Great teams start with 3 Killer Questions

Reagan Pannell
Nov 22, 2018 · 7 min read

Every morning I used to come into work, take off my jacket and immediately crowd around the performance boards for the 15 minutes morning huddle. At 8:30 am the office would simply pause and teams would get together.

It was not a regular sit-down meeting where everyone turns up a few minutes late with freshly brewed mugs of coffee and a moleskin notepad. You were more likely to see people turn up with scribbles on a sheet of paper. Neither was it scheduled in the diary.

As you looked up and down the open plan office, every team was doing the same. Everyone was up on their feet, dotted around the floor in small groups taking a quick 15 minutes to get the day up and running with the same daily routine.

At 8:45 am when the meetings were over and the teams got back to work the team managers moved onto another huddle with the department heads. By 9 am, the department heads were doing their huddle with the senior leaders. Across multiple floors, across multiple sites, the same meetings were taking place face to face, with remote workers on the telephone or on web conferences

Within 30 to 45mins, the key information from the front line was being communicated to the senior leaders either as “we are all good” or “we are going to struggle today” so that the necessary support could be offered from a senior level.

In the book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Verne Harnish states that the morning meeting — the “huddle” is one of the key features of any successful businesses. They have become a common feature in many organisations across an ever-expanding wide range of sectors.

In the automotive industry, they have been called morning “pitstops”, in the healthcare, they have called the “Healthy Huddles” and in the banking sector, they have been called “morning shouts”, which describes what can happen if the meetings are not set up correctly.

So what are these meetings? how should we set these meetings up?

The Huddle Itself

These meetings tend to be taken standing up. For a simple 15 mins meeting, you will spend more time finding a suitable room, organising chairs and potentially lose 15 mins in getting to the meeting and getting back to the tasks at hand.

The huddle should be done as close to where the actual work is done as possible. This is what is known as the “Gemba”, the place where the value is being created. They should also be done around some form of Huddle board

The Huddle Board:

The Huddle Board is the centrepiece, in my experience, of driving successful teams daily. It’s a board, perhaps a chalkboard, whiteboard or an electronic dashboard (for a remote team), that visually communicates in a simple way what the team set out to achieve and what they did achieve. The goal is to develop a visual communication tool that allows key performance metrics to be communicated quickly. Not only does this drive efficiency within the team but also clarity.

A good way to think about it is the 3-second rule. Let me explain.

If I was to walk into your business area, how could I tell if you were doing well or having issues? Was it a good bad day or a good day? Should I be rolling up my sleeves to help or see if other people from other teams could come and support you? Or are we on target for today and perhaps we can grab an informal 1–2–1 or skip-level meeting.

The 3-second rule is simply the time it should take for me to understand this. Its the time it should take for everyone in your team to know how they are doing today, yesterday and perhaps over the last week. So when you design your huddle board, make sure it has some form of target and it uses green and red or perhaps smiling faces or different colours to signal how things are going. It’s got to be part of your visual management and visual communication toolset.

With the board in place, we can move onto the huddle and the 3 Killer Questions!

The 3 Killer Questions

  1. What was the plan?
  2. How did we do against the plan?
  3. What can we do better?

These three questions form the basis of any quality discussion about performance, goals, targets and improvements. While we refer to them in the example of the huddle, these questions should form the basis of any performance review, 1–2–1, individual action plans, project action plans.

They are very similar to the “PDCA” (Plan, Do, Check, Act) which is the beginning of driving performance improvements which leads to developing high performing teams.

What was the plan?

The first part of the meeting is to review yesterday performance. In yesterdays meeting you would have planned to achieve something and set out some targets and some goals. This might have been to phone 15 clients or to ship every order that was received online. What is key, is to have a look at the plan that was sent out. And then ask …

How did we do against the plan?

So if we set out to phone the 15 clients, did we manage to do it? Did we ship every order that was received online or did we have some holdover that we failed to send out due to a system error? Perhaps we received a lot more orders than expected and we did not have enough resources to meet the demand.

Then finally, and this is where the whole idea of continually looking to find better and better ways of working comes together.

What can we do better?

If the team failed to phone 15 customers as planned why was that? Did the team have an extra long lunch or was it the fact that one of the calls took a lot longer than planned? Perhaps someone had to leave early due to an issue with childcare. Or perhaps we simply had not planned our resources correctly. The goal with the 3rd Killer Question is to delve into what can be done better to improve things and that begins by some basic 5 Why Problem Solving to highlight the root causes.

Not every problem can be solved in 15 mins. Perhaps you failed to ship every order that was received online because the shipping process took too long. Or that the pick up took place at 2:30 pm but orders come in until 8 pm. You might not be able to fix why the shipping process took too long straight away. But in today’s workload, or later in the week, you could plan to put an hour slot together with some of the key team members to review the shipping process in more detail and figure out how to improve it.

What’s key is that everyone engages in this final question. By asking what could we have done better every day, you begin to create a culture of improvement. And you might have succeeded the plan perfectly yesterday, but could we have done more, done something different, found new customers or found a new way to do something. Everything can be improved — always.

Begin again

Obviously, the day should never begin without a new plan, so rather than looking at the past its key to look forward. The team needs to agree on today plan and identify in advance anything that might stop today’s plan being achieved

Doing this forward-looking part is essential and makes sure you can ask the same 3 Killer Questions tomorrow.

The Goal

The goal of a huddle is firstly to point everybody in the same direction and ensure we all know what today’s plan is. It’s then to make sure any good or bad news is escalated and actions can be taken if needed. But its also to build a culture and a place to work where we are always looking to improve things and find new ways to do things. Just because it’s not broken today, does not mean we don’t look to improve it.

So a few rules

  1. Keep them to 15 mins. Short, sharp and focused
  2. Focus on the 3 Killer Questions
  3. Plan for today
  4. Begin again and try to do it better

If you are interested to learn a little more and delve into some of the other tools, techniques and methods we have used across Lean Six Sigma and Business Transformation stuff — you can visit www.leanscape.io

The only thing certain is change itself. How to organise people and processes to deliver value.

Reagan Pannell

Written by

Founder of the Lean Consultancy & Academy — a lean thinker, avid learner, passion for people, continuous learning. www.leanscape.io / https://go.leanscape.io/

Lean Thinking

Lean thinking is a business methodology that aims to provide a new way to think about how to organize human activities to deliver more benefits to society and value to individuals while eliminating waste.

Reagan Pannell

Written by

Founder of the Lean Consultancy & Academy — a lean thinker, avid learner, passion for people, continuous learning. www.leanscape.io / https://go.leanscape.io/

Lean Thinking

Lean thinking is a business methodology that aims to provide a new way to think about how to organize human activities to deliver more benefits to society and value to individuals while eliminating waste.

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