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3 Elements for Powerful Workplace Team Huddles

Written by: on  March 15, 2012

It’s no big secret here at EW we are big fans of Zappos culture. Today, culture hacker and former Zappos Insights Culture Evangelist, Donavon Roberson, explains in detail how to run team huddles – or Team Zuddles (Zappos Huddle).

If you have any fantastic huddle tips, please add them in the comments.

Enter Donavon Roberson:

An interesting element to American football is the team huddle. This is the point of the game where the team members responsible for the running the play circle up for dispensing information regarding how the series is to play out. It isn’t a time for conversation or discussion, it is about the leader sharing a play that everyone is familiar with, understands, and knows their individual roles. The coach sends in the play, the quarterback reiterates it, the team hears it and prepares to act accordingly, they break (generally with a clap and as a unit), and they go make it happen.

Workplace HuddleImage from FastCompany

The huddle is a key element of the sport that speaks to importance of the team by communicating vision, providing clarity and demonstrating unity.

Businesses can take a page out of this playbook and start using the huddle in their regular operations to create a similar experience for the team. Let’s take a moment to look the 3 elements that make up a powerful huddle:

1. Communicate vision: There is nothing more important in business today then communicating the shared vision of a team and insuring that you support that vision regularly. Too many businesses write out a vision or value statement and display it somewhere on the wall for all to see. Many times these posters get lost with all of the other artwork that is hanging around the office. In order to ensure that a vision statement makes it from the head of the employees to the heart of the employees that statement must be communicated on a regular basis.

The huddle is a great place for the leader to speak to the existing vision, to cast new vision and to inspire the team to embrace the journey ahead. This can be done intentionally by using the huddle as an opportunity to directly speak to the various aspects of the vision OR by simply using “vision language” throughout the huddle.

2. Provide Clarity: Many times teams get sidelined or derailed because there is confusion regarding the individual roles and how those roles play out to accomplishing the vision. Having a regular time for the team to huddle provides clarity on who’s doing what and how that responsibility is adding value to the larger picture; unclear expectations and unclear directives will destroy a team and will kill productivity, creativity, and innovation.

A way to make this efficient and effective is to allow each team member the opportunity to share what they are working on and what obstacles they may be experiencing. This allows for exposure, accountability, and the opportunity for members to help each other accomplish tasks that may require extra support.

3. Demonstrate Unity: The basic structure of a team assumes unity but often times this unity gets lost as star performers begin to do their part to make the business better and further their personal careers. To ensure that everyone on the team understand the importance of the team, regular huddles where everybody speaks to their part of the team becomes an invaluable resource.

A leader can also use this time as an opportunity to recognizing those team members that have gone above and beyond in their efforts. In today’s working environment employees enjoy recognition and often leaders take too long to recognize their star performers. The huddle provides an opportunity for consistent recognition, support, and direction.

 Huddle Venn Diagram

A regularly scheduled team huddle can go far in your efforts to enhance company culture, as long as they’re done with intentionality and design. Don’t feel that you can simply throw something together and the last minute and have an impact. Leverage this time to build your team and add value to the culture that exists within your organization.

Here are some other tips for conducting successful huddles:

    1. Huddles have the most impact when they are a regularly scheduled part of the day; whether that is daily, every other day, or at most weekly.
    2. Make the huddle interactive where every team member is responsible to share with the rest of the team. This may be difficult for some at first but it has great advantages.
    3. Put a time limit on the huddle and on how much each individual shares with the team.
    4. Allow different team members to lead the huddle and discover your up and coming leaders.
    5. Create spontaneity on the huddle by having guest speakers or specially events; for instance breakfast, watch a ted talk, show a youtube video, play a game, etc.
    6. Huddles are usually most effective when they are scheduled first thing in the morning. It is a great way to discuss the various elements of the day and how the team may be impacted.
    7. To insure the proper communication of thought or idea, have a talking stick or other item that gets passed around so that the only person speaking is the person holding that item.

There are many other creative and effective ways to organize a huddle; the only limitations are the ones that leaders place on themselves. Get crazy. Think outside the box. Build your culture through your team huddle.



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