Sustainable Excellence: You Need to Huddle Up to Win Big

How do we create sustainable excellence?

“When they get in a huddle with me, I want to see in their eyes and have them feel a belief we’re going to do it.”  

These are the words of legendary quarterback Tom Brady just before he led his New England Patriots team to another Super Bowl victory.

Huddles are mainstays in athletics, but are rarely used in the business world. Can you imagine a board of directors in a huddle instead of sitting around a boardroom table? Yet, huddles with power can be a boon to both communication and teamwork.

“When they are in a huddle,” said New England Patriots coach, Bill Belichick, “they are family.”

As a former property executive and regional quality leader at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, I am frequently asked how the two-time Malcolm Baldrige Award winner has maintained and built upon its distinction as one of the world’s most respected organizations.

The answer is multifaceted, and to some degree downright subjective.

Over the years, Ritz-Carlton has done a number of things really well: recruiting, hiring, training, recognition and strategic planning to name a few. The company prides itself on delivering hospitality products and services that are second to none. But beyond the obvious product covenants that place them on par with the very best luxury providers, Ritz-Carlton established a universal mystique few organizations rival.

Huddles Help Reinforce Core Values

Leadership realized continuously communicating and reinforcing a set of Ritz-Carlton guiding principles would be critical to sustainable success. These “gold standards,” which include the company mission, vision, credo, motto and service values, remain a unifying compass for the nearly cult-like service Ritz-Carlton has become famous for.

Thousands of businesses have developed their own impressive list of core values that are prominently displayed in corporate boardrooms and employee common areas. But how does one begin to stir a shared passion within the hearts and minds of everyone, à la Ritz-Carlton?

One of the common denominators of ultra-successful organizations like Ritz-Carlton, Apple and Zappos is a regularly scheduled huddle session. When properly executed, huddles (known as Line-Ups at Ritz-Carlton and Daily Downloads at Apple) are distinctly different from a typical staff or department meeting.

Though huddles may absolutely be nuanced to match the disposition of every organization, key outcome objectives include fostering employee camaraderie and deepening team member advocacy around a set of shared values.

Here are 6 best practices to ensure you get the most out of your organizational huddle sessions:

Limit Huddles to No More Than 15 Minutes

Plan for significant organizational push back when first implementing huddles. The last thing most of your people will look forward to is another recurring meeting. Commit to limiting huddles to no more than 15 minutes.

By keeping huddles brief and purposeful, you’ll discover over time that perspectives will transition from a “have to” mentality to a “want to” mindset.

Imagine a mandatory gathering that your team actually looks forward to.

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Imagine a mandatory gathering that your team actually looks forward to. This will be a clear indicator that your huddles are making a positive difference.

Establish Continuity of Meeting Time and Place

Seek to create consistency. You’ll want employees to develop a meeting cadence based upon huddle frequency and time. Daily huddles are highly recommended, but feel free to start with 1-2 times weekly and gradually increase frequency over time.

To establish a unified tempo and direction, try to huddle first thing in the morning before schedules get overly hectic. Organizations that operate 24/7 should attempt to huddle at the beginning of each shift change. Devise a strategy to ensure employees reporting to work at irregular intervals are promptly briefed.

Depending on the size of your organization, you’ll also want to determine the practicality of having everyone meet together in one location versus splitting huddles up by geography or department. A conference line can be established for call-ins by remote employees.

Celebrate Success

Make a concerted effort to incorporate recognition elements into every huddle. Look for opportunities to celebrate success at all levels of the company. Shout-outs for attaining individual or team-based sales goals, providing great customer service or identifying cost or process efficiencies should all be fair game when it comes to recognition.

Make a concerted effort to incorporate recognition elements into every huddle.

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Take time to acknowledge employee work anniversaries and birthdays as well. Expressing ongoing appreciation and gratitude for a job well done is an effective way to build employee engagement.

Spotlight a Core Value

Carve out dedicated time as part of each huddle to reinforce one of your core values. As mentioned previously, this step is essential to developing and ultimately sustaining your desired culture. Keep in mind it’s not just about memorization here. What’s most important is the self-assurance of your employees to translate values from the philosophical to the practical realm.

Organizational storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to make this happen.

For instance, if one of your values emphasizes the importance of exceeding customer needs, highlight a recent example of an employee who did something heroic to wow a customer. Likewise, if your mission emphasizes your company’s commitment to leveraging innovation, describe an organization outside your industry that used an innovative idea to disrupt the marketplace. Many companies also enliven key standards through the use of brief role playing exercises.

Get Everyone Involved

Unlike traditional business meetings, it’s essential that all employees proactively participate in the huddle process. Managers should definitely be involved to help cast the vision and inspire the team, but everyone should be expected and prepared to contribute.

Consider rotating responsibility for leading each huddle, and leverage these sessions as an opportunity for continuous employee growth and development.

Avoid Problem Solving

Remember, huddles are designed to be “quick-hit,” “shot in the arm” meetings. They set the collective organizational tone and tenor for the day. This is not the forum for project updates, negotiations or problem solving. Any issues that cannot be resolved right away should be taken off-line and addressed separately.

Creating Sustainable Excellence

Just like anything of lasting impact, huddles require dedication and commitment. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to get everyone bought into the concept. Likewise, you’ll need to experiment with the flow and pace of your huddle to fit your company’s personality. Emphasize that huddles are not being implemented as a flavor of the month program.

You and your team are in this for the long haul, and 15 minutes a day is a small price to pay for creating sustainable excellence.



Jamey Lutz

Jamey Lutz

Jamey Lutz is a customer experience thought leader with more than 20 years of leadership tenure across numerous industries. Prior to joining Forrest Performance Group (FPG) in his current role as human performance strategist, Jamey served in a senior leadership capacity with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. He can be reached at

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