Have you huddled your team up lately, to insure they know what to do in the toughest of times? Bill Gates says that, to be successful, one of the most important things a company can do is to have two planning retreats per year, so your whole team knows the strategy for how you plan to play the game.

It’s Sunday, and my muscles are recuperating from our annual company outing. We played golf on Friday, listened to live music Friday night, and organized a fishing derby, soccer, and games for the employees' kids Saturday.

For the grown-ups, we played no rules, just for fun, backyard volleyball for several hours. Okay, but this is the Lang Enterprises outing, so we played no rules, just for fun, back yard volleyball for keeps.

Two of my top managers and I picked the teams. This was for bragging rights among the employees, so the trash talk began. Hoss, who is Lang Masonry’s Operations Manager, chose a volleyball team that annihilated the other teams all afternoon. Right before the final match, they smoked my team again, in a hard to swallow 15-2 defeat.

With the third team giving up, we asked for a rematch. Again, Hoss’s team was killing us, pinning us down at 12 - 5. Somehow we managed to get the serve back. With our equipment/yard manager Kelly Duff serving, we made three or four points in a row. Fueling the team I started yelling, “We have them shook” over and over. The rally continued and my team started to get the idea that Hoss’s team was all shook up. “Don’t slow down for nothing,” I pumped. At 12 to 12, Hoss finally hollered, “Huddle, huddle, slow this thing down.” I intercepted, “ No, you can’t call a huddle, we haven’t had a huddle all day.” We went on. After another point, our Human Resource Director’s daughter, who was on Hoss’s team, faked a hurt foot to try to slow play down again. It was a clever attempt for a 13- year -old. My team and I started hollering, “She isn't hurt, play ball!” We played on, and my team went on to win the game 15-13.

Later that night, we all were licking our wounds over some relaxing drinks and reflecting on the matches. Hoss argued that if we would have let him have time to huddle he could have gotten his team's head back on straight and would have kicked our asses like they had done all day long. Laughing, we agreed that he was probably right but that that was his problem since he never got it done. And, because we won the last game, we were ultimately the champs! It was a bonding day for Lang employees.

Taking a lesson many years ago from Bill Gates' playbook, I have made it a point to call a huddle each year by having a planning retreat for all Lang companies. We hire a professional facilitator, get off site at least two hours from the office, and stay overnight. We discuss current and long- term goals. Each manager in attendance develops his or her own action plan, as to how he or she will help the company reach agreed-upon, common goals.

The effect of the huddle is amazing. Estimators start bidding the size and type of jobs that align with our goals, Project Managers hire people and prepare jobs in a way that aligns with our goals, our Human Resource Director develops or changes policies that align with our goals, our Chief Financial Officer gets bonding and lines of credit in place that align with our goals, and I find myself coaching in a way that aligns with our goals. This huddle keeps us from getting shook in the middle of a big game!

Things are humming, the economy is improving, and better times are coming! Now is the time to huddle your team and make a plan to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there. Without a strategic plan, your people may get flustered and not know what to do in the heat of your upcoming battles.

Damian Lang owns and operates four companies in Ohio, including a masonry contractor. He is the inventor of the Grout Hog and several other labor saving devices and is the author of the book RACE—Rewarding And Challenging Employees for Profits in Masonry.