I attribute much of my success in leading creative people to having strong rhythms in place throughout my organization. In fact, as I type this, I realize how absolutely nerdy and uncool it may sound -- but I'd go so far as to say the rhythms I've developed and implemented, may be one of the most critical, most impactful organizational practices of all.
But first, a note about rhythm.
You can't have music without rhythm. It's the essential ingredient to all music. In fact, melodies and harmonies and all of that good stuff doesn't really exist without rhythm. It's the core that binds everything together. And the same can be said for people systems. Especially when working with creatives.
The primary, over-arching rhythms I've designed for the creative people I lead are actually quite elaborate. In fact, just thinking about it sorta makes my head spin. In this essay, I'm providing an introduction to rhythms and I'll elaborate on daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual rhythms in later entries. And if you don't read any further, know this: without strong rhythms among creative people, sooner or later you'll likely be at risk for varying levels of communication breakdown, internal dysfunction, and chaos. Trust me.
But first -- why is rhythm so important in the first place? To many, I'm sure it sounds like a lot of wasted time. We've all got far too many meetings, huddles, and conference calls already, right?
In my experience, high structure and strong processes, dovetailed with clear and frequent communication, is a blueprint for success in creative work environments. Rhythms give everyone regular, reliable opportunities to give and receive information. Rhythms help keep everyone aligned and on the same page. And they keep everyone's awareness up, so people can pivot, make adjustments, and give their attention and resources to wherever it's most needed. Most of all, rhythms give everyone in the organization a peace of mind -- knowing they'll always be kept in the know, they'll always be well-connected to their team, and knowing there'll always be opportunities to ask questions, to care and be cared for, and to learn about and give input on the most critical matters.
Morning Huddle Magic
The real value of a Morning Huddle is to set up the blueprint for the day. And in less than 10 minutes, every single person in the organization knows exactly what they need to know to succeed that day. It provides a level of awareness, alignment and synchronization that's impossible to get any other way. Here's how we do it:
At exactly 9:22am every team gathers for a standing huddle. Each of them arrive with a small, pocket sized notebook, with their "daily status" already written down and complete. The Team Leader may facilitate and get things started, though there's value in rotating that responsibility.
There's exactly seven items contained in a daily status report, and each of them should be no more than 3-4 words max.
The Daily Status Report
- The Weather
- #1 Objective for the day
- #1 Challenge for the day
- Is there a crisis anywhere on the horizon?
- Any Out of Office plans within the next week?
- Personal share (optional)
Now let's define what each of these means.
- The Weather quite literally means the current state of one's life -- or at least their work life. Are you doing well? If so, you might say your weather is "75 and sunny." If you're having a hard day, you might say "100 degrees" or "stormy." My Leadership Team has evolved to simply naming a temperature that correlates with their current state and we all automatically know that if someone gets into the upper 80's or higher, then they may be having a hard time or might need some help. If someone says 100 degrees, we might stop the huddle for an intervention.
- Sharing a Gratitude is pretty straight forward. Research has proven the positive impacts that can be made by simply verbalizing what's good and what you're thankful for. It's science. Shaun Achor's book, "The Happiness Advantage" speaks to this as well. Highly recommended.
- The #1 Objective for the day should be specific and measurable. "Getting through my email" wouldn't be an acceptable response.
- The #1 Challenge is similar -- it needs to be specific and measurable. Sharing your #1 Challenge is important because you never know when a teammate might be able to help or support you in it. And who knows, someone else might even have the solution.
- Asking "Is there a Crisis anywhere on the horizon?" is a ritual that keeps everyone's antennes up and communication high, asking the ever important question: "are there any MAJOR, crisis-level problems out there, or even potentially out there, that anyone is aware of?" The sooner you can identify a potential crisis, the better. And if your company is healthy and strong, the answer to this is almost always no.
- Out of Office plans during the next week is obvious. This is a nice, built in way of keeping your core team aware.
- Personal Share. This one is optional, but it's a wonderful opportunity (especially for Leaders) to share what's going on in your own personal life with the people you work the closest with. For instance, if your dog just died or if you are going through a break-up -- that would be a pretty important thing to tell your team, so they might be able to care for you through it. Or if you're starting a 30-day cleanse -- that might be good to share too, so your teammates will know why you're so irritable in the afternoon. And if you had a rough night sleeping -- that would probably be helpful for your colleagues to know, so they can take it easy on you if things get tough during the day. Things to celebrate are good shares too. Every little bit you can open up and share has the ability to help with chemistry, expectations, collaboration and care among your team.
Because everyone arrives to the huddle on time and arrives prepared with their daily status report, written down beforehand in their little notebook, these huddles should ideally take about 5-8 minutes, depending on how many people are in the team. The teams I work with tend to have between 3 to 7 people. The maximum a huddle should take is 12 minutes.
These are designed to be a highly efficient, lean and mean, quick-fire exchange of information -- no deep dives or conversations that lead to rabbit trails. If that happens, quickly identify it and say "let's connect about that topic after the meeting or at another time," so you're not requiring everyone's time and attention. And standing-up totally matters. Energy is different when people are standing. Being on your feet signals the brain that we’re moving. Even the most long-winded people will be more focused and will stay on topic better.
At my organization, the Leadership Team meets at 9:36am, immediately following the 9:22am team huddles. This is so critical communication can flow up and back down if necessary, when the Team Leads return back to their respective teams.
Whenever someone is Out of the Office on business, like a business trip or client meeting or an offsite, everyone is responsible for sending their Daily Status reports to their team before 9:22am. We use Slack.
Also worth noting -- successful sports teams use huddles very similarly, to quickly sync-up, check-in on each other, boost morale, and to call the play. This is essentially the same thing.
It's fast, it's efficient, and best of all -- it's effective. And in an instant, a team becomes aligned, in-sync, aware, and ready to tackle whatever the day may throw at them.
One final word of caution: This is hard. The Morning Huddle requires a level of commitment, discipline, rigidity, and all-out hardcore, nerd-dom that's on a level unto itself. If you attempt to do this half-way or half-assed, it most definitely won't work. Like a new early morning workout routine, it's actually pretty hard to get started and implemented. But it's so worth it.