For avid Riders fans, the concept of a team huddle is not new. We know how important it is for football players or members of other sports teams to periodically huddle together to assess their current situation and what they need to do next, including possible changes to their original game plan.

In some aspects of health care, the concept of team huddles is very familiar. Implementation of the surgical checklist prior to and after surgery requires the surgical team to huddle and confirm what surgery they plan to do and if there are any special considerations for that patient. Teams in other programs routinely connect at the start of each day or change of shift to review team assignments and whether there are special circumstances, for example, staff shortages, that need to be considered.

As part of our lean management system, team huddles are becoming a greater part of how we do our work. Many units are huddling at the start of each day. Lasting only 5 to 10 minutes, the huddle brings together the manager and staff to help manage and improve their daily work. In other areas it may be appropriate to huddle more than once a day or only once weekly.

Ideally, teams huddle around what is called a visibility wall. The visibility wall includes critical information, relevant to that team, which helps them do their work. In the emergency department, this includes critical information on patient flow and safety such as on how many patients were seen in the previous day and how many patients left without being seen. In the operating room, the visibility wall includes information regarding how many operating rooms are functioning that day and how many urgent cases are in the queue. In public health, the visibility wall includes how many urgent restaurant inspections are needed to help them prioritize their work.

Information on visibility walls related to patient, client and resident safety is very important so teams know about falls among residents over the past 24 hours, any medication errors, patients on isolation precautions that need special attention or changes to our practice.

Most visibility walls will track information regarding whether there are any staff shortages because of sick time or vacations. This will prompt a discussion by the team about how they will work together to meet the needs of patients and clients. There will be information about staff injuries, prompting conversations about how we keep each other safe.

The important thing about team huddles is the conversations. The huddle provides time for managers to communicate key information to staff. More importantly, the huddles enable staff to inform the manager about what is happening in their workplace, including successes that should be celebrated, improvements that need to be made, and progress on implementing process improvements arising from our rapid process improvement workshops, mistake proofing and other lean work.

One of the fundamental underlying principles for having team huddles is respecting the wisdom and experience of staff who provide care and service and who know best what is working well and what needs to improve. Huddles promote teamwork and more engagement of staff, including physicians, in making continuous improvement part of their daily work. Huddles reflect our core values of respect, collaboration, compassion, excellence and stewardship.

This new way of working across our Health Region will help us be a winning team.

Maura Davies
President and CEO
Saskatoon Health Region