The way that most people think about teamwork is quite different than the type of teamwork required for lean to succeed. For example, if I asked if you functioned as a team, you would probably tell me yes, we do. But if I dug in a little deeper and asked what that meant, you would probably say things like, ‘we all get along with each other,’ or ‘we have common objectives.’ There’s nothing really wrong with this way of thinking—if, that is, you are working in a traditional batch company and don’t want to make the transition to lean.
Teamwork in lean is a much bigger deal than the way most people think about it, and it's crucial to success. For lean to work, each member of the team needs to learn how to think and act as one. Every individual needs to support each other and be willing to give and accept criticism. You can’t have any infighting and it has to be clear to all of your associates that you are all on the same page.
But that only scratches the surface. Becoming a lean enterprise requires you to create successful, motivated teams throughout the entire company. Every function has to work together in a coordinated way. You can’t have sales soliciting large batch orders while the plant is trying to level load production. This means that you have to know what each function is doing and how it ties into the overall objectives of your company. This will take a level of teamwork that you haven’t experienced yet. And not just at your level. Teamwork has to be present all the way down to the value-adding employees. Getting everyone focused on the company’s operational excellence targets requires coordinated teamwork at every level of the organization. Leadership needs to understand this and constantly encourage this need to work together.
As you move from batch to flow you will be transitioning from a traditional ‘one man-one machine’ approach to small teams of people trying to respond directly to the demands of the customer. These new value stream teams need to come together to remove the waste and deliver value to your customers. They have to function as teams to be successful. Your current functional organization is the exact opposite of this. It creates internal squabbling and finger pointing when things go wrong.
True teams work for each other and the customer and take responsibility when things go wrong. They don’t look for someone else to blame. They understand that your customer just sees you as a single entity. They don’t care about your internal squabbles. All of which are just waste anyway. Yet your current organizational structure will always create such problems. For example, you can’t have operations trying to reduce inventory while the purchasing department is buying huge batches of raw material to try and get the cost down and thus increasing inventory. You will be working against yourself. You need the whole team to be trying to reduce inventory. Great teams need to be encouraged to try new things and not have to worry about failure. In fact, unlike your current rigid measurements, you should be encouraging a certain level of failure.
Remember that you can’t become lean without creating a learning organization. By this I mean putting all of your people in roles where they have to become problem solvers. And the only way to make that happen by design is through organizing for lean using teams. They should be organized around value streams and then by smaller production cells (teams) within the value stream. Teams tend to naturally function better than individuals when it comes to solving problems and removing waste. Team members will support and encourage each other to reach goals using a certain amount of social pressure and team rules to keep everyone focused and accountable. So, remember when you start down the lean path that lean is a team sport - not an individual competition.