The 80/20 async split for agile-from-anywhere teams
July 12, 2022
Whether they’re in person, virtual, or a mix of the two, meetings can be a real drag. And employees are starting to shout that fact from the rooftops. As more offices reopen, it seems like everyone is talking about the things they’re dreading the most about going back. At the top of the list, right up there with putting real pants on, are endless, pointless meetings.
Look, we get it. We’ve sat through some pretty dull meetings ourselves while asking that eternal question, “Did this meeting need to happen?” But in some cases, meetings are a necessary evil. Well, not even an evil, because when done right, these conversations can be really valuable and — dare we say it — even fun.
This is especially true for Agile teams. While face-to-face interactions and the success of ceremonies like sprint planning, sprint review, and retrospectives does depend on being in the same room (virtual or otherwise) with your colleagues, you can make these moments even more meaningful by knowing how and when to incorporate asynchronous work.
The challenge, then, is learning how to strike a balance between more traditional and asynchronous meetings within your team.
The 80/20 async rule for Agile teams
For most Agile teams, trying to split everything evenly between asynchronous communications and actual meetings is likely not the most efficient option. That’s why we recommend going heavier on the async — more like an 80/20, to be more specific (although your mileage may vary).
There are a few reasons for this. For one, too much virtual meeting time, from formal conference calls to one-on-ones to happy hours, can quickly burn out your team. Besides, over the longer term, async is well-suited to a hybrid or work-from-anywhere environment. With work already happening across locations and time zones, and more employers than ever actively embracing the WFA and hybrid mentality, asynchronous communication just makes sense.
In addition, async offers a lot of benefits for Agile teams. It’s conducive to a variety of work styles, allows time for reflection and random moments of inspiration, and can be more equitable in many cases.
Nevertheless, the async meeting method is not the answer to everything. Some things do, in fact, require a real-time meeting.
Here’s the good news: when you save your synchronous communications for when they’re truly necessary, your meetings — and your team — will be much more productive. Working this way, async can help you get the most out of the time you spend working together in real time with your team. In this way, less can definitely be more.
So to determine what to make asynchronous, you first need to figure out what work must be done synchronously.
To sync or not to sync
How do you determine which processes should have a synchronous component? Generally, any aspect of your work that could be described by one of these criteria could benefit from face-to-face time:
Are expectations clear? If there’s a lot of ambiguity in what you’re working on, it’s time to schedule up a meeting and establish clarity.
Do you need to be creative and collaborative? Anything that requires innovation and real-time inspiration means setting aside time to come together and put your team’s imagination to work.
Is the subject matter complex? Effective teams, whether hybrid or in-person, make sure everyone is on the same page. If a project is especially complicated or requires specialized knowledge, it’s worth going through the details as a team.
If you’re only spending around a fifth of your time on synchronous communications, you want to make sure it counts. Luckily, getting some tasks completed asynchronously can help you maximize together time. Here are a few general tips for using async to drive sync success that we’ve discovered over a decade or so of working with Agile teams:
Plan, plan, and plan some more
Not only does this mean having a detailed agenda, it means thinking through every aspect of the time spent in-person, including different experiences for in-person and remote attendees. Facilitation skills are key here, both for the “official” facilitator and for participants.
Assign pre-work (and deadlines for it)
No one should come into a meeting unprepared. Whenever possible, assign pre-work that can be completed, anywhere, anytime before the specified deadline. Bear in mind the time needed (and consider how you’re creating asynchronous debt).
Have you ever been to a stand-up that just turned into a list of updates? Us, too. To avoid that situation, do this part asynchronously. Prior to standup, have participants add updates to a shared doc or template. Or, to make it even more personal (and fun), take a page out of our own playbook and embrace asynchronous video meetings by making updates using a screen recorder.
Quality over quantity
When it comes to meetings, good things come in shorter (and more focused) packages. By making the most of asynchronous meetings and only holding them in real time when they’re absolutely necessary, you might find that they’re not so bad after all. As you continue to find the right balance between traditional and async meetings for your team, you may even start looking forward to what you can accomplish.
Want to work more asynchronously but don’t know where to start? Get our Async Guide to learn how asynchronous communication can help you overcome the curse of bad meetings. 🗓️
About the authors
About the authors
Jim is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in innovation, design, and the future of work. He is currently Chief Evangelist at Mural, the leading visual work platform.