How Consistent Communication Creates Seamless Shift Transitions

Working in an environment in which multiple teams work on shifts around the clock can be difficult for a number of reasons, including an “us vs. them” mentality between alternate shift workers, silos or inferiority/superiority issues, resentment related to perceived or real distribution of resources or access to higher-level leadership, and so on. These can certainly be major obstacles to effective teamwork and must be addressed. However, we believe that one of the biggest challenges facing shift workers is something much more basic—but also essential to ensuring that the business can achieve its goals: clear and consistent communication across shifts.

Cross-shift communication can be challenging because although teams may technically be working towards the same overall objectives, the established protocols and ways of working together can differ from team to team and cause confusion, tension, and conflicts across shifts. One of the simplest solutions to cross-team communication challenges is implementing a shift-handoff process that is followed by all teams in the same way during every shift transition. Generally speaking, the shift-handoff process should consist of two parts: the shift-exchange meeting and the shift-start meeting. Let’s take a look at each of these meetings in a little greater depth so the benefits of each type can be better understood.

Shift-Exchange Meetings: Supporting Leaders 

The shift-exchange meeting is a one-on-one information exchange between the oncoming- and outgoing shift supervisors. It should take place at least 30 minutes before the oncoming shift begins. The purpose of this meeting is to prepare oncoming shift supervisors for the work ahead of them and help them understand what they—and their teams—are getting into, ensuring that the shift is as productive as possible.

Open communication

The shift-exchange meeting is the perfect opportunity for supervisors to share ideas and successes that may benefit all shifts. It also allows shift supervisors to strengthen alignment and build trust by discussing any issues or problems encountered during the previous shift. Some examples include safety concerns, staffing issues, machine breakdowns or other maintenance problems, waste, or other losses that may impact productivity or general output. The outgoing-shift supervisor must be extremely candid and forthcoming about any issues the oncoming shift will face. That said, the outgoing shift should not simply dump problems on the next shift’s leader and team; during the shift-exchange meeting, any actions that were taken to resolve current or ongoing problems should also be shared with the oncoming-shift supervisor and documented according to company protocol.

The range of topics that shift supervisors cover during the shift-exchange meeting varies by industry. Here is a sample list of topics that would be discussed during a shift-exchange meeting between supervisors working in a manufacturing-plant setting:

  • Maintenance and operating issues (resolved and ongoing)
  • Variations from standard machine settings
  • Staffing issues and production expectations
  • Safety (product safety and personnel safety)
  • Quality (products, service)
  • Delivery (raw-materials shortages, cuts, etc.)
  • KPIs and next steps
  • New business updates (as appropriate)

This list could be modified as needed and used to structure your own one-on-one meetings.

Shift-Start Meetings: Supporting Teams

The shift-start meeting—also sometimes called a “team huddle,” “pre-shift huddle,” or “tailgate meeting”—is a team-based meeting that allows the shift supervisor to communicate what he or she learned during the leaders’ shift-exchange meeting to the rest of the team.

The purpose of the shift-start meeting is to get all team members on the same page and help individual members and/or divisions of the team understand what will be expected of them during the shift—and how their work directly contributes to the whole team’s success. Attendance should be mandatory, and the supervisor should make sure that any person who will be directly affected by the information conveyed in the meeting participates.

If some team members are unable to attend due to special or extenuating circumstances, the team leader should ask a member or members of the team to take notes and distribute them immediately after the shift-start meeting so that everyone on the team can benefit from the information that was shared and understand how it might affect their work that day. Here is one example of a shift-start meeting agenda for a manufacturing plant that you could modify as appropriate to reflect the areas of focus and industry-specific concerns of your own team and business:

  • Review the prior day’s KPIs in the following areas:
  • Safety
  • Quality
  • Service
  • Cost
  • Performance
  • Discuss any gaps that exist and what was done to resolve them
  • Review current status on schedule
  • Review assignments
  • Make announcements of upcoming events or visits

Summary

By consistently scheduling and running these two meetings and making the shift-handoff process a regular part of each shift, all shift-workers will be better prepared to contribute the best of themselves during their shifts and help the team and larger organization achieve success and its goals.             

About the Author

Emily Hodgeson-Soule

Emily Hodgson-Soule has worked with CMOE since 2009 and is the Director of Program Design and Development. She holds a Master of Professional Communication (MPC) degree with dual emphasis in writing and multimedia. Emily works closely with CMOE’s client organizations to assess their internal training and development needs and provide learning solutions that fulfill the requirements and the strategic goals of each organization.

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