In March, we held our 6th annual Lean Transformation Summit with the theme of Collaborative Learning. Some of the feedback we heard from you, our community, was that this was an interesting and potentially useful concept, but you left wanting more concrete learning to take back with you. Based on your feedback, we've put together a list of five ways to learn collaboratively, and how they might apply to you or your organization. These distinctions are important because they remind us that there are many ways to learn collaboratively, not just one, and they get us thinking about what kinds of collaborative learning relationships we're in already and we might want to engage in.
1) 1 x 1 Collaboration
At its most basic level, collaborative learning can mean two people learning together, creating new knowledge together. Think Managing to Learn (mentor and mentee, using the A3 as the medium for management and creative problem-solving). For those willing to give this a try, perhaps seek out a willing partner to play the roles of Sanderson and Porter, using a real life issue to work through. 1x1 collaboration might also mean two people working together to drive an important project forward within their team or organization. When time is limited or work is fairly complex, this can be highly effective at keeping the work moving and on track.
2) Team Collaboration (3 or more people)
A good example of team collaboration is a kaizen event in which a group of people with a common purpose learn and work together to improve a process or set of processes. If attempting a kaizen event seems too daunting, think of a project, big or small, that you and your colleagues are already collaborating on, or would like to tackle with others. Surely you and your colleagues have a common gripe that you can rally around and work to improve! While it’s not absolutely necessary, it helps to have a skilled facilitator for team collaborative learning activities—ideally someone with a solid base of lean knowledge and an ability to invite everyone’s input and creativity.
3) Collaboration Within and Across the Organization
This kind of collaborative learning is powerful, but it can be challenging as it requires sustained alignment among leaders at different levels within the organization. Medtronic, a well-known leader in the lean community, has found a way to make this work for them. At this year’s Summit, Greg Johnson, Sr. Director of Process Solutions, spoke with us about how operational excellence gives Medtronic its competitive advantage. Medtronic has defined their operating standard, set a global expectation to accelerate improvement, and developed an ability to accurately assess their current state in order to identify and close gaps in performance. Plant managers communicate formally and informally, learning from each other, and leaders at different sites within the organization co-develop processes and management models as needed. Medtronic employ the PDCA process at the organizational level through ongoing, collaborative learning relationships.
4) Cross-Organization Collaboration
Are you familiar with the Healthcare Value Network? If not, from the name you can guess that the participants are all from the same industry. Each network (currently there are five) is made up of 9-12 healthcare organizations (primarily hospitals, but also clinics). Network members come together at least three times per year for a deep learning gemba experience. The host organization puts together the learning plan for the visit, and through gemba walks, group teaching sessions, and open discussions everyone learns. The host organization gains ideas for new things to try, and attendees bring back new ideas to incorporate into their own lean journeys. Does HVN seem too formal to you? How about reaching out to an organization across town to set up visits with each other? It’s a start! You’ll be surprised at the ripple effects of such brief co-learning events.
5) Cross-sector Learning and Collaboration
The Iowa Lean Consortium shows us what it looks like when government and businesses work together. Private sector businesses in Iowa (through the Iowa Coalition for Innovation and Growth) reached out to the state government (environmental regulatory agency) and asked to collaborate on improving key business development processes. The end result was a lead time reduction from 62 days to 12 days for the air quality new source construction permit process, as well as the elimination of a backlog of 600 permit applications in just six months. This was the first lean project for what is now a thriving partnership. If your local or state government agency isn’t up for the challenge, why not help out and introduce lean at a more local, personal level, perhaps a project with your local library branch?
Considering this list, which kinds of collaborative learning relationships do you think you’re currently engaged in? What process did you use to create a collaborative learning environment? What kinds of learning relationships would you like to be engaged in or help bring about? Take a moment and think about one or two individuals within your team or your organization who might help you create or strengthen these relationships. Which of these scenarios is most challenging? Which feels like it holds the greatest potential for your business? Tell us what you think by starting a new thread over in our forums, whether you work in manufacturing or services. We’re curious to hear your thoughts!