Crew Huddles


So it’s late in the fourth quarter. You’re out of timeouts, and you’re driving a touchdown to win the game.

You throw an incomplete pass. What are you going to do?

Great teams huddle up. And construction companies should huddle up as well. “It works for the Navy SEALs when they go out on a mission,” Adamchik pointed out in this lesson. “It works for professional football teams. It works for just about every high performing organization. Why not yours?”

The crew huddle is an essential part of your leadership and management toolbox. But how do you do it well?

It’s all about engagement.

Crew huddles can be very company-specific, with no consistent standard as to what goes on during huddle time. But Adamchik was adamant about how not to do a crew huddle.

“It’s not a gathering of people, where the superintendent breaks out the predetermined toolbox talk for the day. You know, the talk that goes something like this: ‘Alright, glad you’re all here. Today’s talk is on trench. Trench reinforcement, trench protection, trench boxes. You guys already know this stuff, right? Great. So don’t step near the edge. If we need to box it, box it. Now sign here to tell me you’ve been here.’ That’s not the way to do a crew huddle.”

You might be holding a huddle every day. Or you might huddle up just when the scope of work changes, or you have new crew coming on board. But no matter how often you hold a crew huddle, the key is this: it’s about engaging your people.

Engagement is the key driver behind why you’re huddling up. So, how do you get your people engaged? The six questions that follow will get you off to a good start.

Six essential questions to ask during your crew huddle.

To do the crew huddle well, create a best practice with these six questions. “And remember, these questions are engagement strategies,” Adamchik said. “You want engagement. So don’t shut your people down.”

1. Do we have everything we need?

There are all sorts of good reasons why this question needs to be asked, and there’s no psychology or hidden motive behind it. Maybe you’re the foreman, and you were off site all day yesterday. Maybe something was supposed to have been delivered, and you want to make sure it did get delivered.

“What this question does is prevent people from wandering around aimlessly on the job site, looking for something as opposed to getting work done,” Adamchik said. “It’s a pretty simple question. Do we have everything we need? You’re either going to say “yes”, “no”, or “I don’t know, let’s figure it out.”

2. How long should each task take?

Asking how long each task should take is a harder question. “You might not agree with this one,” Adamchik said. “So let’s talk about the psychology behind it.”

Let’s say you think something should take 10 minutes. And one of your workers says, no, it will take me 20 minutes. But what if, instead of saying you’re going to get it done in 10 minutes or sweat trying, you see it as your opportunity to have a conversation about the reasons behind your conflicting answers?

“Maybe you’re sandbagging me,” Adamchik said. “Or maybe you think that’s the best you can do, because you don’t feel fully trained to do the job. The point is, asking the question gets a conversation going, about the important things, like production rates, training, competency, and efficiency. It’s not a trick question. It’s a chance for me to get into a real conversation with the crew about how much we can get done.”

3. How much should we be able to get done for the day?

Asking “How long should each task take?” leads into the next question: How much should we be able to get done for the day?

“These two questions generate a conversation about how the work gets done,” Adamchik pointed out. “Don’t assume that people are just sandbagging you. Let’s get into a conversation that talks about the underlying reasons. Maybe you find out they’re not trained as well as you thought. So then you give them the tools, tips, and techniques to get a little bit better at what they do.”

4. Does anyone have any questions or ideas?

This fourth question is one a lot of people think is a crazy one to ask. But it’s a key question. And there’s a danger to asking it that you need to be aware of.

“Let’s say someone says they have an idea,” Adamchik said. “They say, I think we should do this. But what if it’s not a good idea at all? Now, the typical reaction might be an eye roll. And since we’re talking construction here, you might be tempted to add some verbiage—something like, that was a stupid idea twenty years ago, and it’s still stupid now.”

But if you give in to the temptation to respond in this way, what happens when you ask the question again? You won’t get a thing. Because after that response, nobody’s going to offer you any ideas.

5. What would make this easier?

This is another question people think is crazy to ask. “But here’s the thing,” Adamchik pointed out. “We want to engage people, right? This is what’s going on with these six questions. We’re engaging people.”

What does he mean by engagement? “Think of your hand as a gear,” he said. “What do I need to make this gear move? Another gear, right? But if I never ask the question, and I do the ‘you’re a dumbass’ thing, know what happens to the teeth on the gear? Those teeth get shorter. They disengage. So now when you try to engage, those teeth slip, bad things happen, and we don’t have the productivity or efficiency we might have.”

6. Does anyone see any safety issues?

The final question is the safety question. The key again is engagement. You want people to be engaged, but if you shut people down on questions 4 or 5, you likely won’t get much response at all.

And another problem you’ll run into? Often, no one wants to hear about safety anymore. So what can you do? Turn things around, to get people engaged. “Rather than giving a lecture about whatever the safety issue of the day is, do a hazard hunt,” Adamchik said. “Give everyone five to ten minutes to go out on the job site, and find something wrong. This engages their brains in a totally different way.”

Takeaways.

The huddle works for every high-performing organization, and there’s no reason why it won’t work for your crew. To succeed with crew huddles, make these six questions a part of your habit pattern during your huddles:

  1. Do we have everything we need?
  2. How long should each task take?
  3. How much should we be able to get done for the day?
  4. Does anyone have any questions or ideas?
  5. What would make this easier?
  6. Does anyone see any safety issues?

Adamchik ended the lesson with this: “If you do get a knucklehead who tries to sandbag you? You welcome it as an opportunity to have a conversation about how to make the world go better. Because ultimately that’s what we’re trying to do.”