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April 6, 2020

How ZEAL Does a Company Stand-Up

Adam Cuppy



Advisor / Founding Partner
Medford, OR

In the software development world, stand-up meetings are typically seen as daily check-ins— informative meetings for the team to report on the progress, successes or challenges of current projects. Here at ZEAL, we take a different approach to stand-ups: we use them as a mechanism to assess where we stand emotionally. 

Our stand-up meetings are not accountability check-ins. There is a time and place for that, but it’s not during stand-ups. So what does a stand-up look like at ZEAL? We’ve been holding them every single workday for our past seven years as a company. Our stand-up is a short meeting (no more than 15 minutes) involving all staff—and fundamentally, all staff equally—to gauge where we are emotionally, as individuals and as a team.

They follow a three-part structure: Interestings, Project Updates and Business Updates. 

1. Interestings

Team members share interesting things they have learned recently, which may have nothing at all to do with our work or industry. It’s important that as colleagues we feel this freedom to share about ourselves (remember, this is not an accountability check-in on work projects). This share could be about a book we’re reading, a show we’re watching or something in the news we’re concerned about.  

2. Project Updates

As a consultancy, we’re working with multiple clients at any given time, so in this second section of our stand-ups, we share interesting project developments with our colleagues. Rather than diving into the minutia of our work, this can be seen as a project-specific Interesting. What are some highlights of a project that the rest of the team would enjoy hearing about and could learn from? 

3. Business Updates 

In the final part of our stand-ups, members of the leadership and management team share business developments and logistical company information. This could be a heads-up on an email that will be coming from HR about employee benefits, company news that highlights our core vision, or the welcoming of a new team member to his/her/their first stand-up meeting. 

End with a power clap

We end each stand-up with a countdown to one collective power clap: 3-2-1-Clap. And we’re done. Team members are ready for the day, hopefully feeling engaged as a group, and personally motivated to contribute to something meaningful.

How and why stand-up meetings are more an emotional check-in

Human beings are naturally quite intuitive. Rarely is anyone asked: “How do you feel today?” But when we share (or don't share) we are inadvertently providing an emotional check-in, especially through our Interestings and Project Updates. These are wonderful because they’re low-hanging fruit. Both are easy to share and carry little accountability, while providing valuable insight into our colleagues as whole people, not just judged by the work they produce. Interesting shares also help to create connections among team members and a sense of community in the company. We can learn a lot about one another through what we’re reading, watching or listening to. We can also learn a lot if we’re attentive to what people don’t say (key stand-up rule: sharing is optional).

Team members in our stand-ups are rarely asked: “What did you get done yesterday?” It is crucial that there is no asking for justification of our time. If anything, we are asking employees to celebrate their time by sharing a moment of discovery or growth in a project during the Project Updates, as a way to combat the drudgery we can all sometimes feel in our daily routines.

When the management team shares Business Updates, their core function may appear to be informative; however, through being informative we are seeking to provide emotional certainty (through openness) to our team. For example, rather than just sending out an email with HR information, sales numbers or the announcement of a new team member, we proactively share this information in our face-to-face stand-up, giving team members a sense of certainty around the organization (that does not mean every update is positive). We want our team to feel respected and included, and that they can rely on leadership to be transparent about communicating important information-- good,bad or ugly.

It's important to note: 1-on-1 critique and sensitive personal and professional issues are not discussed in a group forum. Those are reserved for private 1-on-1 conversations.

ZEAL’s principles for a successful stand-up:

  • Sharing is optional. This is crucial. People must feel no pressure to share or perform. Managers should notice when a team member is consistently not sharing and take advantage of a one-on-one meeting to ask how that person is feeling and address any concerns personally.
  • Everyone is equal. Recent hires, company veterans, leaders and owners all contribute equally. Managers, especially, should remember to be doing more listening than talking.
  • Don’t ask for work accountability. It pollutes the stand-up and can make it emotional for the wrong reasons. You never want people to feel that stand-up meetings are something they’d rather avoid. 
  • Keep it structured and short. Following our three-part structure keeps the meeting focused and under 15 minutes. Don’t stray or try to pack more into the format. We start at 8:45 a.m. and are done by 9 a.m. every morning, and in the last year have gone over by a few minutes only a handful of times. Sometimes stand-ups are just five minutes, because there simply isn’t much to share that day. That’s ok; consistency is what matters most. 
  • Anyone can “call time.” We honor this in all of our company meetings. Anyone present can “call time,” meaning that whoever is talking should take a moment to wrap up the thought and respect that it’s time to conclude.
  • Keep it light, and laugh! The point of these meetings is to create an emotional check-in and a heartening moment for our staff. There’s lots of laughter and levity. We view our stand-ups as a positive way to start an energized day together as a company. 

The most common questions we receive about our stand-ups have to do with accountability (when and how we do ask for it) and how to best encourage a supervisor to change the way he or she runs company stand-ups.

Feel free to reach out to us to talk about these or any other questions you have about our stand-up meetings.

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