I like standup meetings because they are such good indicators of how well people work together as a team. The standard format for standups is that everyone should be talking about what he did since last standup, what he is planning to do next and if he has any problems on his way.
Of course the simplest sign that teamwork is not happening much is when standups are too long. Even more interesting information can be extracted by observing the proportion of time spent on each of these three parts.
Situation is worst when team is spending most time talking about problems. Fortunately I have never worked in such team. I believe it is much more efficient to deal with problems whenever they appear not wait until the next day (standup) to address them.
Situation is little bit less sad when most time is spent on talking what everyone did. I think this can happen because of two reasons. First, team is doing too many different things at the same time and not much communication is happening naturally during the course of the day. Second, people are actually postponing all their communication until the next standup. I have seen cases where this applied to some members of the team. For example, in a team I was working in there was one developer who took up most time each standup talking what he did because he was used to working alone on isolated items.
I believe that in teams that work well most time is spent on the planning part. Sometimes I feel that teams do this following too much the “one-by-one each guy tells his stuff” guideline. Planning is a group endeavour and best plans come out of discussion not just each team member thinking by herself what she thinks she should do next and all others quietly nodding. I have observed that in teams that work well together this kind of planning happens naturally in the morning as people come in and sync up with other team members. Indeed I have seen teams that stopped doing formal standups because this syncing and planning was already happening automatically and no ceremony was needed.
So I believe that standups should be mostly focused on planning not problems or knowledge sharing which should happen all the time.
Originally published at https://tech.transferwise.com on July 1, 2015.