Huddles (short, sharp, focused, daily stand up team meetings) are highly effective. However, introducing team huddles take time and effort. With some guidance and perseverance, any team can benefit from using them.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Introducing Team Huddles

Huddles are highly effective, but they do take time and effort to implement.

A calendar representing the fact that Introducing Team Huddles takes time
It takes time to implement successful huddles

How Long Does it Take?

In our experience it takes two or three weeks for a team to understand what’s important to them and to build an information center before they can even start huddling.

It then takes a further three or four weeks of practice, feedback and revision of the information center for the huddles to become highly effective. And it takes about another three weeks for huddles to be fully routine, habituated and a natural part of the way a team works. (For context, we would typically implement huddles as part of larger ways of working program that would last 12-14 weeks.)

Given this, one of the most important things you need to do when implementing huddles in your team is to simply stick with them. It takes time to implement them, but they do work. To get to the stage where they are effective you need to believe in the process, seek feedback, challenge things that aren’t working and have the courage and commitment to iterate and improve.

Remember as well, huddles are a team activity and everyone needs to contribute to them and have the opportunity to help create them.

Step 1 – Identify Objectives and Key Metrics

Do you know how to measure your team’s performance?

Before you can even start to build the information center that will be the anchor for your huddle, let alone start to huddle, you need to develop a clear understanding of your team’s objectives and performance metrics. These metrics, or similar information, will form the basis of your information center, which will in turn be roughly the agenda for your daily huddle.

We recommend starting the huddle build process with a team session on vision and mission, then building out KPIs from there. These KPIs (or derivatives of them) can form the early basis of your information center. You might also want to explore your organization’s strategy or balanced scorecard.

Regardless of exactly what you do, the first stage of implementing huddles requires a team to get together and reach a common understanding of the type of information that the team needs to be aware of that will help it achieve its goals. This should be a collaborative, team process to ensure the best results and team buy-in.

Step 2 – Build Your Information Center

The second step of introducing team huddles is building your information center. This is a hugely important and ongoing process.

Once you have clarity over the management information and metrics that are important for the team, the next stage is to design and build an information center.

Your information center should be either a physical information center (like a white board) or a virtual one (on something like Excel or a project management tool).

Information centers are all unique. And they don’t need to be pretty, they just need to work.

Information centers should have multiple sections and should act as the agenda for your huddle. We recommend that all information centers have the following sections as a start:

  • Escalations and communications,
  • Key dates,
  • Performance (looking at dynamic, key, team and individual delivery metrics),
  • Problems and opportunities,
  • Successes (capturing and helping to celebrate team and individual successes), and
  • Daily check in (how are you feeling about today).

Of course, what works for one team might not work for another. It’s worth experimenting with different sections over time until you design something that really works for you.

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Step 3: Structure and Test your Information Center

Information centers need to act like agendas. They should have a logical flow of content and they should drive helpful conversations. They should also provide information that has a genuine purpose and that helps improve the team’s performance and engagement.

An old TV test screen representing the importance of testing when Introducing Team Huddles
Testing is important.

Once you’ve designed the sections you want in your information center, structure them in an order that works for you (we recommend following roughly the order above) and then have a few test huddles. Work out how long each section takes and make sure that you can complete your huddle in 15 minutes.

Step 4: Allocate Owners of Information Center Sections

The fourth stage of introducing team huddles is to ensure each section of your information center has an owner.

For your huddle to be effective, the information in your information center needs to be kept up to date. One of the best ways to make sure this happens is to find an owner from your team for each of the sections. The owner is responsible for ensuring the section is up to date and ready before each huddle.

In addition to having owners for each section, we recommend that someone in the team is found to be something like an “information center champion” and that they are given time to spend on updating and improving the overall information center over the implementation phase.

Step 5: Agree as a Team how you Will Huddle

Once your information center has been designed and tested and each of its sections has an owner, you’re ready to start thinking about how you will huddle.

This process of deciding how you will huddle is a collaborative, team-based activity. It’s important that the way a team huddles isn’t imposed on them. They need to be part of determining their own huddle style and rules. Different ways of huddling work best for different teams and it’s only through genuine co-creation of a huddle approach that teams become fully engaged with the process.

Team contracts aren’t formal documents.

We would suggest that this process works best as a co-creation of something like a “team huddle contract”, “huddle charter” or “huddle terms of reference”.

This document should cover a range of points including: When and how will you huddle, who will attend, what will you cover, who will lead it, whether the chair will rotate, what behaviors will be expected of the chair, what behaviors will be expected of the attendees, how to challenge others if they are going off topic, how you will provide feedback to each other, what benefits you are seeking as a result of your huddle, how you will address lateness at the huddle, how you will address failure to update the information center before a huddle, and anything else you think you should cover!

Step 6: Start Huddling!

And finally, after those five preparatory steps you’re ready to start huddling. The key thing here is to just give it a go and stick with it.

We recommend that the team leader chairs the huddle for at least the first week.

A goose taking off over water. This represents the ungainly start you might have when Introducing Team Huddles
Not all starts are graceful…

We also suggest that you should set aside an extra five minutes each day for the first few weeks of huddling to use for feedback. Feedback should cover the overall huddle effectiveness as well as the effectiveness of the chair and the behavior of the huddle attendees.

Step 7: Iterate and Improve Based Feedback

The last step of introducing team huddles is to continually improve them.

Just because you’ve finally started huddling, doesn’t mean you’re done with the huddle implementation process. Effective huddles will evolve as the team and its performance changes, and this evolution needs to be driven by the team.

Throughout this improvement process you need to actively seek feedback, but that alone isn’t enough. You also need to change the information center, refresh the approach to huddling, keep an eye on chairing and attendee behaviors and respond to anything else that comes up in your feedback. Keep iterating and trying until it feels good. It might take time, stick with it!

How to know When You’re Huddling Well

Huddling is a bit of a strange thing in that effective huddles are always changing and developing as the needs of the team and its members change. As such, huddles are never “completed”.

It’s sometimes hard to know when something that is in constant flux is being effective, so we’ve pulled together the following indicators that you’ve been successful in implementing huddles in your team. Of course, the list isn’t complete, but it should give a flavor of what good looks like.

Someone’s just had a good huddle…

  • You’re sticking to your agenda,
  • You’re finishing on time,
  • Your huddles are energetic and enthusiastic,
  • Everyone is being inclusive,
  • Communications are accurate, brief and clear (ABC),
  • Your huddles are driving conversations towards actions,
  • Everyone is taking ownership of their actions,
  • Everyone focuses on team priorities before individual priorities,
  • As a team, you’re pragmatic and doing what works for you,
  • The team is committed to the process,
  • The team is decisive,
  • Everyone in the team feels confident and is not hierarchical,
  • The team is able to re-prioritize effectively,
  • The team is efficient and effective at what it does,
  • Issues and problems are identified and resolved quickly,
  • Team members are having fun in the huddles,
  • People want to go to the huddles,
  • People feel they’ve missed out if they’ve had to miss one,
  • Team members feel confidence and are engaged with their work, and
  • People feel valued and included.

Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Every team, no matter how enthusiastic and capable, comes across challenges when trying to implement huddles. Each challenge can be over come and it’s important to keep going despite the challenges you’ll inevitably face.

To help you along the way we’ve pulled together a little list of 10 common challenges that teams face, and a suggested solution for each one:

A diagram listing some challenges you might face when Introducing Team Huddles

Learning More

Huddles or stand up meetings help to improve motivation, employee experience and employee engagement. Over time they can increase trust, connection and psychological safety in teams. They can also reduce the chance of social threats and help team members spend more time in flow.

It’s important to learn what makes a good huddle and to learn how to chair huddles well.

Many teams find huddles a key part of successful remote working. If you’re interested in remote working, you might enjoy our podcast on the subject:

The World of Work Project View

We’re big believers in huddles and stand up meetings and think that most teams can benefit from introducing team huddles. Doing so takes time and isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Like many things, the hardest part is making the decision to get started. Once you’re moving and taking actions, things get easier. It’s essential to give yourself enough time to make them work, to take your team with you and to continue to develop and change your huddles so that they continue to add value to your team.

And remember, the benefits aren’t all tangible delivery benefits. A lot of the benefits are slightly less directly observable people related benefits like connection, sense of team, engagement and understanding. These benefits might be hard to quantify, but they’re hugely important.

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The contents of this post have been based on our working experiences and there are no specific references for this content.

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