By Brian Scudamore, an EO Vancouver member and founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?
Meetings can be painful. A quarter of all office workers complain they spend more time in meetings talking about work than actually doing it. In fact, research suggests that unproductive meetings may be the biggest time thief on the job. But they’re not the only one.
Our e-mail in-boxes are crammed. Texts and calls stream in constantly. We try to bridge the gap with more technology, but these wonder apps always seem to come with their own waterfall of instant messages and cat GIFs. With all these distractions, who needs another meeting?
Well, there is one meeting that is absolutely worth everybody’s time. At my company, the short, intense, daily meetings we call huddles cut past distractions, align us on our goals and inspire our team members.
Huddles aren’t new. There are as many styles of these meetings as there are companies. But our eclectic, fast-paced, family-dinner-style formula has worked wonders for me and my team as my first brand 1-800-GOT-JUNK? has grown from a local business to one of four international brands over the years.
Our huddles are something we are known for. In fact, we believe in them so much that we often invite competitors visiting our office to join in. So what’s our secret to impactful huddles?
First, get everyone together (yes, I mean everyone)
At 10:53 a.m. every day, a bell rings through our office. Our seven-minute huddle begins at 10:55 a.m., sharp. That precise time is to reinforce the idea that every minute counts. It also comes at a time of day when everyone is in a mid-morning lull and needs a pick-me-up.
Visitors to our office see that when the huddle bell rings, people will drop what’s in their hands to rush to the meeting space. We’ve done our huddles every workday for 14 years and our staff knows missing them is non-negotiable. Everyone comes – typically, we’ll get about 100-200 people.
Start with good news
When it comes to huddles, we always start (and end) with high energy. The reality is that company news is no different than anything else in life: it ebbs and flows. Sometimes there are long runs of amazing wins, other times, there are crickets. But we always try to find something to be excited about.
Even when we were in the height of the last recession, with business down, there was always something good to keep people motivated. It can be a bit of personal good news, like someone achieving a life goal. Maybe it’s a great media hit, like the company just got featured in national news.
Have fun with it. But most of all, get your people pumped up. Good news and good thoughts help produce good work.
Talk about the critical numbers
About a minute into our huddle, we’re all feeling the energy. Now it’s time to name those critical numbers. We go over online visitors, sales calls answered and jobs completed because these are the metrics that matter to us.
Different businesses have different measuring sticks, but everyone needs a visible, consistent barometer of success. My first junk-removal company floundered because I hadn’t focused enough on the numbers. Even when I worried about achieving a particular target, my people just didn’t know or care.
I launched 1-800-GOT-JUNK? with a different strategy. I wanted to create a billion-dollar business and a known brand. If you’re dreaming big, numbers matter – and so does having employees who care about those numbers.
This part of the huddle is above all about transparency and instilling a culture where people take responsibility. How are you performing? Are you trending in the right direction? The numbers tell the story in a language everybody understands.
Find out what’s new
The midway mark of the huddle is where someone new gets a 90-second opportunity to talk about what they’re doing to drive the business forward. We calls this part “in the news”. Every department gives updates on a rotating basis, and the main takeaway is that this exercise breaks down departmental silos and ensures we’re all rowing together.
I speak from experience – we’ve grown to four brands in five years and understanding what’s happening in each department is more important than ever.
Talk about broken systems and opportunities for improvement
We’re about five minutes into the huddle. Good news has amped everyone up and an employee has shared a glimpse into his department. But now we’ve got to talk about what’s gone wrong.
We get specific: What’s broken? What’s not working? Who’s making mistakes?
One time, we talked about a communication problem that was hindering our remote presentations. The issue? A $40 piece of hardware we needed to replace. Two $20 bills and two minutes of conversation fixed a tiny problem that was costing us thousands of dollars a day in missed opportunities. Imagine if that had never been brought up?
It’s not always that easy to fix something broken in your company – and the huddle is not the place to get into the specifics of solutions. However, it’s a perfect time to bring problems into the light, especially if it’s a matter of a broken system that’s prohibiting you from maximizing revenue or driving the business forward. After the huddle, staff can take problems offline and look into more detailed fixes.
The huddle is all about high energy. It’s the last 15 seconds. We’ve got to go out on that high note.
A team cheer can be hard to pull off without being cheesy, but it can go a long way if people commit. Every single morning, we put our hands in the middle on top of each other and bring them up as we cheer something big. That could be the name of a massive contract we just landed, or maybe a trade show in Las Vegas we’re presenting at. We keep it simple, fast and fun.
The huddle saves me hundreds of e-mails and long hours in less-productive meetings. It cuts past the distractions. It connects everyone in my company in a way that technology still can’t beat. Seven minutes a day might take up two per cent of your work time – but once you start doing the huddle, you’ll wonder how you ever ran your business without it.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management.