Does your team have a daily or weekly huddle that ends up not being much of a huddle at all? Is it just another update meeting that eats up time you could be spending on something more valuable? If so, you’re not alone.
Huddles are short and efficient team check-ins (notice, not a meeting) to discuss anything from successes and wins to problems and errors. The goal is to quickly get the team focused and aligned in a short amount of time. An average huddle is about 10-15 minutes in length with little discussion. It’s more of a report out. However, the number of people attending will drive how long the huddle needs to be. A software team I worked with had a ground rule of no more than 1.5 minutes allowed per report-out. That team had 10 people; it was a 15-minute huddle.
The problem is that on many teams, the goal of the huddle isn’t clear, or the ground rules aren’t followed. Huddles turn into meetings where folks are discussing, problem-solving, and deciding. All good activities for a team, but just not for a huddle. One colleague recently shared this with me, “We have huddles, and they don’t end. Sometimes they go 45 minutes, maybe longer, and we’re still standing around talking.”
If you too have a huddle that has shifted into an unproductive meeting, the good news is there are some simple tweaks to shift back. Additionally, if you have never done a huddle, and it seems like something you want to employ, there are some best practices to follow to get your huddles off to a great start.
Here are five tips for effective (and short!) huddles.
Define a clear goal
Participants can only achieve the purpose of the huddle if everyone knows what it is. If your huddle doesn’t have a clear goal, set up a meeting to discuss and define it. Hear from colleagues what they want to achieve. Identify if participants want it to have a playful/social vibe or a “get down to business” vibe. Will the team only report problems or success too? Whatever is decided, document it in the huddle invite and start the next 3-4 by stating the goal out loud to get everyone on the same page.
Set time limits
Give everyone a time limit for their report-out. Try 1.5 minutes per person and adjust as needed. Some teams might need a little more time and that’s ok just know it will extend the timeline of the huddle. The point is that everyone knows the expectation.
Agree to be prepared
The huddle is only as good as how prepared each member is to report out. If someone has a hot item to share, they need to practice how to convey that update in 1.5 minutes. Speaking concisely is a skill that routinely needs practice. Similarly, don’t allow participants to blow time by saying “Um. Ah. I’m not sure if I have an update. Let me think about it. Can you come back to me? Ha ha ha.” Participants must know if they have an update before arriving to the huddle. And, if there is no update, just say “No update” and move on.
Know when to defer topics
Huddles often uncover bigger issues that require further research or discussion. The huddle is not the place for that. Instead, decide when a topic needs to be deferred to a meeting or a more structured conversation outside of the huddle. Use simple language to direct the team’s attention, such as “Let’s defer that.” Which means, the person who raised it will suspend further discussion and take the next steps needed to address it (e.g. a meeting, a phone call, researcher, etc.)
Evaluate the huddle’s effectiveness
After a month or so of the new format, check-in with participants on how the it is going. Are there changes needed in who attends or what is shared? Do attendees need more time, less time, or does the goal of the huddle need to change entirely? A great huddle is one that is routinely tweaked to meet the shifting demands of most workplaces.
Huddles are excellent activities to maximize teamwork, increase or improve team communication, and even improve performance. They can also be used to strengthen relationships and connections with colleagues, especially those that have the goal to celebrate successes and wins. What’s most important is to put structure to the huddle through clear goals, time limits, preparation, and plans to defer topics. Then, be nimble with it too and adjust the expectations as needed.
The point is that huddles don’t have to be time wasters. With structure, they can help any team achieve their goals.
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Until next time!
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.
Start advancing your performance today! Check out Productivity Training for Professionals or Leadership Training for Professionals from GPC Academy, the online training service of Growth Partners Consulting.