A recent study by Longqi Yang, David Holtz, and others of more than 60,000 Microsoft associates working remotely during the pandemic, published by Nature Human Behaviour, found that the shift to companywide remote work made workers feel less interconnected and "caused the collaboration network to become more heavily siloed." The group further noted that workers did not seek to make up for this lack of connectedness and silo behavior via audio or video calls, as one might expect, but instead "remote work caused employees to communicate more through media that are more asynchronous--sending more emails and many more IMs." Unfortunately, this wave of written communication only serves to make things worse.
For starters, the sheer volume of emails and text messages is creating significant job dissatisfaction among workers. A recent survey conducted by Wakefield Research for email platform Superhuman found that more than a third of WFH respondents want to quit their jobs because of the volume of email and Slack and Teams messages. The same survey reported a virtual tie in preference between bathroom cleaning and sorting through a week of work messages. As if negative employee sentiment isn't reason enough to rethink things, an overreliance on written communication opens the door to a rash of errors and miscommunication.
To help illustrate this, during our client engagements, I'll ask them, as a group, to count the F's in the following, simple sentence while I hum the tune to the television show Jeopardy.
FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.
Invariably, clients provide a range of answers, between three and six. The answer is, in fact, six. But the exercise points out that, even in a simple 16-word sentence, people come away with vastly different conclusions. People miss even simple, little details. Now, ratchet this up across hundreds of thousands of sentences in thousands of written communications each month. It's no wonder that a recent study from Salesforce found that 86 percent of respondents pointed to ineffective communication as the number one cause of workplace failures. So, what's the answer to far-flung teammates failing to communicate?
It's a simple huddle at the beginning of every day.
The daily huddle meeting is exactly what its name implies. It's a short, five to 10 minute meeting at the start of each day that requires all associates in a company, department, or team to gather together to set the tone for and discuss the priorities for each day, while also reviewing both the good and not so good things that might have happened the day before, and ending by identifying any obstacles that stand between the team and achieving its goals. There are a few other key attributes of the daily huddle meeting that make it particularly unique, and accordingly effective.
- The meeting should be interactive, not just leader talks, everyone listens.
- If the team is ahead of or behind plan for the week or month, know why, and leave with a plan to fix it or do more of what's causing the surplus.
- No one sits down; even associates at home or working remotely should stand.
- The meeting happens each day without fail, even if the leader cannot attend.
- The meeting starts on time, every time, without fail.
- Strategic or more complex issues should not be discussed in this meeting.
- Celebrate wins and personal milestones or achievements.
- Positively resolve to address opportunities or gaps and course correct.
And while there's no precise formula for a one-size-fits-all daily huddle agenda, there are ideal outcomes to consider. The best daily huddle meetings are about bringing teams together to effectively meet the challenges of each day.
According to MIT Sloan School of Management's senior lecturer of system dynamics, Steven Spear, "A key function of any organization is to align the efforts of many talented individuals toward a common purpose. To do that, they have to be in the right collaborative conversations with the right other people about the right topics to advance their shared understanding. That's a structural issue; making sure the 'social circuitry' of who is connected to whom is working." There's another issue, he says. "Working toward common purpose depends on solving problems about what to do, why to do it, and how to get it done with frequency, speed, and competency." Daily huddles, says Spear, provide both the right connectivity and a forum for collaborative problem solving.
The goal of the daily huddle meeting should never be to meet for the sake of meeting, nor should it be used as a ploy to get everyone to show up on time. The daily huddle should reduce other, less productive interactions and reactive follow-ups, while helping to create a more cohesive and productive work unit. That's exactly what's happened at HR and talent acquisition platform Lensa. I spoke with CEO Gergo Vari, who told me, "Our daily huddle meetings set the stage for the day, help us identify potential roadblocks, and give everyone a chance to be heard. They also help ensure that we're all on the same page and working toward the same goals."
For those whose business includes environmental, safety, and health considerations, the daily huddle meeting is a perfect time to review a daily ESH message and to perform occupation stretching exercises as well. Doing so should, over time, result in fewer recordable injuries, lower workers' compensation costs, and an associate body who watch out for each other more often. I know that the teams I led experienced these things and more as a result of incorporating ESH and stretching into our huddles. One bit of advice, though: If you ask one part of your organization to stretch, ask the entire organization to stretch. It may seem odd for the office staff at first, but after a short while, when the whole place knows that no one, including the owner and the CEO, is above stretching every day, the level of buy-in and engagement will skyrocket.
One last bit of advice: Be prepared for some pushback at first. The daily huddle brings with it accountability, visibility, and open conversation. These won't always be everyone's cup of tea ... at least at first. But don't give up. After two business weeks, it will become a habit and a practice your associates will increasingly look forward to. Volodymyr Shchegel, VP of engineering at cybersecurity firm Clario, agrees. He shared with me that after some early annoyances during implementation, "initial resistance to the virtual huddle has shifted to an insistence that it continue."
The daily huddle meeting has been a part of my workday for a significant portion of my career. The practice has moved along with me because it works; it's helped drive heightened morale and engagement, improved alignment, and increased performance, as well as better safety compliance in each place I've implemented it. For small-business leaders, particularly those struggling to manage hybrid workforces, it just might be the best 10-minute investment of time you'll ever make. If you've been running your business on a no-huddle offense until now and aren't sure about the results, maybe it's time to give the daily huddle a try.