Faster decisions, less stale coffee


Want to make decisions faster? Want to avoid having your best people squandering their days drinking stale coffee and guiltily sneaking glances at their iPhones? You've heard it before, but here's the data: switch to stand-up meetings.

Bob Sutton recently wrote a piece on the virtues of stand-up meetings. The benefits are not just apocryphal or perceptual: a study found that groups that stood-up while making decisions took 34% less time to make the assigned decision, with no significant differences in decision quality between stand-up and sit-down groups.

Bob goes on to quote David Darragh, CEO of Reily, a New Orleans-based company that specializes in southern foods and drinks:

The importance of the stand-up meeting is that it can be accomplished efficiently and, therefore, with greater frequency. Like many areas of discipline, repetition begets improved results.  The same is true with meetings. The rhythm that frequency generates allows relationships to develop, personal ticks to be understood, stressors to be identified, personal strengths and weaknesses to be put out in the light of day, etc. . . .With frequent, crisp stand up meetings, there can never be the excuse that the opportunity to communicate was not there.

I know a lot of people who've been involved in a stand-up meeting that over time devolves into a leaning meeting, then a slouching meeting, and then finally a sit-down meeting. (Kind of like a reverse "evolution of man" cartoon.) The Wall Street Journal reported on some of the creative countermeasures that people have developed to avoid this problem:

  • at Hashrocket, a team passes around a 10-pound medicine ball during stand-ups.
  • at Steelcase, they play Elvis's "A Little Less Conversation" as a reminder to keep meetings brief
  • at Facebook, one team holds 15-minute stand-ups at noon, sharp: the proximity to lunch serves "as motivation to keep updates short"
  • at Microsoft, one group convenes stand-ups in an unheated stairwell

Obviously, there's still a need for longer meetings to address critical strategic issues. But the stand-up is a powerful way to identify problems early, strengthen relationships, and maintain alignment within a team. It's easy to default to the standard way of working (weekly, one-hour sit-down meetings). It's even easier to claim that you don't have the time for daily stand-up meetings. But why would you? I'm willing to bet that most people in your company aren't particularly satisfied with the flaccid, bloated, soul-sucking meetings that devour their calendars each week.

Try something different. Follow Jason Yip's guidelines. See if you don't make decisions faster, and drink less crappy coffee.

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