Managing People

The Manager’s Guide to Engagement Huddles

September 8, 2020
November 7, 2023
Julia Markish
Lattice Team

Which can turn faster, a speed boat or a cruise ship? The pace of change is naturally faster on a front-line team than at the company level. When managers have access to team-level engagement metrics, they can implement changes in days, not months. In contrast, responding to company-wide feedback can take much longer, as it often involves multiple departments, committees, and a mountain of red tape.

But equipping managers with anonymous survey data only provides part of the value that those results hold. The other part comes from empowering managers to hold effective engagement huddles, or meetings where their teams can talk through the results and brainstorm solutions.

Facilitating these meetings takes a bit of nuance (and self-awareness) on the manager’s part. Here’s how to run an effective engagement huddle. 

1. Set the ground rules.

Everyone on the team should be on the same page with respect to expectations and norms for engagement huddles. In advance of your first huddle, you, the manager, should propose some ground rules around timing, participation, and anonymity. Revisit these rules every few months to ensure everyone is getting the most out of the meeting.

  • Timing: If you plan on holding regular engagement huddles, make it clear whether they’ll happen on a biweekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. At a minimum, mirror the engagement survey cadence. Holding them frequently helps employees look past the novelty and feel more at ease asking questions or making suggestions.

  • Participation: Employees should know who these meetings are really meant to benefit (Hint: It’s not just the manager). Discuss the concept of “for the team, by the team.” Without everyone's ideas and feedback, the huddle loses its value. Encourage the team to come to the meeting with an open mind and willingness to participate.

  • Anonymity: Team members should keep the spirit of anonymity intact by not identifying their own or someone else’s survey responses during the huddle. Trying to figure out who said what won’t help drive the conversation forward. The goal isn't to play Sherlock Holmes, it's to get to a better functioning team.

  • Expecting Change: Employees often think of a survey as a way to push problems upward. But you don’t have to wait for senior management to make a difference. Huddles operate under the assumption that some of the most impactful changes you can make today are on the team level. In other words, huddles are about asking the question “what can our team do to make things better?” 

2. Plan your huddle.

Your main role as the leader during a huddle is to serve as a moderator and raise the level of conversation. To better facilitate, review your team’s engagement data in advance and identify the questions and goals for the huddle.

Reviewing feedback in advance can help you put written comments in perspective. One of the most common pitfalls for team leads is to take the results personally or get defensive during the session. Sometimes it's hard not to feel like the negative comments are directed at you, but defensiveness will only make your team refrain from being honest in the future. It can also be helpful to prepare or even practice the huddle meeting with someone, be it a supervisor or member of the HR team.

Furthermore, the best way to engage your team members in the huddle is to prepare some open-ended, high-value questions from the results. Again, try to be receptive to the feedback. Here are a few examples. 

  • How do you think we can improve on “X” dimension?
  • What would a five look like for us on this question? 
  • Are these scores in our power to change? Why or why not? 
  • How could we work as a team to address this issue?
  • How could making a change here improve our team results?

Think about what questions you would ask based on the specific results you're getting and write them down before your huddle starts. If things start veering off track, return to the questions to steer the conversation back in the right direction.

3. Maximize accountability.

Now that you're prepared for the huddle, the third step is to maximize sharing and accountability from each of your team members. Managers that are new to huddles often regret spending too much time problem-solving themselves. Once the conversation starts flowing, managers should empower their teams to come up with their own solutions by stepping back and listening.

That said, you might still need to spur things forward. Remember to encourage participation from less vocal team members and prod for detail when participants seem to be skirting an issue or not addressing potential root causes.

It’s also natural for huddle attendees to start dwelling on problems, not solutions. If you feel like the conversation has morphed into an airing of grievances, interject by asking "What can we do to make this better?" You might be surprised by the solutions your team members bring up on their own.

4. Ensure there are actionable next steps. 

During the huddle, ask your team to prioritize issues and next steps. What's most important? What needs to be addressed first? Then, build out bite-sized action items that are within the team's control. Sometimes, this means aligning on what the team won’t tackle this time around. There is value in focusing efforts around as few as one, but no more than a handful, of changes or experiments.

To facilitate, try asking "What can each of us do tomorrow, this week, or this month that will make a difference?" Separately, you may take responsibility to escalate issues beyond your team's control and report back within a week or two. By the end of your huddle, you should have action items and milestones for distinct team members. Don’t make this feel like a lot more work than it is — employee action items should ideally be things that make their jobs easier, more effective, or more pleasant in the long run.

When employees participate in engagement and pulse surveys, they expect to see something come out of it.  Readouts at company all-hands meetings are important, but they don't allow for discussion or problem-solving, which are a powerful part of the engagement cycle.

Lattice’s people management software empowers managers to drive change faster by giving them access to their team’s anonymized survey results. This data can be used to facilitate impactful huddle meetings, helping teams resolve issues and ensuring everyone feels heard.

To see Lattice’s engagement tools for yourself, schedule a free product tour today.