What is a Nursing Huddle? (PLUS, What Happens, Benefits, & Tips to Run an Effective Huddle)

Written By: Sarah Cruzan RN, BSN

Are you in nursing school or a new nurse and wondering, what is a nursing huddle? Maybe you have been a nurse for a while and now work in leadership and want to know the best way to conduct a nursing huddle for the best outcomes. I have always found nursing huddles to be helpful. In this article, I will share information about huddles in nursing, including what to expect, their benefits, and how to run an effective huddle as a nurse leader.

What Exactly is a Nursing Huddle?

You can think of a nursing huddle as a “game plan” for your upcoming shift. A nursing huddle is a short discussion with the oncoming nursing staff prior to the beginning of a shift to discuss the previous shift, the plan for the oncoming shift, important updates, and any safety concerns.

What is the Purpose of a Nursing Huddle?

The main goal of huddles in nursing is to promote communication and coordination among nursing team members. Nursing huddles provide opportunities to share information, collaborate care, promote situational awareness and improve safety and quality, which leads to better patient, team, and organizational outcomes.

Who Typically Participates in a Nursing Huddle?

Typically, nursing huddles are attended by the oncoming charge nurse, the previous charge nurse who is signing off their shift, and the nurses from the off-working and oncoming shifts. For example, when I was working as a floor nurse, the oncoming charge nurse would come in a half hour earlier than the floor nurses to receive a debrief of the floor situation and any safety concerns for the next shift. Once the rest of the staff had arrived, the oncoming charge nurse and the previous charge nurse would lead the nursing huddle. All the oncoming nursing staff are typically required to participate in this meeting, such as nurses, certified nursing assistants, and some unlicensed assistive personnel.

When Do Nursing Huddles Take Place?

A huddle in nursing typically takes place at the end of a nursing shift as part of the hand-off of patient care to the next shift of nurses. When I was a night shift floor nurse on a labor and delivery unit, we had a huddle every night from 7:00 pm to 7:15 pm. It was very important for us to arrive a few minutes early for our shift so we could make it to the huddle on time to hear important information.

Are Huddles in Nursing Always Planned and Scheduled?

Nursing huddles are not always planned or scheduled. Although most healthcare facilities have some type of nursing huddle between nurses leaving their shifts and those starting, nursing huddles may occur at other times, as well. Your nursing unit manager could call for a nursing huddle in the middle of your shift if situations occur that require immediate team collaboration. An unscheduled nursing huddle can happen if there is a major staffing change or significant event/emergency on the unit.

For example, one night when I was working in the labor and delivery unit, we had an unusually busy night with several patients in active labor. Once the charge nurse was notified that four patients were in the delivery stage and that some nurses may need extra help, the charge nurse called a huddle with the staff. In this unplanned huddle, the charge nurse reassigned nurses to help ensure we had enough staff to care for each mother and newborn efficiently and safely.

How Long Do Huddles in Nursing Last?

Most huddles in nursing last around 10-15 minutes. However, the time it takes to have a nursing huddle depends on the unit where you work, the number of patients on the unit and their statuses, and any safety issues or other concerns that need to be brought to the attention of oncoming staff.

During my time as a bedside nurse, some of our huddles would be short, only a few minutes long when the unit was “calm”, and the patients were at a low safety level. However, on nights when we had several high-risk patients, it would take longer to talk through all the important details that the staff needed to know.

What Topics are Discussed During the Nursing Huddle?

Several topics are discussed in a nursing huddle. A few things you and your colleagues may discuss include critical patient information, such as new medication or treatment orders, changes in the patient’s status, and any safety events that occurred during the previous shift. In the nursing huddle, you will likely discuss patient assignments, task priorities, and unit or staffing updates, to help streamline workflow for your shift.

5 Benefits of Huddles in Nursing

There are several benefits to a huddle in nursing. The following are five of the main benefits.

Benefit #1: Improved outcomes for patients

Communication between staff is essential if we want to have better patient outcomes. We can leave nothing to chance. Nursing huddles promote positive patient outcomes because they facilitate team collaboration, which means you can work together with your team to identify patient needs and risks and find evidence-based ways of meeting their needs and reducing risks. Huddles are a time for staff to share vital knowledge about a patient and then be able to problem-solve together to find a solution.

Benefit #2: Nursing huddles create staff awareness.

During a nursing huddle, you will have opportunities to hear and share information with other nursing staff that you may only know with this type of communication. In a nursing huddle, you may share information that has been passed along from patients, their family members or friends, nursing assistants, doctors, and other nurses. In some cases, non-nursing interprofessional team members may join in a nursing huddle.

One night, when I was working on a labor and delivery unit, one of the nurse practitioners joined a huddle and shared vital information regarding a patient’s blood pressure, which had just happened a few minutes before the huddle. This information she provided led us to change the plan of action for the patient, which meant the entire staff on the unit had updated priorities. Because we collaborated in a huddle, we were able to address the safety hazard related to the patient’s blood pressure and get our patient stabilized.

Benefit #3: Planning and prioritization for the unit

During a nursing huddle, you will find out your patient assignment for the shift and any patient procedures that may be happening. This will help you plan and prioritize your shift. Sometimes, the simplest tasks require careful collaboration and prioritization. For example, when I was a nurse in a postpartum unit, there would be several nurses who needed to use the same weighing equipment during the shift to weigh their babies. Scheduling who would be using the equipment ahead of time prevented staff from getting confused or frustrated when it came time for us to perform our duties.

Benefit #4: Nursing huddles help reinforce unit and organizational goals.

Another benefit of nursing huddles is that they give you the opportunity to discuss goals and priorities and find ways to reinforce them. For instance, I did some contract work at a nursing home once where there had been a recent increase in the number of patient falls. Nursing management coordinated a huddle where all the nursing staff got together to discuss incidents that happened, what could have been done to prevent the falls, and ideas for ways to reduce the risk of falls and injuries.

Benefit #5: Fosters Effective Teamwork/Strong Team Building

Nursing huddles are not only a great way to get things organized for your shift or to get important updates about patients or things going on at work. They also create opportunities for team building, which is crucial in nursing. Nursing huddles provide opportunities for you to build relationships with your fellow nurses, support one another, and connect on personal and professional levels. I got to know many of the nurses I worked with during short nursing huddles and have continued friendships with many of them even after leaving the job where we worked together.

What Exactly Happens in a Nursing Huddle?

(The following is a typical step-by-step order of events in a nursing huddle.)

#1: Provide Updates About What is Going on Within the Unit

The first step of a nursing huddle is to provide important updates about the unit. The information that needs to be updated may vary depending on the unit. For example, when I worked in the labor and delivery unit, it was important for us to know how many patients were on the unit and what their statuses were. Some patients may have been there because they were having labor symptoms, which ended up being false labor, while others were in active labor or postpartum. Knowing the status of each patient helped us to prioritize care for our shift. We also needed to know how many patients were preparing for discharge and the number of available beds so we could prepare for possible new admissions.

#2: Safety Briefing

The nursing huddle is also a time to voice any potential safety concerns about patients or any issues directly affecting staff or the unit. Keep in mind that a safety risk does not always mean there is a risk of a fall or injury. Things like having too heavy of a patient load could be a safety concern, as well, and should be discussed. Any real or potential event that places patients or staff safety at risk is important and should be discussed in the nursing huddle.

I remember during a nursing huddle before one of my scheduled shifts; I voiced my concerns regarding my assignment of several patients with a high-risk potential for falls. The charge nurse listened to my concerns and reassigned the patients to prevent my patient load from potentially becoming unsafe.

#3: Charge Nurse Gives Assignments to Nursing Staff

Some nursing units have whiteboards or other written forms for keeping up with nursing assignments. However, in the nursing huddle, the charge nurse usually discusses assignments, as well. This is the time during which, if you are concerned about an assignment, you can bring the issue to your charge nurse's attention. If a change in assignments needs to be made, it usually occurs during the huddle.

#4: Goals Are Established for the Nursing Shift

During a nursing huddle, your charge nurse helps the nursing staff create goals for their shift. Goals do not always have to be in-depth or difficult. For instance, When on the labor and delivery unit, I was assigned a patient who had been laboring for 30 hours. Our goal for that patient was, “Deliver a healthy baby!” When I worked the postpartum unit, it was common to have a shift goal that stated, “assist client with breastfeeding and pumping every two hours.”

#5: Team Collaboration

One of the most important things we can do as nurses is to learn to collaborate with our team members. When nurses communicate and work together, the whole unit benefits! A nurse huddle is an excellent time for nurses to talk amongst themselves to get a game plan for the day ahead. If you have patients who may require that you have assistance when providing their care, collaborating with your team members in the nursing huddle is a great way to make sure you have all your bases covered.

#6: Identifying Learning and Preceptor Opportunities

There is always something to learn in nursing. The charge nurse is responsible for identifying possible learning opportunities and knowing which staff nurses make good preceptors for new nurses, and during the nursing huddle, they can address these. For example, when I was a new nurse on a postpartum unit, the charge nurse would announce procedures that were happening on the unit that shift, like newborn PKU screenings that I could attend. This helped me increase my skillset and prepare for when I would have to do these screenings on my own.

#7: Discussing Scheduled Breaks

For a team to run efficiently, there must be a system of order. The charge nurse typically designates specific times for each nurse to have scheduled breaks, including short breaks throughout the shift and a lunch break. While circumstances may arise that cause a needed change in the schedule, having a plan helps keep things in order as much as possible.

One thing I liked about discussing breaks during a nursing huddle was that I knew who was going on a break with me. That way, we could plan to have lunch together or go to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee, which gave us a chance to get to know one another better, resulting in stronger team relationships.

#8: Announcements

The last step in a nursing huddle is to make announcements. Announcements range from making everyone aware of upcoming meetings or training, reminding nurses who is due for CEU hours, or discussing staff appreciation luncheons. During announcements, the charge nurse may also recognize team members for a job well done or for accomplishing a new goal.

7 Tips for Nurse Leaders to Run a Remarkably Effective Huddle

Huddles in nursing may seem informal, but that does not mean they shouldn't be well-planned. If you are a nurse leader and want to have an effective huddle with your nurses, here are seven tips to help you!

Tip #1: Pick a Time that is Best for Promoting Good Attendance

It’s hard to have a nursing huddle without nurses there, right? Most facilities schedule nursing huddles around the time when one shift ends and the next begins. However, there may be times when you need to schedule your meeting at a different time. Unless there is an emergency that requires a quick meeting, pick the time that is most convenient for the nurses who should be in attendance.

Tip #2: Organize your thoughts ahead of time.

Nursing huddles are designed to be quick meetings, so if you are confused or disorganized, then your staff will begin to get frustrated with you. If you want to have a truly effective nursing huddle, it is important for you to be prepared. Take the time to organize your thoughts and make a list of important things that should be discussed. When you show up organized, your meeting will not only go smoother, but you will set an example for your team on the importance of preparation and planning.

Tip #3: Create a Safe Space Where Staff Feel They Are Heard

A huddle in nursing is more than just a group of nurses sitting around and listening to a leader chat about things they think are important. Although you will discuss important issues, nursing huddles should be a place where staff feel safe discussing concerns and know that you will take their words to heart. There may be times when staff prefer to talk to you privately, which is fine. However, if you do not create a safe space for them, they may not feel comfortable approaching you at all.

As a nurse leader, it is your responsibility to empower your staff to feel comfortable speaking up. One way to accomplish this is to teach staff to use the CUS tool for communication. The term “CUS” stands for “Concern-Uncomfortable-Safety Event”. This method empowers staff to speak up if they “feel concerned”, “feel uncomfortable” or need to communicate “this is a safety issue”.

Tip #4: Communicate clearly and effectively

Huddles in nursing are a time when important information is shared between nurse leaders and staff. Therefore, it is crucial for leaders to communicate effectively. Keep in mind that you may be speaking to a group of 10 or more nurses as well as Certified Nursing Assistants and unlicensed assistive personnel. You should be prepared to get their attention and keep it. Try to have a positive tone and speak clearly and confidently.

Tip #5: Try to divert attention away from unnecessary discussions or off-topic conversations

When you get a group of nurses together, it is normal to have times when a small group may have a side conversation going on, or someone speaks over you. To have an effective huddle, it is essential for you to divert everyone's attention away from anything not related to the meeting. Remember, you are the nursing leader responsible for the meeting… So, take charge!

Tip #6: Emphasize Quality and Safety

There is always a good time to emphasize quality and safety to your team, and nursing huddles are a great place to take advantage of opportunities to address safety and quality concerns or issues. Get your team involved in conversations about the importance of performing timely assessments, educating patients, preventing errors, and using evidence-based practices.

Tip #7: Allow time for questions

A nursing huddle should only be considered complete once you have given your staff the opportunity to ask questions. Even when your audience is attentive, one person may have missed something important. By allowing a few minutes for questions, it makes your staff feel heard and appreciated, which is important if you want to build strong teams who work well together.

My Final Thoughts

As both a floor nurse and in leadership roles, I always found huddles as good opportunities to set the pace for our nursing shifts. That’s why it was important for me to answer the question, what is a nursing huddle? Now that you know the elements of a nursing huddle, who participates, when they occur, and how long they last, you can prepare and get the most out of a huddle. Plus, if you are looking to become a nursing leader, you now have seven tips for leading an effective nursing huddle. You now have all the information you need to go into your next nursing huddle!

List Of Sources Used For This Article:

1. “The Huddle: A Daily Dose of Communication” (Sage Journals)
2. “Team Huddles: A Winning Strategy for Safety” (Nursing2024, The Peir Reviewed Journal of Clinical Excellence)
3. “CUS Tool” (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality)
4. “Patient Safety Essentials Toolkit: Huddles” (Institute for Healthcare Improvement)

Sarah Cruzan, RN, BSN
Sarah Cruzan is a registered nurse with 6 years of hospital, sales, and education experience. She is passionate about engaging clients and providing exceptional care. Sarah was a competitive swimmer for 15 years. She received a scholarship to The Ohio State University and swam varsity for 4 years.