Among some entrepreneurial companies whose employees do go the extra mile, a common feature is a regular employee huddle. By huddles, I don’t mean staff meetings but rather regular peer-to-peer discussions, usually no more than 15 to 30 minutes daily or weekly, designed to support a self-directing, self-correcting workforce. Supervisors participate, but they don’t run the show.
Some huddles focus on recent customer feedback to call out a great interaction that delighted a customer or to explore a problem and share ideas for how to fix it. Others focus on coordination issues to prepare for a big event. Process huddles focus on key performance indicators—such as first-call resolution for a call center or sales for a store—so that the team can discuss opportunities for improvement.
No matter what the type of huddle, it serves several purposes.
Reinforcing commitment to customers. At one retail store group, team leaders give a shout-out to an individual who gets a heartfelt thank-you from a customer. Other companies use role-playing to help employees learn best practices. These huddles are a constant reminder about earning the enthusiastic advocacy of customers.
Giving and receiving help. Huddles help team members to work together rather than separately. People talk about issues that they have been struggling with and compare notes about possible solutions. They commit to making improvements and hold one another accountable for taking action. (“Over the next two weeks, I will try out Alison’s new approach.”)
Escalating broader issues. Huddles give teams a chance to identify issues that require the attention of another function or level of the organization. Someone mentions a corporate procedure he believes needs to be changed, and others chime in that they’ve run into that same issue. The supervisor’s job isn’t to defend the policy, it is to channel concerns and suggestions like these to the leaders who can make the necessary decisions.
At a growing company, huddles are an effective way for people to get to know each other better. They come to feel that they have support from their colleagues and a place to take their concerns. One manager at a car rental company told me, “What’s great is to see how the huddle can make employees more comfortable giving each other feedback…. They’re challenging each other and patting each other on the back when it’s due.”
Successful huddles require practice and experience. In the best ones, every team member actively contributes and most team members prepare in advance. Rather than feeling compelled to provide a solution to every problem, supervisors ask open-ended questions and encourage team members to offer suggestions. They let the employees run the discussion. This Socratic approach elicits the creativity of employees who know your customers best and reinforces the message that the company listens to both its customers and its employees.
Written by James Allen, co-leader of the global strategy practice at Bain & Company and co-author of the upcoming book “The Founder’s Mentality.”