Hail to the huddle!
What the NFL huddle can offer to corporate leaders and their teams
In celebration of NFL Super Bowl LIII it seems fitting to share a few ideas about what corporate team leaders can learn from the most frequent activity during the game—eating, not included! I am talking about the huddle–the structured, "get-together" for players to make sure they are aligned, have clearly defined goals, and each member understands their role. The meetings are usually very short, on-point, and don't involve a lot of dialogue. Players listen, and leave the huddle prepared to execute. If only corporate meetings could operate with that same efficiency.
Can you imagine asking your team to gather for just 30 seconds and everyone leaving with a sense of defined mission, roles, responsibilities, and even awareness of threats to success—like that intimidating blitzing linebacker? That's what happens in an NFL huddle.
Think about your 30 second Monday morning meeting. Your team members gather and you say, "Gun, empty right 681, H-Drag, Z-Dig, X-Go, break." Everyone is set for success. Meeting adjourned. In case you don't know, Gun refers to the shotgun formation, quarterback several steps away from the center. 681 explains a few things. 6=protection 600 scheme for the linemen, 80 specifies a particular QB dropback, and 1 refers to the vertical spread dependent on depth passing routes. Further information such as drag, dig or go are communicated to specific backfield players (H, Z, X). All in all, pretty efficient.
So what can we learn from the NFL Huddle?
1. Meeting agenda is understood by all attending
One main leader who directs the meeting and calls the play. Not a place for discussion or much feedback. There are circumstances where a player will suggest something about the coverage or a specific opposition player but this is more the exception than the rule.
2. Team Leader has consulted with advisors and is aligned system-wide
The quarterback frequently hears calls or feedback from the coaching staff based on information being synthesized in real time by several expert advisors.
3. Team members come to the meeting prepared
The quarterback's call would be gibberish to most of us but the players in that "meeting" have studied the playbook, understand their responsibility, practiced playing their role for hundreds of hours, and fluently speak the very efficient "foreign language" used by the team leader.
4. The rhythm of frequent team meetings is critical
Team members rely on the consistency of the huddle. Almost immediately after the play has ended, players head for the huddle. They understand time is precious and are rarely late. They understand how each member in the huddle is dependent on the others. Everyone follows protocol or the entire team is penalized.
5. Occasionally, take time to encourage a team member that has made a mistake
Dropped balls, fumbles, missed assignments are all part of life, in the NFL or at your company. A quick comment, a glance or word of encouragement can help a team member get back in the game.
Not that I can verify, but Super Bowl folklore has it that the best in-the-huddle comment happened in Super Bowl XXIII. 49ers are down 16-13, and have the ball at their own 10 yard line, with three minutes left. The Bengals defense has pretty much shut them down all day long. They huddle up, and Joe Montana says, "Hey guys, isn't that John Candy in the stands?"
Broke the tension, and, of course, they marched down the field, scored a touchdown, and won the Super Bowl.
The huddle concept is commonplace in technology circles. While not exactly the same, the highly refined plan, specific roles, responsibilities and duties, and defined timeframe all embrace the rigid structure of a huddle.
As time becomes even more precious, the efficiency and effectiveness of huddles is being embraced by leading companies. The Ritz-Carlton uses huddles to help staff get into a customer service mind-set before the start of their shift. "Employees benefit from an activity that will provide a transition from the mindset they 'brought in the door' to the mindset your organization would like them to bring to customers. The Daily Line-Up gives employees the opportunity to shift gears to a work mentality before they ever meet a customer…".
No matter who you root for, as you replay the game, take a few minutes to marvel that noteworthy meeting that happens 100-150 times in an average 3-hour game—Hail to the huddle! The most efficient team meeting you will ever witness.