Standing Meetings: A Surefire Way to Kill Momentum.

by jennifermshoop

I recently told a friend: “There’s no way to kill momentum like a standing meeting.”  Despite the hyperbole, I think there’s something to this.  When I assumed director-level status at my previous employer, the first thing I did was do away with standing meetings within my department (and, later, the entire organization).  Standing meetings are often put in place with the best of intentions: senior leadership want regular communication, an open forum for conversation, and either intra- or inter-departmental exchange.  Some might even talk about the fact that these meetings “establish a regular drumbeat” for progress, or that they hold all team members accountable for week-on-week accomplishment.

But in reality, they rarely accomplish much.  In most standing meetings in which I’ve participated, we go around the room to share updates with one another, which in turn means that staff feel compelled to exaggerate their progress and/or talk at length about projects that are neither interesting or relevant to the majority of the rest of the meeting.  Worse, they typically stymie employee productivity for the day — if I open my calendar at 9 AM and see the standing meeting at 9:30 AM, I will probably defer throwing myself into a project until after the meeting.  (Yes, this touches on the broader issue of maker vs. manager time, but I think that standing meetings have a propensity to truly deter the potential for productivity in a given day.)  They also kill energy.  I guarantee that the majority of your staff and your co-workers dread their standing meetings and mentally prepare for an hour of day-dreaming. (That’s another frustrating facet of the standing meeting: they almost always drag on too long.)

There are, of course, circumstances in which regular meet-ups are necessary — typically around specific projects with specific completion dates.  But I would take great pains to refashion and reframe these regular convenings.  In my former position, I called project-specific weekly meetings either “scrums” or “stand-ups.”  The emphasis was on brevity and informality — “Quick, let’s put our heads together to make sure we can work through this specific issue” or “OK, shoot: tell me where we are with x.”  And I  would often actually stand up during them — you move through necessary topics much more quickly and you feel more energized.  I would also liberally cancel them if there was nothing to report or review.  I’m currently working on a project with our developers, and they share a similar ethos: we have no standing agenda.  If we have nothing to cover at the outset of the meeting, we dismiss immediately.

Am I being overly Draconian on the topic of standing meetings?  Probably.  But in a time where many companies are looking for ways to become leaner, more agile, more innovative, I would suggest trimming the fat wherever possible within your employees’ workdays.  What are the recurring events, processes, and deliverables that you assign your employees that yield minimum benefit?  I would boldly venture to guess that standing meetings almost universally fall into this category.  I would also reflect on the desired outcomes of these meetings — what do they accomplish?  Is the goal to get everyone on the same page?  Encourage progress?  Call out strong performance?  Etc.?  There are probably more creative and engaging ways to get the same results without the pain of an hour-long all-hands.

Am I off-target here?