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When a meeting isn't working, change it

What we want is happy, healthy, high-performing teams. Our meetings and processes are meant to help us get there. When they’re not, we can try and change them.

When a meeting (like stand-ups or retros) isn’t working, we can revisit the purpose of the meeting and make adjustments to improve it. (Aside: I think retros are the most important agile activity.)

  • Try changing the meeting instead of doing it and rushing through it. That usually just makes a bad meeting feel even worse because we’re focusing on finishing the meeting rather than making the most of the meeting.
  • Try changing the meeting instead of dropping it. Meetings are usually added for a reason. It’s possible that reason has fallen away, but most agile meetings have a clear purpose, related to helping the team.
  • Try changing the meeting instead of doing nothing, or complaining about it. Highlighting problems in processes is very useful when it’s done constructively. We don’t need to have a solution ready to offer feedback, but we do need to be open to exploring ideas.


One meeting that tends to have a bad reputation is daily stand-up. For me, stand-ups are important. When they’re working well, they:

  • Help us share information about the work throughout the team. This gives people more context on their work. In particular it helps identify blockers and helps us coordinate where help is wanted or needed.
  • Help us focus on the work for the day ahead. It gives us a change to note progress towards our goals (ideally the sprint goal).
  • Help us feel like a team. The stand-up is focused on the work, but humans working together towards a common goal makes part of the glue that holds the team together.

One great reason to have a stand-up every day is that it means it’s at most one day before a team member has a chance to raise a blocker or ask for help.

Stand-ups aren’t status meetings. That information can be seen from the board. The stand-up is for covering what can’t be seen from the board.

Be clear on what’s not working

Before changing a meeting (or before dropping it), it helps to be very clear of what’s not working.

  • Meeting’s too long? Agree that we want more bold facilitation to keep the team on topic and on time. A stand-up is for raising things to discuss, but the discussion happens outside the stand-up.
  • Meeting’s not useful? Bring the focus back to the purpose of the meeting. A stand-up is to help the team work better together, by sharing information and helping each other.