One of the keys to any successful team is developing the right meeting rhythms. For leadership teams looking to scale the business, this rhythm is even more critical. Meeting too frequently will leave people frustrated and disengaged, but meeting to infrequently will result in a lack of alignment and coordination. Getting the timing and agendas right will create the momentum you need to accelerate your growth and improve your performance.
There are several key meetings that every leadership team needs to get right. They all done well, but there is one that proves time and again to be the most difficult for many teams. Having coached dozens of leadership teams, the daily huddle--also known as the standup--proves most challenging. The huddle demands a high degree of focus and discipline to get right.
One of the best ways I've found to make huddles run quickly and efficiently is a trick using one simple tool: the 3 x 5 inch index card.
Here's how it works.
I'll put a cup of pens and a stack of index cards where the team is going to do the huddle. At the beginning of the huddle, I have everyone take a pen and a card and I give them three minutes to write down three things for each of following three categories below.
During the huddle there are two important rules: they can only talk about things that are on the card, and the card can only have three items under each of the three categories, nine points total.
What did you accomplish yesterday?
At the top of the card, team members write down the three most important things they accomplished yesterday. Only three. I don't want a list of everything they did, the meetings they had, what they forgot to do, and what they had for lunch. Item listed need to be important and they need to be completed. This keeps people from rambling on about things that other people don't need to know about.
What are your commitments for today?
In the middle of the card, they note their top three commitments for the upcoming day. (Technically, the time between this huddle and the next one.) I don't want to see their to-do lists, just their top three items. And I don't want to see things that might get done today. I want items that will get done today. This focuses coordination on things that are highly likely to happen in the next 24 hours.
What are your three biggest obstacles?
Finally, on the bottom of the card, they write the three biggest obstacles that are currently, or will likely be, in their way. This could be resources, information, distractions, other commitments, etc. These obstacles are anything that could get in the way but only the three biggest and most likely. I do this for two reasons: one, I want to see where others can help support, and two, I want them to start thinking of mitigation strategies right away.
Why does this strategy work?
Because it avoids the three main reasons huddles typically fail. If you can avoid these, you'll have a much greater chance of success.
1. The huddle takes too long.
Huddles need to be short. No more than fifteen minutes and ideally under ten. If you run longer than that, you're taking up too much of your people's time. You're likely going too deep on issues, too. Keep it short and focused. The huddle is about coordinating and identifying issues, not resolving them.
2. People talk about issues too far in the past or future.
Huddles need to be focused on the short term: yesterday and today only. Don't let the conversation drift any farther back or forward. My rule is if it happened since the last huddle or will happen before the next huddle, it's fair game. Otherwise, it's out.
3. Too many items are brought up.
Huddles need to focus on the top priorities. If it's not a key priority, don't bring it up. There are lots of details people don't need to know. The purpose of the huddle it to coordinate and communicate the main things, not to rattle off a laundry list of minor issues and random tasks.
Using the 3 x 5 index card strategy creates a physical device that limits the scope and focuses the conversation. Some teams drop the index cards after a while, but many keep it.
Regardless of the technique you choose, implement your huddles with discipline. Keep them short, focused on the immediate time frame, and limited to the most important items. Doing so will increase their value and likelihood your team will keep up the habit.