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Huddle and Cuddle: Is this the new way to manage virtual teams?

On New Year’s Eve, the people of Mallacoota in Victoria, woke up to find that they were hemmed in by a ferocious fire that was moving swiftly towards them.  The people of Mallacoota banded together and headed for the beach where they huddled while they waited for rescue.

Less than 3 months later, a deadly virus has forced us once again to ‘band together’.  This time, everyone is affected, and we are socially distanced from one another.  To survive this crisis, companies must find a way to ‘band’ their teams together.

Before the pandemic, WFH may have been wishful thinking.  Now it is reality.  This new reality presents a unique set of challenges many companies are not prepared for.   To rise above it, we must do things a little differently.

Huddles and cuddles may sound like a cutesy jingle of a child’s nursery rhyme, but we are serious about how it can benefit your company in managing teams remotely and keeping employees engaged.


Can Huddles help?

Huddle is a sport behaviour.  It means to form a tight circle.  We’ve seen it countless times on television when the Australian cricket team joined ranks before a test match.  We’ve also seen it in the AFL changing rooms.  And we see it all the time when we take the kids for their soccer or netball games.

Teams band together or ‘huddle’ to manage critical points of the game.  The purpose is to ensure every member of the team knows the next move.  Teams used it to plan a line of attack or defence.  They also used it to celebrate a win or to share a loss.

Huddle meetings have become popular as an effective way to break down large groups of employees into bite-size chunks that can be easily managed.   Huddles are short 15-minute meetings between a manager and his team.  Meetings are fast-paced, organised and to-the-point.  Employees receive a briefing or a refresher from their team leader before carrying on with their roles.  If implemented right, huddles can produce agile teams that are highly effective and extremely productive.


Harvard Business Case Study

Huddles can be implemented in an organisation of any size so long as it is done right.   A couple of years ago, Harvard Business Review ran a feature about Intermountain Healthcare, a US healthcare provider in Salt Lake City, Utah.  With 850,000 customers, serviced by 23 hospitals and 17 clinics, it was impossible to get every employee together at the same time.  But the organisation’s ability to deliver its services depended on information flowing from one level of management to the next across multiple divisions.  The solution: 15-minute huddle meetings for all 4-tiers of managers.

To make this work, the organisation required a structure that was precise, focused and defined.   Each huddle was assigned a leader and the participants to the group were designated.   Teams from each huddle were asked to report on eight topics across four fundamental areas in the organisation.  Leaders of huddles were encouraged to solve any problems that can be resolved at their levels.  Issues that were not solved, together with accumulating data escalate up to the next level.  The loop repeats until a final report makes its way to the CEO’s desk.   Intermountain also appointed a Continuous Improvement Team to monitor proceedings.

Intermountain was running 2,500 15-minute huddles daily.  The first meeting of the day began at 8.45 am with the first group of 1,500 Tier I managers.  At 9 am, their reports were being considered by 170 Tier II managers.  At 9.15 am Tier III managers sat down to deliberate Tier II considerations.  By 9.30 am, Tier III reports were being considered by Tier IV managers.  At 9.45 am the reports have escalated to Tier V managers.  At 10 am precisely the CEO and his team receive the final report.

What huddles did for Intermountain was providing clarity, alignment and accountability.  The huddles allowed the organisation to align its goals, resources and people.  Seamless flow of information to the top meant leaders knew exactly what was happening in every aspect of its operation.  By giving accountability and responsibility to frontline managers, the system was able to identify and solve many operational issues in the early stages (i.e. Tier I managerial level) without having to wait for a decision from the top.   Most of all, the meetings promoted pride and loyalty amongst team members who felt that they could voice a concern or suggest an improvement.  Motivated staff are naturally happier in their jobs and therefore more productive.


Can huddles work during coronavirus and post coronavirus?

If your organisation was practicing huddle meetings before the pandemic, there is no reason why the same system cannot be applied during and after the crisis.  If your organisation has not started huddle meetings, the crisis is a good time to do so.

Some adjustments are needed to adapt to remote WFH realities.  If you are keen to start a huddle meeting, our simple 5-Step Huddle System can help:


Talentank Simple 5-Step Huddle System


Huddle meetings are meant to last no more than 15-minutes.  The rules of engagement are simple:

  • Have everyone relevant to the project present
  • Discuss issues that everyone is involved in
  • Keep huddles short and simple.  Do not digress
  • Clarify to team members that huddle meetings are meant to answer questions they cannot answer themselves



Team huddle meetings are driven by technology.  Everyone must be on Zoom at the same time. High-quality video is a great way to simulate a face-to-face immersion.  Good lighting is important so the staff can see you.



Huddles are not time wasters.  They are not socials.  They are serious meetings to get everyone on the same page again.  In huddle meetings, creating a sense of urgency is acceptable.  So is motivating staff, answering their questions and thanking them.  Keep to the time limit by sending out an agenda in advance.



Huddles meeting must be adaptable to our environment.  Our culture and our staff are part of our internal environment.  Huddle meetings must be able to incorporate both.  For example, having the right technology for our staff because they are working from home.

Huddle meetings are not set rules.  They are dynamic structures that are constantly evolving.  They take the shape of the challenges we encounter daily whether it’s a customer complaint, a supply chain crisis or a technological breakdown.



The final step to an effective huddle is recognising that it is yours.  It is up to you to take ownership and run with the concept.  If you follow the general rules, it will work.  Huddle delivers extremely high standards of communication and time management but is also a modular system that you can easily adapt to your management style and organisational culture.


Cuddles while social distancing?

A cuddle is a connection.  Humans are social.  We need human connections with others.  Connections are important in our professional lives, too.  Rituals – whether metaphorically physical or real physical – is a part of this connection.  An evolution of rituals has already started.  We don’t shake hands anymore.  A human behaviour that was used to demonstrate trust is now a common way to transmit a deadly disease.   Our coffee bonding sessions with colleagues are now vegemite lunches with the kids.  We don’t commute to work.  Our office is our dining room table.  A complex maze of optical fibre cables joins us to our bosses and our work colleagues.   Working from home during coronavirus is an entirely new reality.

While technology has enabled our staff to work remotely, the same technology is also challenging their abilities to achieve a work-life balance.  Long hours staring at a screen can impact their health.  Lack of office interaction can affect relationships with managers and colleagues.  Ultimately, their productivity becomes collateral damage.

In the past, companies can run a range of activities to support employees’ mental and physical health.  Perks like staff lunches, gym memberships and Friday night drinks help staff to relax, socialise and bond with colleagues and managers.   In the new WFH reality, our workers are physically away from the office.  Strict social distancing rules do not help because they prevent us from gathering our staff together.  So how can employers foster an environment that promotes positive coping?  How do we keep our staff animated in their jobs so they can continue to be productive while they work from home?

One of the ways we find works for our organisation is creating virtual ‘cuddles’ to show our people that we value and appreciate them. Cuddles are comforting.  It is a way of connecting with your staff on a level that shows them that you understand the struggles they are experiencing.

Sometimes a simple thing like a ‘Thank you’ can go a long way to show people that you stand in solidarity with them during a crisis.  The pandemic at its worse was humankind at its best.  The world stood up to applaud and to thank our healthcare and essential services, workers.  When we express gratitude, we are acknowledging the goodness in their lives.  It allows the person to shift their perspective from fear to calm and to maintain a positive outlook in dire circumstances.   Gratitude also helps people connect with a larger force whether it’s the goodness of nature or a higher power.  A small act that can have a big impact.


Banding together is crucial if we are to survive these unprecedented events.  Huddle meetings simplify things so everyone can focus on the task at hand.  Adding a nice warm ‘virtual cuddle’ makes it worthwhile and keeps them engaged at their job.