The frontline are the bulk of your workforce. When they collectively contribute a little bit more, the overall performance boost across the organization is significant. That is, if they are contributing to areas of strategic importance. After all, there’s no point in accelerating in the wrong direction. To engage teams and keep them on track, they should be empowered to actively contribute to strategy execution. This is most appropriately achieved through tiered meetings, or huddles. These are a series of fast-paced, stand-up team meetings that aim to bring all teams in alignment with organizational goals. Regularly meeting at the team level builds a foundation of accountability, a continuous improvement mindset and helps progress sustained Lean transformation.
Are you ready for tiered meetings?
Organizations that don’t have daily tiered meetings risk losing ground on any previous improvement gains. So everyone should be doing them, but what if your frontline teams aren’t ready? I’ll challenge that thinking. Consider this: my 9 year old’s basketball team meet for a few minutes at the start of each game. Within a few minutes the coach sets expectations, positions and plans are discussed, concerns raised and then they’re set. At half-time they review their behaviors and adjust. After the game ends, the coach thanks them for their efforts. Frontline tiered meetings are no harder than this! If 9 year olds can do it, your frontline teams can do it. And if you want to get started, then start today.
Benefits beyond the obvious
Each tiered meeting is an opportunity for the team to reflect on the past 24 hours, review overdue items, and look forward to the next few days. It is also an opportunity to share knowledge, to learn from others and develop problem solving capabilities in the team. For example, there was one organization where I assisted in setting up the tier 1 meetings. Initially the team members stood about 3 meters away from the boards with arms crossed and didn’t contribute. Fast forward four weeks and everyone is shoulder to shoulder, leaning in as one team member explained to her peers the problem she discovered and how she resolved it. In this way they can also be a good pulse check for culture and morale.
How to structure tiered meetings
Tiered meetings are a daily activity that involves everyone, not just the frontline (there is no such thing as “I’m too important to huddle“). While each organization is different, and teams will develop their own agenda over time, the following is a rough starting point:
- Tier 1: Start of each shift. Focus on frustrations, safety and quality issues and how the process can improve.
- Tier 2: The team leaders from each tier 1 meeting gather and bring any escalated issues. Representatives from the relevant support functions are present, and they can assist in resolving these.
- Tier 3: Managers, area leaders, and support functions meet to address system issues across the organization and to progress continuous improvement projects.
- Tier 4: Executive level are focused on both the tactical and strategic. They are responsible for running the business and improving it.
These tiered meetings occur each day, with enough time in between so that issues can be escalated. Remember, if tier 1 doesn’t happen, then it starves tier 2. If something was escalated to tier 2, then the tier 2 leadership better be thinking about how they are resolving that and responding to tier 1. The tiered meetings are very much part of a system, and each tier is reliant on the other to be effective.
Find a location adjacent to where the work is done (in the ward, on the factory floor). The team should stand in a circle around their visual boards.
Week 1, Day 1
- How did we go yesterday?
- What was hard? Were you able to fix or improve it?
- What do we need to escalate?
- What’s stopping you from doing your job effectively today?
- Outline the plan for the day
Day 2 – Start writing these down, assigning a responsible team member with due dates for actions
Day 3 – As above, and identify the emerging themes
Day 4 – Ensure those initial actions are closing out and tick off some quick wins
Day 5 – Thank the team for their efforts this week, and get feedback on the meeting
In the first week each meeting may take 30 minutes or more, and you’ll leave the meeting with more issues to solve than got solved. Soon though, meetings will be 10-15 minutes. People will turn up with problems they solved, or a solid plan towards that. When this is happening across the organization, it’s a sign of a healthy, functional lean daily management system (DMS). Communication is flowing both up and down the tiers, and you’ll be achieving strategic goals faster than you ever thought possible.
Tiered meetings are a slam dunk
- Improve process standardization and quality
- Provide visibility across planned vs actual
- Enable adjustments to meet customer or patient demand
- Build a safety culture
- Develop problem-solving capabilities and organizational knowledge
- Embed a sustainable continuous improvement framework