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Ask Art: How Are Lean Teams Different?

by Art Byrne
June 21, 2016

Ask Art: How Are Lean Teams Different?

by Art Byrne
June 21, 2016 | Comments (9)

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.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  culture,  leadership,  problem solving
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9 Comments | Post a Comment
kevin Kobett June 21, 2016

"So, remember when you start down the lean path that lean is a team sport - not an individual competition."

Most likely the individual competitor is the manager/supervisor. How do you deal with this?



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Ken Hunt June 21, 2016
2 People AGREE with this reply

Don't try to quantify Lean improvements in setting goals for performance evaluations for managers. It becomes an individual thing, nothing more than "check the box".



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Ken Hunt June 21, 2016
2 People AGREE with this reply

I forgot - Set target conditions for the entire team instead.



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Mark Graban June 22, 2016

On the topic of teamwork vs. competition... that made me think of Dr. Deming, who of course taught Toyota so much. But, many of Deming's ideas are sometimes missing from "Lean" or the way companies do things. Look at the assumption that so many people share that says we have to give the leader an "annual review" as some sort of threat to fall in line? Why?



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art byrne June 23, 2016

Ken you are correct you should set targets for the whole team not for individuals. You can deal with individual performance in other ways. Someone who is not contributing to the team [i.e. overall company] results will stand out pretty quickly.



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art byrne June 23, 2016

Kevin, thanks for your question. The whole idea of creating teams is to get away from the individual competitor defending their turf or fiefdom. To overcome this all lean team leaders share the companies operational excellence targets and report on them to senior management frequently [weekly is best]. Someone who is not progressing or in fact fighting the change will stand out pretty quickly and you can get them back on the right track.



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kevin Kobett June 21, 2016

I did a poor job phrasing my question. You describe a symbiotic relationship between silos. Hence one manager can throw a monkey wrench into the lean process. How much patience do you give someone who refuses to embrace lean? How do you improve the odds of hiring a lean manager?



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art byrne June 23, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Kevin, I think you have to show patience with individuals who initially balk at lean especially if they are otherwise good performers. You can't wait forever but in my experience many of the people who are sceptical or reluctant at first become your best lean proponents once they see the light. Those who will never get there often will leave on their own. Help them find a job with your competitors. As for improving your odds of hiring a lean manager we did a couple of things, 1] we used a personnality test to see if they could work in a lean [team] environment, 2] we didn't hire people from batch companies as we didn't want to take the time to "un-learn" them. Instead we hired young engineers out of school and trained them ourselves and 3] we hired individuals that already had a lean background whenever we could, which wasn't that often by the way.



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France Bergeron June 27, 2016

Very interesting article Art.  The tratidional way of talking about flow in lean was "getting from batch to flow".  Now, a deep understand of lean demonstrates that flow (flow of value, team flow, individual flow) is actually the focus.  On team flow, Steven Kotler has done a lot to advance the understanding of the flow state and how to create the conditions to bring a team to that state (practiced by Toyota).  See flow states: answer to the 3 most common questions about optimal performance http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenkotler/2014/02/09/flow-states-answers-to-the-three-most-common-questions-about-optimal-performance/#49f234e93d15

 



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