meetings same time. That's where it clears up.

  2. Invite only those people who need to contribute (not those might be well off knowing). In old days there was euphemism that all team members needs to know everything that helps them get big pictures. In fact, that remained stuck because management used to praise that fact. However, when people are least concerned about a particular project - they add maximum points (out of their curiosity) and hence maximum delays.

  3. Visualize the format. I was a great hater of formatted reports and in a startup many things started and ended at the white board. However, I realized that because everything revolves around the white board, it kind of puts an unnoticed habit of not getting prepared. People will start discussing and even collect and format information while they are in meeting - clearly stretching style. We are still informal in the way of reporting, but now individual must prepare their data in XL sheets or charts or in the system prior to the meeting.

  4. Prepare (at least) yourself. I often used to enter meeting without really having content first hand. The result was, a big part of the beginning would get wasted on me and others only learning things first before it gets to a point where we discuss opinions and making decisions.

  5. Be assertive against gossip. When people get to gather, gossip, jokes and so on. People are sometimes just curious and end-up digressing the whole lot. We must ascertain that any talk against the agenda of meeting should be stopped.

I have learned the most of this the hard way.

5

It sounds like you have tried honesty and bluntness so you are going to have to try work-arounds, but primarily accept it and try to make the best of it.

Some things to try:

  • Identify your heavy talkers and those who agree with you that the meetings last too long. Apply what social pressure you can to the heavy-talkers to get them to cut it down. This is best done tactfully.

  • Since the meetings have a scheduled time try to schedule other meetings to start right after the scheduled end-time. Before the meeting starts you can let the meeting leader know that if the meeting goes over you may need to slip out so you don't miss your other meeting.

  • Employ a co-worker you trust in a different area to drop by or call the phone in that office with a question if the meeting goes too long. You will have to return the favor. (I've set up this system in the past to deal with awkward co-workers that don't know how to end a conversation, should work in this situation as well) Just don't over do it or it will be obvious.

  • If you have any processes or hardware that you manage, schedule them so that they send status updates to your phone 5 minutes after the meeting should end. The audible reminder that it's past time may help to break things up.

  • Mostly, I suggest that you work on a to-do list or sketch out plans and ideas - pen and paper. I would guess a laptop is going to get the same reception as walking out early.

3

Meetings is one of the necessary evils of working in a team. Our status meetings usually lasts for 60mins, although my status reports only lasts for about 10mins. For the remainder of the meeting, I usually try to contribute and take notes that may affect my work.

From what you have said, I think that the following may work for you.

  1. If the remainder of the meeting are truly independent to your work, you could explain to your meeting leader that your time would be more productive spending it at another task.

  2. If the meeting stops being a status meeting and becomes a discussion meeting, you could bring your laptop and do work at the meeting.

  3. Be an active participant of meeting by asking questions and commenting on other members' status. This is hard to do without looking like the a pseudo leader, and risk stepping on other people's toes.

  • +1 for bring your laptop...unless they request all devices to be closed :) – Atif Apr 12 '12 at 21:02
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    Re: laptops/devices, I personally ban these from any meeting I run - people get distracted, and the meeting is spent repeating things for the guy/gal who was busy doing something else. A properly run meeting will cover its agenda and end promptly. – voretaq7 Apr 12 '12 at 22:42
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    @voretaq7, total agree with that. From what the OP is indicating, the meeting is far from properly run. So I think having a laptop is OK until the meeting is restructured. – tehnyit Apr 13 '12 at 6:52
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    Why does it take 10 minutes for your status? You go over we did this, this and this. We are now working on this, this and this. Nobody cares how you did something or what your challenges are at a status meeting. I hate it when people start going into their details at status meetings. It is just a waste of everyone's time. – Dunk Jul 18 '12 at 19:22
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    @Dunk, well it takes 10mins to do my status report as the work that my team does also affects the hardware and the mechanical team within the project, so we are reporting status to folks at an overall project level. For me, 10mins is about right. Perhaps your status reports takes less than 10mins, but mine doesn't. – tehnyit Jul 19 '12 at 4:29
3

We have a daily "standup" meeting, although many do sit. The meeting lasts 15 minutes, no more. After fifteen minutes, an alarm goes off and it's over. This seems to be sufficient to keep people on-topic.

  • If the people in the meeting are disciplined enough (and agree with the format) then they will stick to the allocated time and won't need a timer. The OP doesn't seem to be surrounded by such people so it seems like an alarm wouldn't help in this situation. – Burhan Ali Aug 27 '12 at 17:21
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This isn't a direct answer but, since I posted the question, I've worked out a rather neat workaround.

I contact the team leader (face to face or, if not possible, via instant messenger) in advance and say, "I'm currently working on X. If I keep working on it instead of coming to the meeting I can be done by Y o'clock. My input for the meeting is Z. Would you prefer I came in person or continue with this task?"

This probably won't work every day, but every time it does is, for me, a bonus.

2

The Leader/Chair needs to take more control of the meeting. FRom my experience I would suggest.

  • Have an agenda - with time allocated for each item
  • Go through actions from last time
  • Go through the agenda
  • Do not allow deviations

If you have time keeping problems enforce time limits on speakers - say 2/3 mins for an update on a given task.

You may need to enforce stricter rules ie one speaker at a time.

  • Oh yes, I agree. But the leader was part of the problem. – Reinstate Monica Jul 14 '12 at 17:04
  • Yes I kinda got that impression there are training courses for RAD/DSDM/Agile facilitators/leaders may be they could do with going on one. – Neuro Jul 14 '12 at 21:39
0

The one suggestion I have is if you are experiencing periods of silence in the meeting, then speak up! I once worked at an organization where the meetings would go to silence for long periods (with all of us staring at our boss). I started saying 'OK, so I'm supposed to do X, right? Anything else?' in an effort to move the meeting along. It did help some.

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    Thanks. That sounds very weird. However, if anything we had the opposite problem: lots of unconstructive discussion. – Reinstate Monica Jul 17 '12 at 17:13
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    @Wikis - it was probably the oddest thing I've seen in my career, to be honest. I still have no idea why it occurred. – Michael Kohne Jul 17 '12 at 17:47

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