How many football teams can you name that have successfully executed a no-huddle offense throughout an entire game? How about half a game? Or, a quarter? Not many, if any, I suspect. Rather, a typical team huddles approximately 70 times in a single three-hour game. Why? Because the team executes better when they slow things down a little, communicate, coordinate, and get everybody on the same page.
Then why do most automotive teams try to operate without huddles?
Football and the Car Business
Football provides a number of great practical parallels from which we can glean insights relative to the car business. For example, a typical football season mirrors the typical year of a car dealer—twelve games/months, four quarters/weeks, five plays/days (Ok, a football team runs more than five plays in a quarter, but you get the point).
I also like the comparison to football because the most successful and highest performing football teams seem obsessed with meetings, Yes, really. Here are just a few examples:
- All-team meetings: for general housekeeping and to discuss topics not covered in other meetings.
- Practices: to develop and hone skills and perfect plays necessary to execute an effective game plan.
- Pre-game meetings: to prepare the team mentally for the upcoming game.
- Half-time meetings: to regroup and make adjustments relative to things experienced in the first half.
- Post-game meetings: to debrief the game, gain closure relative to the outcome, and gain perspective for next steps in the season.
- Time outs: to discuss near-term situational strategy and tactics.
- Game tape review sessions: to identify what went right and/or wrong so as to focus practice time most effectively.
- 1:1s: between a coach and his player to talk about personal performance, development, and attitude.
- Huddles: to provide focus, clarity, and alignment for the next play to be executed.
Better Leaders, Better Meetings
Regardless of how you feel about meetings, I contend that leaders do their most important work in meetings! In fact, you can tell a lot about a leader by the quality of their meetings—better leaders conduct better meetings!
Meetings are critical forums within which leadership takes place. And, if a leader is not participating in a meeting, communicating with and influencing those they are leading, they are not doing the work of a leader, but rather the work of a manager or producer. It is not surprising that the author of Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni, states that the health of an organization is more evident by observing its various organizational meetings than reviewing financial statements. Financial statements provide a rearview of the road travelled, whereas meetings provide a windshield view of the journey ahead.
Ask anybody what they feel is the biggest area of opportunity for improvement in their store and they will invariably put communication high on, if not at the top of, their list. Effective communication, however, doesn’t happen by default or in a vacuum. I contend that communication requires five key ingredients to be effective:
- a common place/forum,
Leaders must be purposeful in bringing people together on a regular basis, and create an environment where good communication can take place. Leaders need to focus teams around common goals, keep the mood predominantly positive, and instill a high degree of trust so that productive debate can take place. Hence, good communication comes from good meetings, which are orchestrated by good leaders.
Conducting good meetings is a combination of art and science, both of which can be learned. Bad meetings, on the other hand, require no learning and little intentional action, which is why they are all too common. Most bad meetings happen when people try to combine all of the good reasons for meetings into a single meeting—something Lencioni calls “meeting soup”—or when people gather reactively to put out fires and when emotions are elevated. Instead, leaders need to get their teams working proactively, when emotions are under control, and when efforts can be directed forward rather than in untangling the past.
Everybody Benefits from Huddles
I believe one of the most important meetings, most efficient, most beneficial, yet least understood, and most underutilized, is the daily huddle.
Huddles are simple, short, and focused meetings that have an incredibly high return on investment. Yet, for some reason, they are one of the most ignored and underutilized meetings in business. Why? I think it has something to do with ignorance, naivety, or even arrogance. Otherwise why would anybody opt for a no-huddle offense that has been proven to be less effective and harder to execute?
A typical football huddle involves six key elements:
- Gather: Bring everybody together;
- Inform: Provide clarity around the upcoming play;
- Focus: Reduce distractions, whether internal or external, and increase attention on the immediate task;
- Align: With everybody gathered the same message is heard and everyone benefits from questions asked by others;
- Motivate: Infuse energy and reduce energy drains;
- Briefness: They usually take about 10-20 seconds and nobody sits.
So, how can an automobile dealership benefit from a huddle? Exactly the same way a football team does, by appropriately applying the six elements, as follows:
- Gather: Bring the team together—individual departments or even the whole store—in a central and consistent place every day—conference room, showroom, middle of an open area office, middle of the shop, etc. Consistency of time and place is important, as is starting on time and everybody attending. A small investment of time in the daily huddle will turn into time savings and increased productivity when all of the impromptu questions that are normally asked individually throughout the day are saved for and brought up at the next huddle.
- Inform: Keep the team informed of what is generally happening in the store, cascade appropriate items from other meetings, and ensure clarity. Everybody likes to be in the know, in fact, if something is happening in the store people will talk and rumors will spread. It is better to proactively provide accurate information to fill potential gaps, which others will otherwise fill with misinformation, requiring even more precious time and energy to dispel later.
- Focus: Eliminate obstacles by asking what issues the team is facing and what is keeping them from doing their work or achieving agreed goals. Lots of things can happen throughout the day or before the start of the next workday that can have an impact on forward-focused effort. Recognizing and dealing with issues and potential distractions, whether internal or external, will increase attention on the immediate task. The huddle is not the time to work through the issues, but for the leader to be made aware and take notes. Stated issues will need to be resolved separately, possibly collaborating with select team members in a follow-up meeting, with solutions brought back to a future huddle.
- Align: With everybody gathered the same message can be heard and everyone benefits from answers provided. One of the biggest reasons for misalignment is when information is provided individually, rather than to the entire group, or not at all. Think of the game we used to play as kids when we gathered in a circle and whispered a simple message in each other’s ear. The message reported by the last person is usually radically different from the one spoken at the outset. It is best to give everybody clear and correct information directly, at the same time, and as soon as possible.
- Motivate: Ask how you can better support your people as they strive to achieve their goals. Increase energy levels and decrease energy drains. Keep the team moving forward, while dealing with obstacles that otherwise impede progress. Take notes and provide 1:1 coaching independently as appropriate.
- Briefness: Huddles should not take more than 3-5 minutes, or they will lose their effectiveness. Every team can dedicate a few minutes early in the day, no matter how busy they are—even busy service departments! To keep huddles brief, have the team stand and move through the format with a sense of urgency. If there is a need to discuss any topic in greater depth a separate meeting may be needed. Don’t add to the format and thereby create meeting soup, which diminishes the value of the huddle.
Take the Huddle Challenge
Want to increase the productivity and effectiveness of your team? Take the huddle challenge. For an entire month do the following:
- Gather your team every day in a consistent place for 3-5 minutes. Have everybody stand, start on time, and keep the meeting moving. If you cannot be there, have somebody else lead the huddle. Avoid cancelling huddles if at all possible as every cancellation reduces momentum.
- 30-60 seconds: Inform them of anything going on in the store—current sales promotions, achievements, new hires, milestones, up-coming staff events, etc. Give others an opportunity to add information that you may not already be aware of. It is important that on the first huddle you take a little extra time to explain why you want to meet daily for huddles and what you anticipate the benefits to be. Be transparent and ask the team to take this journey with you over the next month.
- 1-2 minutes: Ask what issues are keeping them from being able to do their jobs or achieving their goals. Have your pen and paper ready to take notes. If an issue can be resolved with a five-second response go ahead and do so, but resist the urge to resolve everything on the spot or the huddle will turn into a longer and different kind of meeting.
- 1-2 minutes: Ask how you as the leader and/or their teammates can better support them as they attempt to do their jobs.
- At the end of the first huddle ask the team what time they feel will work best for future huddles. It is best that they take place as early in the day as possible, but they can theoretically happen any time of the day as long as you do them consistently.
A word of caution: If you choose to take the huddle challenge, be aware that the team may be skeptical, non-communicative, and standoffish at first. They may cynically wonder if you have a hidden agenda. It is also human nature any time you start something new for people to secretly assume you have an ulterior motive, especially if your store has a culture of introducing lots of new ideas that turn out to be “flavors of the month” due to poor follow-through. If you demonstrate your commitment by doing a huddle every day your team will increasingly engage and the huddle will become more effective.
As you enjoy positive results (better communication, collaboration, cohesion, clarity, productivity, and effectiveness—even time savings) from your huddles don’t be surprised when the team wants to continue past the initial month and adopt huddles as part of your new store culture.
Author: Herb K. Mast
Herb Mast is President of COHESION, inc and is devoted to helping Car Dealers engage their ultimate potential and get better results by doing things with greater intentionality in the areas of leadership, teamwork, and organizational health. Additional insights and practical solutions are available on Herb’s blog at www.HealthyDEALER.com.