I’m seeing way too many poorly executed huddles these days.  I see leaders with their “Huddle Standard Work” follow the checklist rigidly and controlling the flow and discussion.  I see more leaders asking questions and checking things off on a checklist than building an open, collaborating team.  It looks like they’re more focused on meeting than on having a huddle.
So, what’s a huddle, anyway?  I’ll let you go off and check Webster’s or Dictionary.com.  The only group I know that huddles regularly is the NFL.  Yes, the National Football League.  I only know that because they’re always on TV.  Of course every football team, from Pop Warner to PAC 10 huddles.  But why?
We all know that football teams huddle to call the next play.  Have you noticed how quickly they do that?  Let’s use that as our target condition, but since our work is substantially different from a football play, let’s tweak a little.
Just as a football team huddles for the next play, at work in a lean system, the huddle is to essentially call the day’s play.  What work does the team have to accomplish today?  Does everyone have what they need to complete today’s set of tasks?  Who is behind a little and wants some help?  These are the key questions for a huddle to address.  It focuses on the WORK.  If focuses on TODAY.
Yes, we can take a quick look at what happened yesterday if there were problems we solved.  Let’s definitely share the solutions with everyone.  Let’s take a second to bask in the glory of accomplishment (seriously; if you hit your plan yesterday, make a big deal of it!). Let’s celebrate the team’s successes.  Let’s celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.  Let’s deliberately get to know each other.
When a huddle runs on, it makes me cringe.  So let’s set a few broad guidelines and let’s look at the root causes of crappy huddles.
  1. The huddle should be team focused, not leader focused.  The leader of the huddle should be a rotating position among all team members.  Include facilitator or time-keeper and note-taker roles too.  All should require EVERY person on the team to fill each role through the course of a month or quarter.
  2. Huddle EVERY DAY at ALL levels.  Tier 1 (where the value is created) meets early.  Tier 2 has all the tier 1 leaders meet with the manager a little later.  With Tier 3, we have some flexibility.  Here we need some cross department communication and collaboration.  Support functions should meet together here.  If you’re in an office with several divisions, the leads from each division ought to meet EVERY DAY to share key concerns and key targets with each other.  Tier 4 is clearly a management level huddle and it too should be every day, probably around the end of the day to prepare for tomorrow.
  3. If the huddle is longer that 15 minutes, the facilitator (yes, every huddle should have someone in this role) should make everyone stop and go back to work, then record on a problem register that the huddle went long.  Then we have to solve that problem.
  4. The huddle needs to end on an encouraging high note, sending everyone back to their desk fired up a little.  Make this effort even if it sounds hokey.
The root cause of crappy huddles is a crappy huddle board.  A huddle board is crappy if the stuff you’re keeping track of is of little significance to the team.  This is a PERVASIVE PROBLEM everywhere I go.  The metrics just stink!  So, in the next post, I’m going to offer some recommendations for how to build meaningful metrics for TODAY.