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Think about your last status meeting. How often did participants get sidetracked with project-specific conversations before someone said “Hey, let’s take this offline?” Did everyone involved in the meeting need to be updated on everything? And how hard was it to schedule a time that worked for team members located in different time zones?
Not too long ago, status meetings were the most efficient way for teams to share progress on projects and work out issues. But in an era of meeting fatigue, it’s worth questioning whether that’s still the case. No matter how many ground rules you create to keep status meetings as short and sweet as possible, it’s easy for them to become counterproductive and for team members to disengage.
Thankfully, there are better ways to monitor project progress and keep the right people up to date. Using a combination of engagement and task management tools, you can track projects and foster collaboration asynchronously, reducing headaches for team members and meeting facilitators.
The problem with synchronous stand-ups
Synchronous meetings require real-time interaction. Any time you’re meeting in real-time, you have to work out the logistics: who needs to be there, when you’ll meet and what items you’ll cover. Synchronous meetings also require manual record-keeping, either on the part of the project manager or individual team members. You also need to decide where to keep those records and how to make them visible to the group as a whole. And as your team grows and evolves, you have to weigh all of these considerations all over again.
Even if you have an airtight agenda, it takes constant enforcement to keep the meeting on track. Otherwise, some team members may ramble, share more details than needed and take too much time on side conversations, leading some attendees to check out. The real-time format also may not suit the range of personality types on your team. Introverted team members may feel like they’re being put on the spot when they’re expected to share their work progress in front of their coworkers, and different people reach peak productivity and focus at different times of day. Unnecessary status meetings can disrupt their flow.
The solution? Go asynchronous
Asynchronous meetings free you from many of the challenges of traditional meetings while still allowing you to accomplish the same objective of tracking project progress. With asynchronous meetings, team members are given a set time frame to provide updates on their progress. Using engagement tools and task management tools in conjunction, they can log status updates and relevant information, which can then be shared automatically with the broader team.
Instead of spending 30 minutes to an hour listening to a roll call of statuses that may or may not be relevant, each team member can spend a few minutes providing their updates. If additional conversations or support are needed, those can happen on communication apps or face to face, if that’s what the individual team members prefer.
How asynchronous meetings work
Most teams are already familiar with using task management tools to assign, receive and view tasks in a centralized location. Of course, simply checking off tasks doesn’t allow you to convey context, and it can be hard to ask complex questions in the comments section of a task management tool. Task management tools also focus on the completion of tasks, so they aren’t always viable for tracking progress and identifying hurdles before a milestone is reached or missed.
That’s where engagement tools come in. Whereas task management tools allow you to capture quantitative data about your tasks, engagement tools allow you to capture qualitative data. Using an automated engagement tool, you can ask a series of simple questions to get a clear idea of each team member’s progress:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What are you doing today?
- Are you blocked on anything?
Each response can automatically be shared in your collaboration tool of choice, where everyone can see it. You can see, at a glance, what everyone’s working on, who needs the most help and what they need help with. You can route issues to the right people without forcing uninvolved team members to listen to side conversations.
With task management and engagement tools combined, meetings no longer need to occur in real-time. Instead, team members can check in at their own pace. You also gain an automated record of day-to-day progress, which you can use to track trends and perform project postmortems.
How to get started
Implementing asynchronous meetings requires a shift from typical practices, but it doesn’t necessarily come with a steep learning curve. There’s no need to dive in all at once. You can start by replacing one or two daily stand-ups with asynchronous meetings. That way, team members can get a feel for the new approach. You can also try out different questions to find the right fit for your team.
Communicate to your teams why you’re implementing this approach and what’s expected of them. Most will welcome the idea of reducing the number of meetings on their calendar, but some may worry that they’ll be out of the loop. Others may need some help adopting the habit of responding to the daily questionnaire. Provide hesitant team members with the assurance that your collaboration tools provide the information they need, and use scheduling reminders for your more forgetful colleagues.
Make meetings meaningful
Let’s face it: When you replace synchronous meetings, you lose some face-to-face interaction. But the idea isn’t to completely eliminate interactions; it’s to make them as meaningful as possible. At my company, we’ve seen success with asynchronous status meetings because team members don’t feel like their time is being wasted. Individual employees have the autonomy — and the additional room on their calendars — to collaborate in the ways that work best for them, and project managers can spend more time moving projects forward instead of wrestling with schedules, recording status updates and relevant notes, and policing those pesky side conversations.
So, is it really time to say farewell to the status meeting? Probably not all of them. They still have their place at times. But clearly, there is a better choice for keeping information and project sharing on track while eliminating many time-consuming in-person meetings for your team members.