Every once in a while, all college football programs go through some kind of quarterback controversy. Halfway through fall camp, two quarterbacks emerge with comparable skills and results. Both compliment the team. Both are hungry. Both want to win. It can be an impossible time for coaches who are responsible for making the best decision on who the starter should be. It can also be stressful for the offensive unit because it is difficult to pick sides and throw your support for one teammate and not the other. When in doubt, regardless who had the stronger throwing arm, my choice always came down to the QB who ran the better huddle.

So why is that important? What does the huddle have to do with the production of the team when games are won in the air and on the ground? Trust me when I say that it has everything to do with the team’s success and here’s why.

While the skills and abilities of football players represent the technical and physical aspects needed to win games, the huddle is the greatest representation of the team’s culture. It doesn’t simply call the next play; it is where the very heartbeat of the team exists and where the true potential of the team itself is decided. It is where the players, without the coach, have the responsibility of communicating with each other. They have to problem solve and give each other feedback, encouragement, and support. It is where the last play dies and the next play is born. And when it is led by a quarterback who is acutely aware of his responsibility to run a great huddle, the team will generally perform better than expected. If the huddle is bad, however, the team’s potential is seldom realized and the team culture can turn ugly in a hurry.

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A huddle dominated by blame, personal agendas, and self-serving egos seldom yields positive results. I have always found that negativity creates slow feet in athletes and this phenomenon generally translates into missed blocks and tackles for losses. The quarterback that blows up at his receiver for not catching a ball that was thrown six inches too high is not going to win any friends. In fact, he might earn a “lookout” block on the next play, which only destroys trust further and makes the hole deeper.


So, the question I have for you is this: how healthy are your huddles?

Huddles are not limited just to football. We encounter them every day in our work and personal lives and they are just as important to your organizational success as they are to a football team’s. A family meeting, a conference call at work, an employee roundtable — all collaborative sessions with the people around us that figure out what we are going to do and how we are going to do it. It is critical for groups of all types to get these meetings right so that, just like the football team, plans are executed by engaged people doing the right things at the right times. No matter where they are conducted—on the football field or in the board room—positive and productive huddles all have some things in common.

Someone Must Lead with Energy

More often than not, the tone of the huddle is the responsibility of the one who is designated to lead it. If people aren’t engaged and “leaning in” to the conversation, then it is the leader’s responsibility to personally engage them. There is nothing worse than a monotone supervisor, reading his PowerPoint presentation on a conference call, not really caring whether or not people are paying attention. That never inspires excellence of any kind. The person designated to lead has to understand that their responsibility is to create urgency towards the organization’s or team’s objective, whatever that might be.

Communication That Fosters Trust

Teams function at or above their potential when the requirement of open and honest communication is expected and enforced. It can’t be unnecessarily negative or superficially positive; success needs to be acknowledged, feedback needs to be given, and problems need to be solved. An undeniable part of human nature is that people tend to close down when they are ignored, unrecognized, and yelled at. Don’t let that be part of your huddle. It will devastate your culture and your outcomes will fall well short of your goals.

When the Huddle Breaks, Everyone Needs to Look in the Same Direction

When a course of action is decided upon by the team, there is no time for personal agendas or drama. Execute the plan as agreed upon. Wait for the next huddle to offer solutions if things didn’t go as well as desired. I would also add that it is critical that the huddle breaks on a positive note so that no matter what was discussed, optimism towards what you are going to do next is fostered.

It has been almost sixteen years since I played my last football game and I am still amazed at how much life in general mirrors the experiences I had as a player. Whether on the field or in the board room, setting the tone through positive and effective huddles will forever be a game changer.