Unite and Align Your Team with a Morning Huddle

Feeling Out of Touch with My Team

Some time ago, I felt out of touch with my coworkers and team at work. We were all busy with our individual projects, but there wasn’t enough unity or coordination. When large projects loomed over me, I would bear down and go days without knowing what other team members were working on. When I finally found out about others’ initiatives, I realized that I could have saved hours of work by passing on a small piece of information I hadn’t thought to share. In an effort to unify the team, we had tried various coordination meetings but hadn’t yet found an effective solution we could stick to. Taking a cue from the morning meetings I’d seen while touring O.C. Tanner, I began a morning huddle meeting. This meeting has become a significant contributor to my team’s increased unity, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Daily 3+2 Priorities

The Agenda

Promptly each morning at 8:45 AM, everyone gathers around a TV displaying our real-time dashboards and key performance indicators (KPIs). We all stand, so as to encourage a quick meeting (our goal is under 15 minutes). The agenda follows a format of (1) measure, (2) align, and (3) celebrate:

  1. Measure – The meeting leader begins by reviewing KPIs and dashboards with the group. If necessary, he or she assigns follow-up responsibility for problems. For example, if a dashboard shows that an order is late, then the warehouse manager will be assigned to follow up on the order and report back on the issue later that day.
  2. Align – After the KPI action items are made, we move on to accountability and alignment. Each person reports on their previous day’s priorities and then briefly explains their priorities for today. If anyone has a priority that they worry might not get accomplished, they request help from the team. The system we use is a 3+2 priority list. The full details of the system are in this Lifehacker article, but it’s essentially a realistic approach to a day’s work. Most people can usually accomplish three larger projects and two smaller tasks – a total of five priorities. Successfully using this system takes some work at breaking down large projects into achievable steps. To help facilitate this approach, we handed out laminated cards. Using a dry erase marker, each team member writes out that day’s information and brings his or her card to the meeting. On the next day, we flip them over and use the other side so we always have yesterday’s and today’s priorities written down.
  3. Celebrate – To conclude the meeting, each person shares a success or win from the previous day. The wins can either be their own personal accomplishments, others’ wins, or appreciation for a team member. This practice helps the entire team stay positive and take time to recognize the progress we are all making. Additionally, as elaborated on in The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, beginning your day with a positive thought boosts your performance and effectiveness throughout the rest of the day. Some examples of wins we share include:
    • “Yesterday, we shipped out five full truckloads of product – a new one-day record.”
    • “Ryan caught an error on the new packaging, which saved us hours of rework down the road.”
    • “We received a large order from a new customer.”
    • “Amanda proofread 180 labels for new product. It was tedious, but she was patient and helped us avoid 5 errors that she found. Thank you.”
    • “We finished our mid-year inventory count with only a .1% variance – great job team!”
    • “We implemented a refined 5S system in our tool area yesterday. Thank you for helping me get that put together.”
    • “Jenny created a fantastic new process that we followed for the first time yesterday. It saved us so many headaches – everyone knew just what to do.”

The Results

Because of our quick morning huddles, my team and I all feel much more connected with each other. I know what each person is working on, and they know what I’m up against. We’ve been able to hold each other more accountable by reporting on our daily priorities. When my 3+2 list grows to a list of 7 or 8, others are sometimes able to step in and help. Otherwise, we prioritize what is most critical to accomplish that day and accept that some tasks will have to wait until later.

Perhaps my favorite part of the meeting is ending on a high note by sharing wins. Whether it’s the dread of looming projects and burning fires, or simply because it’s the middle of the week, sometimes the morning can be a less enthusiastic time of the workday. However, by celebrating the successes from the previous day, everyone gets a morning boost that proves to be much more effective than caffeine.

One additional benefit is that the morning huddle signals the start of the workday. Often, we socialize and share stories in the morning because we’re excited to see our coworkers again. This is an important benefit to my company’s culture, but sometimes it can drag on for a bit too long. I enjoy being able to socialize in the morning but also appreciate that the morning huddle signals the beginning of the work day. This helps the team unite and turn their focus to the challenges of the day.

How to Start

If you think your team could benefit from a morning huddle, here is some advice on how to start.

Build the Habit: “Same Bat-time, Same Bat-Channel”

The most important step is forming the habit with your team. It will take some discipline and willpower from you as the leader to help bring everyone together on time each morning. However, after a couple weeks, attendees will acquire the habit of showing up at the assigned spot on time and without reminders.

Once your team develops the habit, your consistency will ensure that the huddle continues for months to come. Failing to meet at the exact same time and place each day will soon result in attendees not showing up without your prodding. This isn’t resistance to the huddle – it’s confusion on when attendees should stop what they are working on and where they should gather. Avoid confusion and frustration by being disciplined and consistent.

Bring Prepared Information

Unless you have information beforehand, the morning huddle will drag on and waste others’ time. To maximize the huddle’s efficiency, ask each person to bring KPIs, priorities, or other relevant information prepared beforehand. I recommend a double-sided laminated sheet, or two separate sheets, that can carry both yesterday’s and today’s priorities. If you can put magnets on the laminated card so your team can post them on a board during the huddle for everyone to see, it can help maintain focus. After the meeting, I post my card right next to my computer for the rest of the day. When I catch myself working on other tasks that pop up, having my card right in front of me helps me refocus on what I committed to accomplish.

Scrum

As a final note for anyone starting a morning huddle, I would encourage reading up on the Scrum framework. Several months after beginning my team’s morning huddles, a coworker showed me the Wikipedia article about daily Scrum meetings. Although created for agile software development, many of the principles are the same as the morning huddle. It’s worth a quick review for some additional ideas on what may be good to incorporate based on your organization’s circumstances.

Final Thoughts

The morning huddle is also a great time to focus on safety guidelines, lean improvements, and other important initiatives. A one-minute thought prepared beforehand, if kept short, could help move these initiatives forward. Many companies, especially in Japan, encourage their workers to perform stretches before the day’s work, which helps them wake up and prepare for the day.  Most of all, make sure your morning huddle is tailored to your team and business, and do everything you can to make it short and effective.

Since implementing my team’s morning huddle many months ago, the CEO of our company has asked other departments to follow my team’s lead. Adapted for different groups, our company is trying to implement morning huddles across the entire organization as an effective way to promote accountability and productivity. So far, I’ve seen great results as we strive to be brief, unified, and positive.

What type of morning huddle does your team currently hold? What do you like and dislike about it? What other advice do you have to share? Please share your comments and thoughts below.

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