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  • Writer's pictureTravis Bogard

A Better Standup: Doing Async at the same moment in time

We recently changed our daily standup format to leverage asynchronous tools, but used at the same moment in time. The result is our team is now spending less time in meetings, and our standups are more focused and efficient with less time wasted on tech and connectivity issues. On top of that, it has also helped foster more opportunities for meaningful interactions and engagements with each other, while making our communications more inclusive to our different speaking styles and daily schedules.

Standups are a common practice in most tech teams, and similar practices exist in other businesses as a way to keep everyone informed and aligned on what has happened and will happen in the next period of time.

The real power of a standup is not in the knowing of everyone’s activities, but in the serendipitous connections that are exposed as we learn from each other, uncover dependencies or unforeseen impacts, and engage in followup conversations. The goal is to leverage this shared moment for the benefit of team collaboration while not taking too much time away from individuals to actually do the actual work.

Traditional standups have challenges

There are many problems with the traditional standup that actually hinders the goal of optimal team collaboration:

  • Actively Listening to Others - While others are speaking, most people are thinking about what they are going to say so they can be succinct when it is their turn. This means that they can’t actively listen to what others are saying. Sometimes the way something is explained, an accent, an audio cut out, or a hearing challenge can add to the difficulty of truly being able to engage with what someone has said. There’s no instant replay for a live discussion.

  • Engaging in Follow-up - Part of the goal of a standup is to help teams engage and learn from each other. However, oftentimes the hardest part is finding more time to follow-up when questions and issues arise during a standup. Do you ask questions after each person says something to clarify or better understand what was just said? That leads to rat holes and long meetings. Or do you wait and ask later and risk forgetting your questions or the person you had a question or comment for hopping off the call before you get to them? What if others should hear the follow-up? How can a team member be in two places at one time? In practice, the window of serendipitous discovery and collaboration quickly closes, and people go back to their tasks with their questions not asked or answered. It’s an opportunity missed for learning, collaboration, and team bonding.

  • Life Collides with Schedule - While standups are usually periods of time people are asked to protect on calendar, the reality is scheduling conflicts often arise, especially if your standup happens daily. If someone misses standup, then there’s no easy solution to catch-up that doesn’t involve burdening others, and anything important that they have to share is delayed or pushed into yet another mechanism.

How we structure our Daily Standup

At the same time each day the whole team posts their respective updates into a “Daily Standup” Conversation in Carbon Voice, an asynchronous voice conversation platform. By combining an asynchronous tool with this shared moment in time, it creates a few benefits that helps address many of the challenges above.

So how does this look in practice?

First, calendars are blocked for an hour of time, with the first 15 minutes reserved for everyone to post and listen to each other’s messages, and the rest of the time reserved for any follow-up live sync discussions that may be needed.

This approach is a material shift in the structure and benefit:

As summarized above, this approach addresses the challenges of the traditional standup, while offering some delightful and important benefits:

  • Focus on Listening - By leveraging an async tool to let everyone get their update out, hey are now free to fully listen and hear what others have to say while playing back messages. It’s also possible to hit pause to think or skip back to replay and hear something you didn’t fully understand.

  • Follow-up is real-time - The question of when to ask questions goes away as well because everything is now running in parallel. Questions can be asked after each message. This results in deeper understanding and cross-team engagement. It is no longer delaying the rest of the updates from happening, and it makes it easy for a subset to continue to dialogue if the discussion becomes only relevant to a few.

  • Catching up later - The other advantage is if someone is out or can not make the time, they are then able to catch-up later or submit their update ahead of time. However, this should really be thought of gracefully handling an exception versus becoming the norm. If you lose critical mass on everyone posting and engaging at the same time, the value of the moment together is lost and getting real engagement becomes harder. Our team actually started out completely async with everyone choosing their own time to post, and it had very different results. It was no longer possible for the team to hit play and hear the whole team’s updates in one sitting to stay aligned by a certain time each day. It also felt like a lot of distributed interruptions over a longer period of time. Without the time-blocking it also becomes harder for people to actively engage and respond as well. So, while the ability to catch-up and engage later is useful, it should be used for true exceptions. The requirement to post and engage together should be seen as sacred.

  • More inclusive - This approach really helps to better include the whole team. In a live setting, many people struggle to clearly and succinctly share with their peers when they are suddenly called upon. By giving people predictability on when they post and control to re-record and try again, it lets them work through stage fright, a language barrier, or just wanting to be more succinct and to-the-point. In this way, you enable everyone to have more of a voice in providing visibility to their work.

  • Less time - All of this ends up taking less time, because it turns out most people can be listened to at 1.5x to 2x speed. This frees up time to spot the items that need more attention and to dive into those with more depth. Live sync “meetings” become the thing people opt into if needed versus being the starting default, so more time is free to do work.

  • Team bonding with Voice - In the past, I’ve tried various forms of tweaks leveraging text for different flavors of standup content. The result has been information shared, but a transactional feeling is brought into the team. By leveraging voice, we connect better as humans and deeper relationships can form. In addition, voice-only requires less prep and constraints of where to record than video, so the team can fully engage.

We’ve found that this approach has eliminated at least 3 to 4 hours worth of meeting time in a week while also feeling more connected and engaged as a team. There are very few tweaks as simple as this with such a big payoff. I look forward to hearing how it works for you!

I’d love to hear from you with any thoughts or questions!


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