Keeping everyone in the loop is difficult. How often should you update someone? Who should you update? What should you update them about? And do they even care? We’ve been doing regular morning meetings with the whole team, and we think you should too.
It’s easy to get sucked into the routine of working solely on your own to-do list. Meetings seem like frustrating distractions, preventing you from getting things done. So why the hell am I suggesting taking out a not insignificant amount of you and your team’s time each week just for a status update?
A little background first though. We’re a small startup in Copenhagen, with a team of six across three different countries. We been conducting morning meetings for nearly a year now, and while it hasn’t all worked perfectly, we’re learning.
We’re not experts at this though, and we haven’t nailed it. Not yet at least. But I thought it would be valuable to share a little bit about our journey and some of the things we learnt along the way. Because it’s definitely one of the best ways to stay productive that we have found.
What is this Morning Meeting thing?
The concept of morning meetings comes from the world of developers. In the Agile methodology, there’s a daily stand-up: a short meeting where every developer in the team gives a quick status update. But given we’re a small team, it didn’t make sense to have a daily developers-only meeting.
We have a video call three times a week, at 10AM, where we try and get all six of us online. We limit the call to around 20 minutes to keep things snappy. Each person tells what they’ve been working on since the last meeting, and what they will work on until the next meeting.
Morning meetings are like a to-do list with added accountability.
As a small team with a mix of developers and non-developers, we’ve adapted the daily stand-up concept to work for us. It’s the product of experimentation, and it’s what we feel is the best setup for a small team like us. This works great for us, but if you are a larger team, you might have to split the team up.
Oh, and one more thing! If you’re a developer-only team, you might want to consider a more dev-focussed methodology instead.
But before I go into too much detail of how we do it...
A Problem Shared...
Everyone in our team has different skills and knowledge, but what use is it if they keep that knowledge to themselves? Our morning meetings enable the team to discuss the tasks they’re working on, and especially the issues they’re facing with it.
Perhaps it’s a programming challenge, or maybe someone is blocked by a different task, but by getting the problem out into the open often results in a solution. Without the meeting, it’s unlikely we would even have known about the issue.
There has been a significant trend towards greater transparency in the workplace, with evidence that it promotes employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity. Some companies have gone all-in, sharing detailed revenue figures on a dashboard accessible by anyone, even the general public.
While that might not be the approach that suits you, transparency is not all-or-nothing. Sharing the failures along with the successes helps to create a stronger team. But transparency isn’t always easy. Even in a small team, it can be difficult to find the right time to share successes and failures.
Morning meetings gave us that time.
Being Held Accountable
Not only do you discuss what you have already worked on. Morning meetings are an opportunity to share with your team what you’re going to be working on. And that’s made me more productive.
It forces each team member to evaluate what tasks they need to get done, and which tasks are achievable before the next meeting. It’s like writing a to-do list for the day, helping to keep me on-task and improving my abilities to estimate how long a task will take.
But unlike a to-do list, you can’t cheat the system. It’s easy to postpone a boring task if it’s just on my own private list. By sharing with the rest of the team what I expect to work on, I set some expectations, so it’s not so easy to justify why I postponed finishing that proposal.
In short, morning meetings are like a to-do list with added accountability.
Cross-Border Team Culture
Our team is spread across three countries and two time zones, and not everyone has met each other. Building a team culture is vital, but it’s harder to know someone socially if you never see them. In fact, it’s easy to forget that someone even exists if they’re not physically there. But our regular video calls help to bridge each team member with the rest of the company.
Our morning meetings aren’t purely a work thing. It’s an opportunity to talk a little about our weekends and our life outside the office. It’s a way to keep a human connection in the team, and give everyone a sense of belonging.
How it works
We hold three morning meetings a week. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10 AM, we get the whole team on a video call to talk about our plans. It has taken us some time and testing to find the right amount of meetings, but with this routine we keep everybody in the know without wasting our time on useless meeting.
It took us some time to find the right amount, duration, and structure of our morning meetings.
Meetings usually last no more than 25 minutes. It’s long enough that we can actually discuss things, but it’s short enough that it’s not boring.
Here we tell what we will work on for the next two days on and why we work on exactly these tasks. It also gives an opportunity for the team to give input on other tasks and help before we start working on it. After the meeting we create a post in Bello, and then each of us makes a short list of what will work on for the next days and write it in the post.
This time we give an update on the tasks we mentioned we would work on last time: what worked, what didn't, and how far you are with the different tasks. The point isn’t to embarrass people when they haven’t finished the tasks in time; everyone does it occasionally. Instead, it’s an opportunity for others to offer help or clear blockers.
Fridays are part daily status, part weekly retrospective. Not only do we talk about our tasks for the day, but we also evaluate what we have been working on for the entire week and how it has been. Are there any unfinished tasks carrying over into the next week? Or perhaps there were some issues that arose that can be avoided in future.
The Tools We Use
Just like how we’ve experimented with the format, we’ve also experimented a lot with the tools we use to get it done. From video calling to project management apps, we’ve tested all the tools that might possibly improve our morning meetings.
It’s the easiest group video calling tool in the world. Just create a room, share the link, and start talking. As long as you’re using a relatively modern browser (sorry Safari and Internet Explorer), there’s no need to create any accounts or install anything. And the best bit is that it’s totally free. There’s a premium plan for more than eight participants and more, but for what we need right now, free works perfectly.
This is a project management tool for tracking the progress of tasks. While it’s not a central part of our morning meeting routine, it allows us to keep everyone up to date with what we’re working on. Asana has a pretty generous free plan that suits our needs perfectly, but there are some premium features that we would certainly need as we scale.
This one is an obvious one. Of course we use our own app for communication, and it’s the center of our work day. From writing up our plan for the day to discussing tasks, we’ve completely dropped email, Slack, and Skype in favour of Bello, and I strongly believe it’s made us more productive.
Bello helps organize your communication by keeping your conversations separated into subject-focused chats. It enables you to run multiple topics and projects simultaneously without it getting confusing. You can stay productive, as you can skip conversations that aren’t relevant, and you’ll only get notifications for the things you care about.
And of course, just like the other tools on this list, it’s free!
It took us some time to find the right amount, duration, and structure of our morning meetings. Our framework might not perfectly work for your routines and way of working, nor was it designed to be transferable. Instead, I hope you get an idea of the value of these meetings and how you might try it out in your team.
But one piece of advice I want to pass on is to have a framework for your meetings. It doesnt have to be like ours, but having a framework helps motivate us to stick to it. Otherwise, it’s easy for it to just become another unproductive initiative that quickly gets forgotten about.
If you have any experience having morning meetings, I’d love to hear from you. As I stated in the beginning of this post, we are still new to this, and we are still learning. You are also more than welcome to write me if you have any questions, either in the comments or email me at [email protected].