Saturday, August 13, 2022

How to Run a Standing Team Call



A standing team call is any call where a group of people meet regularly.  Every time you notice that it’s coming up, try to take a few minutes to do these things:

Figure out what type of call it is, then ask, does this call still need to exist? Some possible answers:

  • The call provides a status update. Well, couldn’t that be done asynchronously? There are definitely cases where asynchronous is effective, but if you have important information to share you might need a standing synchronous opportunity in addition.
  • The call provides a decision forum. Well, couldn’t that be done asynchronously? Maybe a lot of things are getting done that way, but it’s still helpful to have a place where the decision is Made and Communicated, so that it doesn’t float in limbo.
  • The call provides a social forum for people to work together. This is critical in a distributed team; water-cooler video chats are great, paired programming sessions work, but structured whole team time for triage and status sharing is where the team-formation-and-maintenance rubber meets the road. 
  • The call has always been there. Like Chesterton’s Fence, it was set up before any of us got here and we’ve just kept it going. Maybe the CEO asked for this but no longer has time to attend? Maybe it’s a social forum for leaders who rarely interact? Every re-org or change of management is an opportunity to revisit the calendar. A much-welcomed power move is to review standing meetings with overlapping personnel and consolidate them into a single meeting. 

If you can’t come up with an answer for why this meeting exists in your own head, ask the attendees. Maybe they’re heartily sick of this call. Maybe they think it’s important. Get information. 

If the call remains useful, proceed.

Review the call materials and invitees. I find my most productive status update calls are done by openly reviewing a document that I’ve already prepared or had a direct report prepare. Any gaps in my knowledge are corrected in realtime in front of our stakeholders. Any questions from stakeholders are captured in that document and answered later if we can’t answer them there. Do your call materials allow that? Are they editable by the right people so that your team can help you prepare? Are they readable by the right people so that stakeholders who can’t attend could asynchronously review? Are you all still getting value from the log that this material represents? Standing meetings generally exist in response to trauma, is this one working to reduce or prevent traumatic events? Do new team members know why it's there and what's appropriate to discuss? Do new stakeholders have an invite?

Run the call. You are the emcee, and this is your show. Get it done snappily. Use humor if you’re able to do so safely, but be aware that clever can fail badly. Be energetic, honest, clear, and above all concise. The written materials can provide detail and link to resources, you’re just here to encourage people to talk about their project status. Call them out, gently shut them down if they go into too much detail, and summarize what they said verbally and in the written materials. When you call on someone, watch their status icons. If they’re struggling to unmute, acknowledge that… if it’s a pattern, maybe note in your next one on one that this is a call where participants are expected to be on the ball and get the communication done crisply. Don’t let anyone drone on for several minutes, any meeting’s hold on a group of people is tenuous to begin with.

Praise in public, criticize in private. If team members are doing well, call them out. If they aren’t, schedule a 1:1 or 2:1 with their manager to discuss your concern. Enforce this standard with your stakeholders as well; if someone wants to complain that your work for them is running late, tell them you’ll take this conversation offline. If someone brings up a surprise for you, note it and move on. You're not here to get answers, you're here to find questions.

Watch the clock. Start it as soon after the scheduled time as you can, and wrap it up as quickly as you can smoothly achieve. Some socialization is fine if you’ve got a “one-pizza” team. Two pizzas on the call, it’s time to be a little strict. More people than that, they don’t want to hear about anyone’s vacation. Use a stopwatch app if you need, and publicly acknowledge as a team success if you’ve ended the call early. You’re here to get the objective of the synchronous call done as fast as possible. If you book thirty minutes for a call and get it done in ten, no one is going to be sad about that. If you do that regularly, you'll get more attendees.

That said, at the end of the call be sure to open it up. I like to use specific catch phrases like “open floor, any questions or issues from the team?” In a standing call, that rhythm and predictability helps the half-listening realize that this is their time to talk. Give them thirty seconds to get off mute, then wrap it up.

If the meeting is to be recorded, make sure you click record before you start and post the recording to the location where it belongs before the day ends.

Make sure that the location of materials (written notes, resource links, recording storage, metrics dashboards, &c) is in the calendar invite.