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3 Useful Tips in the Pursuit of a Leaderless Stand-up

18 September 2013

Joakim Sahlberg
Netlight Consulting

A good daily stand-up is a rare sight. Many of you have probably seen one but not noticed that it was good. This is rooted in human nature; we are a lot better at noticing when something isn't right, and we can all probably agree that a poor stand-up is easy to spot.

With that said, how do we, as ScrumMasters or facilitators, achieve a good stand-up without micromanaging? How do we get to that point where we can simply stand silent in the corner and everything just flows and everyone is happy?

There are, of course, several things that can be off in a stand-up. But there are a few things that are easy to implement and give you a lot of bang for the buck.

Listed here are the three things that I see going wrong most often during stand-ups:
  1. The team sees the stand-up as a report to the manager(s) or facilitator, and not a chance to update the team. Try to avoid eye contact with the person talking. One good tip is to stand behind the person talking, to force him or her to address the team.
  2. Team members are late or they await the facilitator's signal to start the stand-up. Make sure you start the stand-up at the same time every day, no matter who is missing! This reinforces the idea that the team as a whole is more important than any one single person.
  3. Team members don't know who is speaking first and are waiting for the facilitator to tell them. Introduce a speaking token to make sure everyone knows who is supposed to speak first. The person who has the token last at this stand-up starts first at the next one.
These changes might seem small or insignificant but, in my experience, they are the ones that best create the change you're looking for. If I could change only three things in a stand-up, these three would be the ones. Alone they won't make everything perfect, but when the team gets a feel for them, they will leave you with a much better stand-up than you started out with.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4 (3 ratings)


Glen Wang, CSM, 9/18/2013 3:27:13 AM
The team be the foreground and the Scrum Master be the background.
Eduardo Cantu, CSM, 9/18/2013 6:38:58 AM
I'm not sure I agree with the second point. Who decide to wait for the missing member? The ScrumMaster? If so, isn't he "managing" people?
Joakim Sahlberg, CSP,CSM, 9/19/2013 12:34:47 AM
@Eduardo Canto

Thank you for your comment.

The idea behimd the second bullet is to reinforce a behavior for the team. In the first couple of stand-ups with my current team, they always asked if we shouldn't wait for our department manager or wondering if our product owner would show up.

By reinforcing the agreed upon time, I'm now confident that they will perform the stand-up no matter who isn't there.
Eduardo Cantu, CSM, 9/19/2013 6:30:14 AM
Hey, Joakim.

Now I see your point. People used to wait for managers before start the stand up, but now they understand that what matter is the team.
Eric King, CSM,CSPO, 9/19/2013 2:42:09 PM
Hello Joakim,

You've provided some really simple and excellent suggestions. When I was acting as a CSM in the past, I would stand behind the team if possible and almost always looked at the ground while team members were sharing. I found, that by looking at the ground, team members didn't feel like they were giving me a report. In some cases, it would take team members a little while to understand what I was doing, but the end result was very positive. Thank you for sharing.
Nirmaljeet Malhotra, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 9/20/2013 9:55:49 AM
Great points.

On the second point, we also introduced a donation box for coming in late. Every time a team member comes in late, a dollar needs to be paid. The money is then used for the team.

As for the team waiting for the facilitator to point at someone to start the meeting, my team understands that the updates need to start from the team member who is on the left of the Scrum Master and it just flows from there in a clock wise fashion. Team got used to it very quickly.
Russell Copeland, CSM, 9/20/2013 10:43:34 AM
I had one team that had a lot of problems with reporting to me as I was in a scrum master/dev manager role. Since I wanted the team to really not need me as a manager and report to the team I would stand to the side and actually look out the window while they did the meeting only turning around and getting involved when needed. That worked well once the team understood what I was doing.
Catia Oliveira, CSM,CSPO, 9/25/2013 6:52:29 AM
Nice tips (from all) and nice straight to the point article! :))
When I had that situation (normally when starting Scrum in a new team I have that situation), what i do isI focus on the Backlog while the person is talking.
that way the person will focus on other team members and also will point out the task in the board and move it if necessary... kind of trying to solve 2 problems at same time ;)
Arpit Gautam, CSM, 10/4/2013 4:33:15 AM
I agree to all of them. Nicely put
Joakim Sahlberg, CSP,CSM, 10/4/2013 6:41:29 AM
Thank you all for your input and comments, this kind of response makes me want to share more about my experiences!

And I will do so hoping that it will be helpful to at least someone.
Stephen Taylor, CSM, 10/18/2013 10:40:44 AM
Regarding Nirmaljeet Malhotra's last point about flowing clockwise, isn't that a 'circle of death'? Surely that should be avoided in a stand-up?
Eric Starn, CSM, 10/18/2013 11:44:26 AM
Point #3, passing a token is good and bad. We had a beach ball as our token. Then we started losing team members to illness as the beach ball tuned into the "germ ball" :) Otherwise good tips!
Gyan Prakash, CSM, 10/18/2013 12:03:54 PM
I agree your point. Thank you
Ruiyi Zhou, CSM, 10/20/2013 9:27:58 PM
So what! My team has a big boss. So everything goes back to be not agaile. But they also put out work. All the member feel relaxed than before, because they have a big boss now!
Bhavin Shah, CSM, 11/5/2013 5:18:11 AM
Very good points
David Lowe, CSP,CSM, 11/6/2013 4:42:19 PM
I've found that working the board right to left, discussing each ticket rather than each person's update (what I did yesterday, what I'm doing today, impediments). We have a facilitator to rake us across the board - and this person changes each day. I, as SM, hardly ever act as facilitator. But, what I have noticed, is that people usually direct their speech towards the facilitator, regardless of the facilitator's role in the team. Maybe people just feel comfortable directing towards someone?
Eduardo Espinosa, CSM,CSPO, 11/19/2013 1:40:18 PM
We start the meeting on time every time and make sure that everyone keeps on point with the 3 main questions. As SM all I do is look out for impediments that need to be resolved. We also make it fun by tossing a ball based on the season. So right now its a football!
Gurtej Pal Singh, CSP,CSD,CSM, 11/22/2013 2:18:58 AM
Very well written!
Pedro Gustavo Torres, CSD,CSM,CSPO, 1/23/2014 7:24:45 AM
another great tip is to actually allowing another team member to run the meeting:
- Since a team member is conducting the meeting the SM stops from being the center of attention making team members communicating with each other.

The SM should only listen and make sure the meeting is on the right track. :-)


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