Circle Up! Lead From the Huddle

Hands-In-e1448857238616Paul looked across the line of scrimmage at the other team. He glanced at the scoreboard and then at the stands; full of friends and family, all anxiously awaiting the next play. Then he scanned the faces of his teammates. Each one stared intently at Paul, eager to receive his instructions. It was 1892 and, as captain of the Gallaudet University football team, Paul Hubbard felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The two teams were fairly evenly matched. Defenses on both sides had had little difficulty in thwarting any big offensive moves. But that came as no surprise to Paul. It’s easy to anticipate your opponent’s next move when they spell it out for you. You see, Paul and his Gallaudet Bison teammates were all deaf; so were the players lined up across from them. Gallaudet and their rival school were both universities designed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Naturally, plays were relayed using American Sign Language. All you had to do was watch the quarterback’s hands, and you knew exactly what play he relayed to the rest of his team.

Paul suddenly realized that, unless he could devise a way to communicate with his team in a manner that prevented their rivals from seeing his signs, this would be a very long game. So he stepped back from the line and motioned his men to follow. Then he arranged them in a circle facing each other and relayed his instructions safe from prying eyes. In other words, he initiated the first football huddle.

Today, huddles are an expected part of any football game. In fact, just about every sport has adopted the huddle as way to bring the team together between plays. It’s a great way to share time-sensitive information, gain consensus, and boost motivation. Smart business teams also understand the value of the huddle. Teams that take advantage of opportunities to huddle routinely report increased productivity, camaraderie, and job satisfaction.

The thing I like most about the huddle is that it happens on the field – right in the midst of the game. When you’re in the middle of a huddle, its game time. There’s no time for practice. No time for debate. It’s all about execution. Once the huddle breaks, the game is on. That makes the huddle the most important meeting a team will ever have.

If you haven’t tried huddling with your team, maybe now is the time to give it a shot. Even if you currently utilize the huddle, you might want to check out Arina Vrable’s tips for running an effective team huddle. She provides some great ideas for incorporating this strategy into your daily routine.

  1. Keep it short. Shoot for no more than 15 minutes. You need to get out there and score some points.
  2. Keep it moving. This is not the time to make long-term plans. Focus on what’s needed to succeed today.
  3. Keep it going. Don’t let the practice die because it feels awkward at first. Like anything else, team huddles take some time to get right.

Leaders consistently ask me to help them with tips for motivating the team. I’m a long-time believer in the power of huddles to keep teams informed, focused, and accountable – all essential elements to motivation. Practiced consistently, a 15 minute huddle can dramatically impact the outcome of the day.

Committed teams look forward to the huddle. They see it as part of a game-winning strategy. And once the huddle breaks, every player knows exactly what they’re supposed to do in order to win. So what do you say, quarterback? Ready to win this game? OK then…circle up!

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