Photo of gardening tools hanging in a window over some plants, presumably in a greenhouse or gardening shed

Like many of you, we hold standups to sync up on what people are up to, surfacing and supporting through blockers, and getting in a little regular facetime. We’re currently on our third variation of the year for how we do our standups.

Third variation? The year is only halfway through, but we’ve changed our standup format several times in that space? what’s up with that? We’ve worked together in the past. Surely we must know how to work together already.

Fortunately, we do! And here’s a thing we regularly relearn about working together: people are dyanmic. We’re constantly adapting and changing. And in an ever-shifting environment like our “let’s make a new company” environment, that means we are also always shifting and growing and changing. Change is an inevitable component to being able to grow as individuals. Part of appreciating individual growth is making space for it in an organization’s process. Process needs to breathe and shift and grow with the people that follow it.

At the beginning of the year, we were holding daily 9am standups because that’s what was helping us do our best work last year. Coming back from the holidays, we found it no longer was helping us in the same ways, so it morphed and evolved into today’s biweekly pre-lunch sync with an alternating agenda. It’s working pretty well for us today - but how did we get here? how do we know when to change again?

Is your process working well?

For any process (especially meetings), if everyone feels like their needs are met and respected by the meeting or other process, that process is probably working well for you. Yay! Unless you are looking to create change, don’t mess with your working process. Check back in on it again later - maybe the next time there’s change, like after the current project phase is over or after team membership has changed.

Is it time for your process to evolve?

If you find meetings are regularly generating frustration in any participant, it’s probably a good time to revisit. And by “frustration”, I mean a frustration that builds during the meeting. This isn’t the annoyance you might feel when you have to stop what you’re in the middle of doing to switch into meeting mode. This is the frustration of unmet needs, reinforced with every minute of the meeting. It might lead to feelings like these:

  • “That was a waste of time”
  • “I don’t know why I have to go to these”
  • “I wish this could be actually useful by doing X”

All of these point to a process that isn’t meeting its people’s needs. If you have an unusally sanguine team, it may be hard to surface these frustrations. If that’s the case, one thing you can try to do is to regularly poll each individual privately and ask what they get out of the meeting. If you get at least one non-answer, that’s probably a good sign that the meeting isn’t serving everyone on that team. And if it’s not serving everyone on the team, that means your team isn’t as fully aligned and engaged with its mission as it could be. It’s time to evolve the team processes.

How do you evolve your process?

Once you’ve decided your process needs to change to better accommodate the people involved, there’s still the question of how to do so. If you’re changing a meeting, find out what each participant’s wishes are for that meeting.

  • What’s missing?
  • What’s extraneous and unnecessary?
  • What do people need out of their participation in that meeting?

Use the answers to these questions to guide what you change. Remember that you have a lot of different ways you can change a meeting: time, frequency, duration, participants, and agenda are the first variables you should look at changing. And of course there’s merging or canceling meetings as well.

Once you’ve identified a change to make, talk through the suggested change as a group, and check if anyone feels there are any unmet needs. If not, the group can agree to try the change for a set duration.

At Cohere, we hold our retrospectives approximately monthly, which we use to reflect on what is or isn’t working in our processes and in our work in general. Here’s what that usually looks like when we change our standup format:

Week 0 - Propose and agree to a new meeting format
Week 1 - Work out kinks from the change (e.g. showing up at the wrong time)
Weeks 2 + 3 - Experience what the repeated pattern of the new meeting feels like
Week 4 - Talk about what we liked and disliked about the change, suggest a new change if wanted

Never stop evolving

The examples we used in this article mostly focused on a subset of process (meetings). Addressing unmet needs in meetings is important, but it’s not the only place where you can look for unmet needs. As you start noticing and adapting your processes to your team, please remember that this can feel messy or confusing or frustrating as you’re doing so. Keep trying! It does get easier the more any given team practices. And if you invest the work in learning to adapt your process to the people, you invest in the ability to grow your process with the growth of your people. Evolving your processes as your people evolve is a never-ending task, but doing so means you’ve left room for everyone (including your organization) to grow.

* * * Thanks to Dian Pan for the title suggestion and article feedback <3 * * *

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