Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Huddle

When Jon Congdon, President of Product Partners, leaves the country on business/vacation each year, I sit in on his regular staff meetings for a couple weeks. This year has been especially eye-opening!

From Monday to Friday, it seemed like I kept having the same meeting, with the same 7 people, plus or minus two, discussing the same activities! As I looked around the room and added up the burn-rate per hour, it seemed clear I had found a leak. "This has got to change" I thought.

But by the weekend I realized I was completely informed as to what was happening within each department on key decisions we had made. When marketing makes a move - and they make a lot of them, telemarketing, operations, and customer service generally are in on it because of these meetings. When information systems contemplated cutting over this weekend to a new processing platform, the company was informed, and everyone who needs to be in on that process has been alert to it all weekend, despite the holiday.

These were not "meetings" where the suits talk, and the staff is twiddling their thumbs to pass the time - these were critical "huddles" on highly detail-oriented maneuvers. Just like a football team will circle up into a huddle to make sure everyone is in on the play, my team was doing the same.

If you have good people ("players") and make sure everyone understands their assignment in whatever decision is being made (the "play") then out of the huddle everyone can split-off and perform their function. The key is to make sure you have great players, and then to keep the huddle brief so everyone shows up ready to get the information and then get back to execution.

As I consider the metaphor of the huddle across other activities, this regular perspective on group communication started to show its value in motivation. What we're doing with the 100lb Club can be seen as a huddle of sorts. In fact I intend to discuss with our motivation staff how we might create regular "huddles" so people know that if they check in on these sessions, they will be likely to stay more consistent.

Today I searched around the web to see if I was late to the concept -- if "huddles" were being applied elsewhere. I read how the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was using huddles to describe weekly bible study and how the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Boston, Massachusetts was using their concept of huddles to promote faster communication in shorter meetings.

For anyone who loathes the concept of a meeting when the demands for productivity are piling up, to think of the meeting as a huddle might change your perspective. It might even help you determine if your presence is really needed. I can remember when I was on the Beachbody Across America trip on a chartered plane a few years ago, gathering testimonials for the Power Half Hour program, the production crew at Mega Mace would get together every night to discuss the way the shoots from the day had gone, and to discuss the plan for the next day. I remember being critical of all these meetings. But in retrospect, that trip went incredibly smooth because of their nightly huddle. I didn't need to be in on them, but they were critical for the key players of that frenetic ten day trip.

The concept of the huddle has shifted my judgment on meetings, from thinking of them as a creeping virus of bureaucracy, to a management opportunity for better team execution. In fact, as a guy who generally prefers to work on his own, the concept of the huddle actually opened me up to embrace a more collaborative role.

Sometimes I get weekend ideas and insights that fizzle by Monday, but I wouldn't be surprised this one is a turning point for the quality and quantity of productivity I am able to accomplish, thanks to a simple shift in perspective on the need for intra-company communication... Huddle up!


Mary Cecy said...

Thanks for letting us in that change of mind. HUDDLES: great way of seeing a meeting. Now can I pick your brain when you have some time? I might need your help.

mermandrea said...

I've found that even with my students....children (early elementary aged).. the idea of "huddles", class meetings as we call them, is very productive and condusive to success.
There is more "buy in" on whatever we're discussing....
Whatever choices or decisions that are made are more likely to be carried out and the cooperation within the group is higher when all involved with the decision are IN on the making of the choice...... Even when the actual variables are chosen by me (that's the case most of the time!!!)... they get to choose between one or more scenarios to be carried out in the classroom.

Brad said...

Carl --

Huddling is a fairly well-known meeting concept, and it's use is fairly widespread in industry. Here's the rub, though -- huddling works best only after you've established a crystal-clear vision, and role clarity, within whatever type of team you're meeting with -- management, project, cross-functional, ad-hoc, etc. It works best for quick check-ins and to ensure your project plans are on track. I wouldn't recommend supplanting all team meetings with huddles, since the format doesn't allow for much behavioral lattitude -- in other words, people will be less inclined to surface disconfirming information, for fear of prolonging a short format. But in general, huddling is a great format for making more frequent contact with your people -- always a good thing.

Talking about organizational effectivenss, as a customer, it seems that your organization has some issues with fulfillment. Although I am LOVING Power 90, it took a long time (3 weeks)to get to my door -- and though I ordered and have paid for a P90X trial in late May, I still haven't received it as of July 8. I've also noticed that other users of your products have been frustrated by the long wait between order and receipt of the product.

There's no question that you and Jon are marketing whiz's -- you've created a phenomenal message, and in my opinion, you've created a superior product -- along with a wonderful infrastructure for your user community to support one another. But if I were a competitor, I could exploit your lack of responsiveness by ensuring that people get their product within 5 days of their order -- guaranteed. One could even argue that slow fulfillment interferes with the motivating factors that incent a customer to pick up the phone and order the product.

Are you aware of this issue? If so, have you identified the root cause? Are you working on it? Please let me know -- and also let me know if I could be of help. As an organizational effectiveness consultant, I have worked with many companies on issues such as these, and as a customer who believes in your mission and enjoys your product, I'd love to help on this, or any other effectivenss issues you might have as you are growing. You can contact me through my Website,

Thanks, and all the best,


Carl Daikeler said...

Thanks for the insight Brad. We are aware of the issue, and have been fighting to find the most cost-efficient/time-efficient solution for years. It's a moving target actually. I'm not sure why your product fell int eh cracks (I believe our average is 10 days for normal processing/shipping)

Ironically -- the meetings I was refering to in this blog post were all surrounding improvement plans for operations, particularly order-taking, fulfillment, and processing.

Jennifer Evenson said...


I'm a little late to this comment party, but wanted to mention a book. Have you read "Death by Meeting" by Patrick Lencioni?

It's a good, fast read. In it, Lencioni presents a model for using multiple types of meetings for different purposes. He calls the daily meeting simply the "Daily Check-In". It's a 5 minute meeting conducted standing up -- great analogy to a huddle.

Like you, I also enjoy studying what makes a company successful, and I've found all of Lencioni's books interesting. Check them out if you get a chance.

Take care,