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Are Another Team's Workplace Huddles Hurting Your Productivity?

A work team that is not yours has decided to have a meeting within inches of your work area. There they are, yapping about yesterday, today and blockers while you try in vain to concentrate. Let's huddle over by the virtual water cooler to complain about this quorum quandary, shall we?

Welcome to a problem that's quietly percolating in today's boundary-challenged open office environments: the impromptu team "huddle" (or stand-up meeting if you prefer) that's suddenly happening in your immediate work area! Team huddles feel vaguely like kindergarten circle time. They can also be very annoying when they are neither your team nor your decision.

Huddle, or Muddle?
The team huddling near your desk wants to disrupt the market, but all they're managing to do is disrupt your work flow as they run down their individual goals for today and explain why they still haven't finished yesterday's project. You reach into your work bag for ear buds, only to realize you left them at home this morning. Now what?

That's the unanswered question. There are hundreds of articles that talk about how to maximize team huddle productivity, but I have yet to find an article that talks about how to stay productive while another work team is huddling, and hovering, nearby. It's distracting. Let's all gather around, everyone, who wants to go first?

As a non-participant, you could ask this team to huddle someplace else because you're trying to get some work done, but that would make you look like a poor team player yelling, "get off my lawn." We want to fit in as employees, even if we're feeling squeezed out. So we put up with another team's pop-up huddle that's unfortunately happening within earshot. This too shall pass, right?


Perhaps you could relocate to another work area temporarily, but you were here first! Technically, they are invading your space. It's the principle of the thing as far as you're concerned. Typically, a team huddle lasts less than ten minutes (the whole point is getting to the point quickly before employees' feet start to hurt!) but some huddles can feel interminable if you're stuck working nearby.

Sometimes, you might find yourself listening in and wondering why this work team can't figure something out, because the solution seems obvious to you. As you observe another team's impromptu huddle, you might feel like a workplace anthropologist, an astute study of employee behavior, a humanities major minoring in human body language. A down-low eye roll between two teammates here, an exasperated sign there. The understated drama keeps you oddly intrigued as you occasionally look up from your work.

You might be surprised how much you can learn about another team by focusing your huddle telescope. From the comforts of your work area, you can see the underlying cracks in this team's foundation plain as day without anyone saying a word. Ask yourself a few questions: How would you describe this team in one word? How does this team talk to each other? As a group, do they tend to be emotional, or analytical? Who doesn't get along with whom? What kind of body language do they use? Where's the creative tension? What kind of problems does this team have?

Everything about your past interactions with this other work team -- the dropped balls, the delays -- might suddenly make sense as you observe the nature of their interactions. Ah, now I know to ask Jane about Project X instead of Dave! Use what you learn from another team's huddles to frame your own future interactions with them.

Let's Take It Outside
My other advice is for the team that thinks it's okay to conduct a spur-of-the-moment huddle in a semi-populated work area without asking first. Please ask first. Please? It's the polite thing to do. And don't say, "We'll be quiet." No, you won't be quiet even if you try to whisper, because when humans try to "be quiet" we end up seeming louder. That's the way it works in today's open office environments, where everyone can't help but know each other's business.

Now that Spring has sprung, why not take the team huddle outside for a delightful change of pace? Let's meet behind the building next to the dumpster, everyone! Hey, it's a change of scenery that we can all appreciate on a nice day. Just make sure to stand upwind of the dumpster.

TL;DR: The team huddle can be an effective, time-saving strategy for the team that's conducting it, but it can be a productivity drain for the employees seated nearby who are overhearing it. I'll meet you by the parking lot dumpster in five.


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