A short daily meeting is a great way to keep your team members on the same page. But holding a virtual meeting every day can pose special challenges. This article discusses different ways that real dispersed teams handle daily meetings.
Almost all of the dispersed teams I’ve talked to have had some kind of daily meeting during the week in order to say in sync with each other. They usually use the term “daily standup”, as popularized by various Agile methodologies, although in my experienced distributed teams don’t usually physically stand up during these meetings. This has less to do with a lack of team energy and more to do with being able to be seen on their webcams.
The typical format for a daily standup is to go around the “room” and answer the three questions: “What did you do yesterday?” “What are you doing today?” “Do you have any impediments?” But not every team uses this template. The team I am working with now has switched to going down the list of open tickets and having the responsible person comment on this one. This keeps things a little more focused, but runs the risk of excluding team members who for whatever reason don’t have any tickets assigned to them.
Different teams have different levels of engagement in their daily meetings. A few don’t hold them at all. Others use a tool like Adobe Connect, TokBox, or iChat to get full audio and video of every member. Some use audio only with a Skype call or a bridge line. Still others hold their daily meetings in a text chat room, and reserve calls for planning meetings and one-on-one collaboration.
Time of day varies as well. Many teams schedule their meeting during the morning in order to catch everyone at the beginning of their day. However, this isn’t always possible in teams with members across many time zones. In this case, some teams still have a daily meeting with the entire organization, but schedule it during the workday overlap between different teams. In sufficiently widely separated groups, it can be more of a hand-off meeting, as one location is finishes up at the same time that another is just getting started.
One of the challenges of holding a daily meeting in a distributed team is maintaining everyone’s engagement. When you are sitting in front of your computer, it’s all to easy to flip back to whatever it was you were doing before the meeting while you are waiting for the other participants to finish. After all, no one else can see your screen. I’ve been guilty of this more often than I like to admit.
Another difficulty can be simply getting everyone to attend on time. Unlike in a collocated team, you can’t just roam the office rounding everyone up. And unexpected software configuration issues or connectivity problems can delay a participant joining the meeting until it is already halfway finished. Especially when a team is freshly formed, it can be a good idea to start reminding everyone that the daily meeting is coming up as much as fifteen minutes in advance of the scheduled time.
There’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for a daily meeting; each team develops and evolves the practices that work best for them. What about your team? Do you hold daily meetings? Do you use video chat, audio, or a text chat room? What do you talk about? How long do they typically last? Do you have any special strategies for getting everyone to attend and keeping them focused during the meeting?