Anatomy Of The (Almost) Perfect Huddle

There’s the football image of a huddle but it doesn’t fit here since the quarterback leads it. I love the Webster intransitive verb example, “to gather in a close packed group;” “They huddled around the campfire.” At Askinosie Chocolate we are 16 full time and 3 part time people in a close packed group. When it comes to the perfect huddle, chocolate making is no different than rebuilding transmissions or providing nonprofit disaster relief services or brewing beer. Lawren and I detail this subject in our upcoming book but today I wanted to take this a little deeper.

Here’s what a huddle looks like at Askinosie Chocolate and you’re welcome to adopt whatever you find useful for your own great huddle.

The What

Until a couple of months ago we met every Tuesday morning at 9am for one hour. We’ve been experimenting lately with every other week but the point is we’ve doing this company wide “meeting” for nearly eleven years. Everyone in the company attends including our remote workers. For example, our Controller is in St. Louis, our Chief Marketing Officer is in Austin and they both join in via Skype. They see us and we see them. The Agenda moves at a fast pace and looks something like this:

  • Quick Opening from our COO about what’s coming up this week.
  • Cocoa bean report from me. I report on the status of the crops, the farmers, export dates, arrival dates or any problems we’re encountering.
  • Sales & Marketing overview from our CMO.
  • Sales Report sharing all channel sales numbers. This includes monthly plan (budget), forecast, and actual on a whiteboard. This report generates lots of questions from the group.
  • “Jack Stack” Report from our COO. This is a group of people reporting a condensed financial statement (we call this spreadsheet the “Jack Stack” in honor of the father figure of Open Book Management) covering plan, forecast, and actual.
  • Inventory Report from our Facilities Manager. This report informs everyone where we are, on a whiteboard, with all of our product inventory especially the sales team.
  • Production Report. Our Production Manager lets us know, using a whiteboard, where we are with finished chocolate production reporting plan, forecast, and actual. The summary also includes what products we are making this week and next.
  • Safety Report from our Production Manager.
  • Chocolate University Report. Our CU Executive Director reports the status of all things related to our community development and education projects.
  • Marketing Update. Our Design Manager reports on recent press mentions, and open packaging orders.
  • Workaversary celebrations. If we have someone celebrating anniversary of working with us then we celebrate them. I plan on dedicating a separate post to only this. It’s really powerful.
  • The Last Word. Our Facilities Manager concludes the huddle with a few minutes of uplifting thought to either challenge us, inspire us, get us thinking about our work, our lives and each other.

All of this happens in one hour unless we have a workaversary then we add on another 15 minutes because we have some awesome snacks that this person loves and spend a little time chatting with each other. I said “almost” perfect huddles because we’re continually finding ways to make them better and even more meaningful.

The Why

The most important aspect of our huddle is that almost everyone talks or reports something. The practical benefit is that many people need to know bits of important information from diffused areas of our little company. We don’t groups in the company siloed off from one another. Do the people packaging our chocolate bars really need a status update on our school lunch program in the Philippines? Yes they do! The huddle does not replace other meetings, such as sales or production, but it can make them shorter and more to the point. The huddle is an easy place when people can ask the reporter questions in a spirit of teamwork. Almost everyone walks away from the huddle feeling like they matter. They either obtained information they needed or they gave it or both. Every huddle we’re celebrating big and little victories with a single thunderous handclap in unison. The dominant feeling is “I belong.”

The meeting is full of numbers, numbers that most companies do not share with employees. It’s all part of Open Book Management which I’ve used for nearly 20 years. The numbers tell a story, both good and bad. There’s a sense of “we’re all in this together.” Kinship is an important principle in our company and our huddle is an integral component. The huddle is essential for any organization or large workgroup sharing a collective vocation or calling. My book is all about this. The huddle is ostensibly costly and one could make the argument that not every single person is absolutely critical to being there. We are taking up valuable chocolate production time with this gathering. It’s probably more costly in ways I cannot even estimate if we did not huddle together “in a close packed group.”

My huddle mentors: I learned about these years ago from Jack Stack, The Great Game of Business and Ari Weinzweig, Zingerman’s Deli. Buy their books and read them! You will not be disappointed.