Why I Love Our Stand-Ups: How They Improve Our X-Gaps & Team Accountability


First, an X-Gap is how you increase team accountability

The X-Gap is a team communication format designed to rapidly and simply increase team accountability and execution by efficiently identifying gaps between a team’s expected and actual results.  Teams that foster interdependence and mutual support sail through their X-Gaps and accomplish their missions on time and on target.

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At Afterburner, when our team gets together for our weekly X-Gap we average a 90%+ rate of execution.  We didn’t always hit that target. For a while we languished in the high 70%’s, meaning we were accomplishing 75% to 85% of our assigned COAs (Courses of Action) each week. Our team did not feel comfortable with that velocity.

Thor, Afterburner’s President, started saying at every X-Gap, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” But we were not running as fast or as far as we wanted. Was there a way we could work together better? Maybe we were so busy working on our own COAs we weren’t working together?

Will Duke, Afterburner’s Director of Learning & Development, reminded us of the “Wingman Concept,” a critical component of the Flawless Execution Framework. The “Wingman Concept” is a collection of teamwork principles that establish Mutual Support, a shared “mindfulness” among team members, that helps to focus on the Mission Objective. Mutual Support is the foundation of high-performing teams. By the time we were getting to the X-Gap, we had missed opportunities for Mutual Support.

A Wingman can’t be a Wingman without Situational Awareness.

Since the Flawless Execution framework is truly an Agile framework for business, why not start gathering for a Daily Stand-Up?  Maybe what we needed was a daily Stand-Up that helped us become better Wingmen and gave us each the Situational Awareness to lend a higher level of Mutual Support.

Two things happened: we started having an amazing team Stand-Up every day and our COA accomplishment rate, or velocity, started going over 90% almost every week.

How our Stand-Ups improve team performance:

Threats are identified. We each share a positive focus from the prior day, tell the group what we will crush this day, and identify any known threats to what we plan to crush. It’s not unusual for team members to offer mutual support right then to solve threats before the Stand-Up is over.

Situational Awareness is heightened. In just 3 minutes per team member, we all learn what we need to know about how to best help our colleagues. Sometimes it’s a simple, “I’m heads down. Please no interruptions this morning.” Sometimes the increased Situational Awareness alerts a team member to make a quick suggestion that helps their teammate out. Rather than bogging us down, this helps us speed up.

We love this meeting. There is something about this meeting that binds us as a team. 60% of the comments are expressions of gratitude for mutual support lent by a team member the day before. Several weeks ago, the building we work in suffered a water main break and the building was inaccessible. We all worked from home and did our Stand-Up by phone, like any team would. But most teams would not have members mentioning the next day, unashamedly, “I missed being together!” One team member said, “I almost texted everyone to see if they wanted to gather at a Starbucks.”

They get better and better every day. I think one of the reasons we love our Stand-Up is our “Debrief” culture. We have never formally ‘debriefed’ our Stand-Up, and we probably should, but what we find happening is that debriefing and Red Teaming are so ingrained in our team’s DNA that everyone feels empowered to suggest new ideas, guide the group, ask for clarity or keep us on track. Ansley, for example, suggested that we track the pipeline on the whiteboard. The Sales teams updates went faster, and I understood their pipeline better. One day we walked in and Joe asked us to conduct Stand-Up in a new room. The room was smaller, and being physically closer created a more collaborative dynamic. Yesterday, when I walked into the Stand-Up room, the whiteboard, which was now an integral to our staying focused, was reorganized in a clearer layout, thanks to Courtney.

People jump in. Maybe it’s because almost everyone on the team has been an Ace for an Afterburner mission before (from the newest to the most veteran team members), but we have people jumping in to lead the Stand-Up, and not just the usual team members you would expect. The leader for that day kicks the meeting off with an inspirational challenge to nudge us out of our comfort zone both personally and professionally. The variety and authenticity of the inspirational challenges surprise me. One time I lead the meeting and shared how a friend of mine recognized Afterburner team members on a flight inbound to Atlanta a few days earlier. “Someone is always watching you,” I challenged everyone to remember.

Even more surprising, to me, is the way the daily challenge often creates generative conversation over the next few hours or days. One morning, Joe challenged us with: “Know Your Numbers.” He presented the team with a new perspective on the month’s sales metrics and challenged us all to have a command of key pipeline metrics. As the day went on I heard several questions and dialogues on the metrics he presented: Did they include leads from this source or that source? What is our conversion rate for leads from those sources? His challenge inspired us to think about ‘the numbers’ even if we are not directly involved in sales.

If I happen to miss a Stand-Up, for the rest of the day, every time I ask a question, the answer always seems to start with: “Oh! We talked about that in the Stand-Up….” The bottom line is that our Stand-Up is now a crucial communication tool for increasing team accountability, dramatically improving Situational Awareness and increasing opportunities to lend Mutual Support.



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