Culture, Ethnography, Grounded Theory and the Effectiveness of Stand-ups

Late last year (the end of 2016), Andy Parker and I were talking about a frustrating problem common to many senior people in teams: how to improve or positively affect the people we work with so that we were all happier and more effective? These discussions have lead me through one of the more intensive periods of growth and learning that I’ve experienced for a long time, and have ended up with a nice gem of a study on the effectiveness of stand-ups. This post is a description of the journey I’ve taken over the last 6 months or so…

Culture and Ethnography

Our first problem: how to get people to change? Andy and I agreed that we can’t make people change. It comes down to a matter of ways to influence people. We thought that this was an aspect of culture, and so our thoughts went to the tools of anthropologists. Perhaps we could learn something there? We knew that anthropologists use ethnography tools to study people and cultures. Perhaps we could look in that direction?


Andy had heard about Fieldwork, a company that specialises in the study of company culture. Most interesting to us, they had published a guide on how to conduct ethnography fieldwork and a DIY Ethnography Kit.


With this guide, Andy and I both started observing and documenting events that we saw about us at our companies. I started writing posts on our internal company blogging platform, and Andy did the same.

I spent a number of months making observations between my daily work duties. I found these enormously useful, and it helped spark a number of productive conversations.

However, it got to the stage where we had a lot of observations, but no clear idea of what to do next.

On a whim, we searched for online courses which might help us in our quest. As it turned out, there was an excellent course available on Coursera…

Culture-Driven Team Building

Culture-Driven Team Building is a specialisation run by the University of Pennsylvania through Coursera. It is made up of five separate month-long courses. Each course lasts for four weeks, and takes about four hours of study per week.

I’ve learned a huge amount of useful information in these courses, and I can recommend them as a good way expand your skills on leading and influencing teams.

Some of my key takeaways:

There’s lots more, I’m glad I kept details notes. I’ll be referring to them for years.

Grounded Theory

Remember the fieldwork we were doing earlier? I all my coursework I never really picked up on how to turn the observations into theories and models. Jeff Fredrick hit upon the key phrase and sent me the link: Grounded Theory. This is a systematic methodology in involving the construction of theory through the analysis of data. Finding this was a bit of an a-ha moment for me.

I think when I finish all the coursework, my next point of call will be to return to the ethnography study and apply some more powerful tools as provided by grounded theory.

Daily Stand-up Meeting: A Grounded Theory Study

This all leads me to the last gem: I found a link to a study on the effectiveness of stand-ups:

I love to see some real scientific studies on the effectiveness of our practices. There’s too much gut-feel and cargo-culting in team practices, so some hard data is always welcome.

Some key recommendations and guidelines from the study:

  • Don’t use stand-ups for reporting status (plan for the day instead)
  • Keep the stand-ups short
  • Keep the number of participants small
  • Don’t hold the stand-up first thing in the morning

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s