Three Straightforward Tips to Bring More Energy to Team Huddles

by Burl Stamp

Sometimes sports analogies are applied too often and are taken too far in thinking about effective management practices. But since we borrowed the term “huddle” from football to describe a brief team meeting, revisiting what makes sports huddles effective – and where we may have lost our way in translation in health care – seems appropriate.

Whether you are a personal fan or not, it is hard to argue that Peyton Manning is one of the greatest professional football players is history. Manning was great not only because he was a talented quarterback but also because he was a gifted leader who brought out the best in the entire team. Arguably, he understood leadership as well as Peter Drucker, Jack Welch or any other management guru. And he especially understood what it took to make the huddle before a key play successful.

The most valuable player is the one that makes the most players valuable. – Peyton Manning

For perspective, an article in Wikipedia about “Huddle” starts with the sentence, “… a huddle is an action of a team gathering together, usually in a tight circle, to strategize, motivate or celebrate.” Ahealthcare team developmentll three of those goals – to strategize, motivate and/or celebrate – are relevant to successful team huddles in health care. And the missteps we see most often that cause staff to dread huddles are in direct opposition to those three goals. In our work with health care teams, we most often find that huddles don’t work because:

• They are too long
• They try to cover too much territory
• They are emotional downers

First and foremost, huddles should unite and bring energy to a team as they start their shift or drive toward the successful completion of a project. Here are the huddle characteristics we see that build energy and drive success:

Keep it Brief

Five minutes. That should be the goal for an effective team huddle. Staff members have lots to do, so they are ready to get to work. Always make the huddle a stand-up gathering in a hallway or common area to encourage that brevity.

Keep it Focused on Today

Monthly staff meetings are the right place to deal with larger, longer-term issues facing the team. Huddles should be about the issues facing the team today and how they will confront them to be most successful.
Keeping the huddle brief and focused on today doesn’t mean that the team should approach it in an informal, haphazard way. Brevity and focus require a little planning to be sure the right topics are covered in the right way.

Keep it Uplifting

Teams need to know where they are falling short and what they need to work on to improve. But the huddle is the wrong place to deal with longer-term problems that are challenging or discouraging. A manager announcing that “we’re still missing our patient satisfaction goals,” leaves the team in a very different emotional place than, “remember that our patients appreciate it when we use active listening to understand the concerns that are most important to them today.”

Just like the effective coach or quarterback, end the huddle with a sense of confidence and support for the team. My favorite model for this practice is Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (played by Michael Conrad) on the popular 1980s series Hill Street Blues. St. Esterhaus always ended the team huddle with his signature line of support and advice, “Heh, let’s be careful out there.”

Huddles should motivate and bring energy to the start of a shift or to a team working on a critical project. Remembering BTU (which you might notice is the abbreviation for a measure of energy) – brief, today and uplifting – is the best way to make a huddle powerful and most beneficial for your team.

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