Published: October 19, 2020

Six months ago, few local governments had telework policies in place. In response to the statewide COVID-19 shutdown, remote work very quickly became the norm.

Today, Washington’s local governments are facing different challenges. Some teams have become a hybrid of in-office and remote workers, to accommodate individual needs and duties. Or maybe, based on your experience, you are now considering remote work as a possibility for the future, a great perk that can help you recruit from a wider pool of candidates.

This is the second in a series of three posts about managing remote teams based on insights from Lean principles. In the first post, we looked at corralling the number of communication channels you use and monitor. This time, we look at how to keep a team in sync with each other and senior leadership.

Speed of changes sometimes outpaces communication

When employees are dispersed, from both each other and their managers, one significant risk is that emergent problems on the frontline may not be visible. Developing a structure to ensure updates are timely, sorted, and prioritized can be an executive’s greatest tool, particularly when the facts on the ground are changing rapidly.

A system of tiered “huddles” can help address this situation. A huddle is simply a short, structured meeting of peers and their leader to exchange critical information and coordinate activities for the near term, one or possibly two days at a time. Each huddle helps team members cooperate more closely with each other.

However, the true power of the daily huddle comes when a whole organization commits and coordinates. In this model of tiered huddles, frontline workers meet with their supervisors the first 15 minutes of the day, say from 7 to 7:15 a.m. Supervisors get a short window to gather more information on topics that were raised in the huddle. Then, from 8 to 8:15 a.m., the supervisors meet with their peers and area manager. At 9 am, managers and the chief executive meet and – voilà! – situational awareness reaches the highest levels before the morning is half over!

So let’s take a closer look at what happens at just one huddle.

Huddles follow a pattern

Effective huddles tend to follow a few key principles.

  • Meet on a regular cadence that matches the rhythm of your work. A Public Works team where assignments change daily should meet daily. A Permitting group may choose to meet twice a week because the tasks they work on change more slowly.
  • Keep it short. A daily huddle is a strict 15 minutes. A twice-weekly huddle might be 30 minutes. Don’t let it run long!
  • Keep it small. The group to gather is the group that works closely together. A manager may need to attend more than one huddle per day, but that is OK because the huddles are short. If it is not possible for everyone to actively participate every time you meet, your group is too big. Small meeting = engaged people.
  • Keep to a script. There are only three questions.
  1. Big wins since the last huddle. Not every accomplishment – what stands out as extraordinary?
  2. Priorities for the next period. What is essential to get done? And what do you need from your team members to meet that goal?
  3. Barriers. Is there anything that could prevent you from doing what must be done?
  • Huddle leaders use these reports to triage. Determine if items are barriers you can remove later in the day, tasks to delegate to team members, or larger opportunities that will require a small group to understand in greater depth.
  • Keep to the script. Really. Here are some things that aren’t on the script:
  1. How is the family?
  2. Everything on your to-do list.
  3. And the big one: problem solving. The purpose of the huddle is to identify the challenges encountered yesterday and the potential barriers for today. Addressing those problems is best taken care of with a smaller group, later in the day.

Huddles pay dividends

Organizations with daily huddles report many positive outcomes. One fixed meeting a day actually frees up time because everyone knows when to expect the opportunity to raise a topic. Important messages from the top of the organization are communicated more effectively because they are all shared at the same time instead of numerous one-on-one meetings. Standard meeting times throughout the organization make it easier to find time for cross-department gatherings later in the day. Cohesion and cooperation among team members increase as the team members find opportunities to support each other to meet critical goals.

We are here to help

We are here to support your great public service – what people want, sooner, more accurately – and our services come at no charge to you. The Center for Government Innovation provides technical assistance and process improvement facilitation to any local government in Washington. Because we specialize in working with local governments, we can tailor our services to fit your needs. Reach out to us at center@sao.wa.gov.

Additional resources on tiered huddles

There are many other people writing about this topic. Just search the internet for “Daily huddle importance” and you can find plenty of useful suggestions.

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