Five hacks to make huddles more helpful

When organizations think about “improving communication,” they often start with grand plans to revamp intranet sites, introduce new digital/print publications or expand social media strategies. But when you consider that employees’ preferred source of communication is their direct supervisor, doesn’t it make sense to start small and local?
Regular team huddles help staff members support one another, stay connected to immediate priorities and problem-solve issues real-time. But they only work when they are structured in a way that accomplishes these specific goals. Following are five straightforward principles to help make huddles truly helpful to frontline staff.

Short and Sweet

One of the most common ways for huddles to go haywire is for them to become mini staff meetings. By keeping the huddle to 5-10 minutes (depending on the industry and type of work unit), teams keep the conversation focused, the energy level high, and impatience to a minimum.

Stand Up!

In many industries, the huddle is often called the “Stand Up” meeting. And perhaps that name is more appropriate since it describes one of the key characteristics of success. When everyone stays standing, it clearly signals that the meeting will be brief. Standing vs. sitting also keeps the physical and mental energy and sense of urgency higher.

One Day at a Time

Effective huddles anticipate immediate roadblocks or challenges and problem-solve around them. Longer range issues, of course, need to be dealt with by leadership and the team, but the huddle is the wrong place to get into longer, more complex discussions. Invariably, discussion is truncated, and staff members get frustrated.

Dialogue, not Monolog

The best huddles encourage input from all members of the team. One of my favorite success stories from team huddles comes from a director at Summa Health in Akron, OH, who said she often came to the team ready to solve a particular staffing or looming process issue, only to be told, “The village has it handled!” You know the huddle philosophy is working when frontline team members form their own stand-up meeting to tackle an issue. That kind of cooperative, empowered problem-solving by frontline staff only happens when all staff are encouraged to contribute.

End on a High Note

Many years ago, I still remember asking frontline staff members in a department that we were just starting to work with about their daily huddle/report as a best practice. They replied, “Oh, you mean the ‘Daily Beating!’” When I attended their huddle the next morning, I quickly understood where the pejorative name came from. The manager unfortunately used the morning stand-up meeting primarily to deal with everything that the staff was doing wrong. While these issues needed to be addressed, berating the team immediately before he sent them out to take care of patients was terrible timing. Just like an inspiring coach, great leaders wrap up huddles and send their teams out on the field with a message of confidence, trust and appreciation.
This post is the second in our series that explores the specific elements of the MyTEAM® model. In our next post, we’ll look at how to make team staff meetings more high-energy, productive and positive.