Change Your Meeting, Change Your Culture

by Balfour Beatty

Meetings have become one of the leading topics of workplace humor, so much that Buzzfeed recently ranked the hashtag #thismeetingispointless as more popular than #needmorecoffee. Perhaps our collective contempt for meetings stems from the fact that they’re frequently unproductive, consuming valuable time, energy, and resources. Online scheduling service Doodle recently quantified this waste. In a study of 19 million meetings, Doodle projected that the cost of poorly organized meetings in 2019 would reach almost $400 billion in the U.S. 

When we’re already inundated with meetings, the prospect of adding another into our daily routines seems counterproductive. For job site teams feeling the crunch of a stretched labor market and increasingly accelerated schedules, time isn’t just money—it’s their most valuable resource.

At Balfour Beatty, we believe that the daily huddle1 is a type of meeting that creates real value, and when properly executed, has the power to save time and increase productivity. The goal of the meeting is simple: quickly create understanding and alignment on where trades are working and identify any needs for crews to achieve production targets for the day. More specifically, huddles help teams check that work is progressing according to plan, and if it is not, identify what is needed to improve.  

So what makes the daily huddle unique? If you ask Balfour Beatty’s national lean construction leader, Bevan Mace, the difference lies in the discipline. That discipline extends to every facet of the huddle, from who attends to where it occurs, what is discussed, and how long the meeting lasts. The concept of a huddle is not new; it has been used by sports teams for decades and is based on relatively straightforward concepts. But some subtle lean practices and philosophies distinguish a well-executed job site huddle. 

Who attends a huddle? The huddle should be an informal but well-organized meeting that takes place in the Gemba, or where the work is being performed. Attendees should include a facilitator and key trade forepersons/supervisors. As a project progresses, those trade representatives are likely to change, growing or reducing in number, but the goal remains to optimize the size of the huddle. 

Who leads a huddle? While most meetings are run with a top-down approach in which the leader or facilitator does most of the talking, a daily huddle should be just the opposite—the people responsible for overseeing and/or performing the work should be the central contributors. Like a quarterback or sports team captain, the huddle leader should be empowered to drive accountability and align the team on daily priorities. Best project teams rotate who leads the huddle, so everyone learns how to facilitate.

“Teammates in a variety of positions and authority levels are asked to take responsibility for various aspects of the huddle,” explains Amanda Patton, IPD manager and member of Balfour Beatty’s PennFIRST team leading the construction of a 1.5-million-square-foot hospital on Penn Medicine’s West Philadelphia campus. “Anyone can be an effective contributor at a huddle meeting, regardless of seniority,” adds Mace. 

What does a huddle look like and how long should it last? Huddles should be conducted with all attendees standing up because that posture creates a sense of urgency to finish the meeting. This urgency is driven by the 15-minute target maximum recommended length of a daily huddle. While this may seem like an incredibly short duration given the coordination required on complex construction projects and the potential number of trades involved, it can be achieved when teams start and end their huddles on time, come to the huddle prepared and remain 100% focused. 

What information should be discussed in a huddle? On any project, it’s important to build rapport among teammates. The daily huddle creates a collaborative, team-first culture by allowing trades to address their needs together in a psychologically safe environment. In a daily huddle, each trade foreperson/supervisor should answer the following questions:

  • Did we meet our plan the previous day? Providing an account of the previous day or work shift’s accomplishments and/or shortcomings creates a shared understanding of the current state. 
  • What is our plan for today? This not only establishes a shared understanding but also creates an added layer of accountability when teams commit publicly. 
  • What do we need to meet our plan? This helps teams coordinate efforts and resolve barriers to achieving goals, such as needing a key detail from the designer, needing another trade to perform some missing work, or even one trade’s laydown materials that may be blocking access.

“I’ve witnessed trades improve their collaboration beyond the huddle,” observes Paul Studley, superintendent on a confidential corporate interiors renovation in the Northwest. “They have collaborated before coming to the huddle in the morning and are progressively better informed of status and constraints.” 

When conducting a huddle, a best practice is to make the weekly work plan and look-ahead schedule visible. Trades often find the exercise of marking up drawings with the type(s) of activities occurring in each work area and the corresponding numbers of tradespeople to be very useful for their planning and overall knowledge of a project’s trajectory.

“We have a few unique activities that make the sequence a bit more complicated than a normal tenant improvement project,” continues Studley about the benefits of daily huddles. “Open to structure (OTS) painting and K-13 acoustical spray insulation must be complete before we can begin MEP rough-in. The trades can see firsthand every morning how these activities are progressing.”

Texas General Superintendent Sam Moses is equally bullish on the practice. “A daily huddle adds value to the entire project team. In addition to driving a better flow of information, huddles are an opportunity to learn what the trades need to be successful, and in turn, share what we need for the entire project to be successful. If you are a superintendent, I don’t know why you wouldn’t be conducting a daily huddle.” 

Although daily huddles have tremendous applications on job sites, the practice is equally powerful for other teams such as a human resources vice president with an organization’s human resources professionals, or an architect with discipline leads, and can be conducted virtually if necessary. Any team or project can benefit from the added transparency, accountability, and communication that daily huddles help cultivate. By changing your meeting strategy, you can do so much more than save time: you can change your culture. 

1 The daily huddle is a propriety component of the Lean Construction Institute (LCI) Last Planner® System.