Foundation Problem: When Your Production Team Lacks Real Teamwork


The success of your lean goals truly depend on the strength of your foundation.

While so many lean tools come into play–”just in time,” one-piece flow, kaizen, work cells, balanced workloads, scheduling, etc–these are the things that are built upon the foundation.

The foundation itself that you need to succeed with lean is quite different than what commonly gets attention.

So in this episode we’re giving attention to a critical component of your lean foundation: production floor teamwork!

Just because you’re family doesn’t mean you’re a team!

Over the years I (Daniel) have heard many small organizations make the statement, “we’re a family.” I’ve come to realize that while they may have long history with each other, that history doesn’t guarantee that they are functioning as a high-performing team.

At the same time, I’ve never seen a high-performing team that did not also have an element of connectedness–or even intimacy.

So, any true team will have some amount of a family feel. But there are many more families that never perform at the level of a team.

#1 Effective production teams focus on problem solving

The first characteristic of an effective production-floor team is that it focuses on solving problems.

If you were to listen to the words spoken in standup meetings, between team leaders and team members, etc. you would identify an emphasis not on what is going right, but rather on what is going wrong.

Many organization instead either 1) avoid talking about real problems or 2) simply complain about what’s not right.

But an effective team truly engages with a problem-solving process. It characterizes the everyday nature of the team.

#2 Effective production teams master their standards

Teams have standards and they master them!

Just like any sports team, a production team must take pride in their standards and develop a level of mastery.

Quite a few organizations have underdeveloped standards. They either do not exist, or some exist but do not reflect what actually goes on.

If there is no standard, and everyone does their work their own way, then it’s hard to claim “teamwork.” After all, the team’s primary concern must be results! If there isn’t enough care to determine and decide what the current best standard is, then there isn’t adequate concern for the results of the team.

#3 Effective production teams uphold their standards

Entropy rules the world and will sooner or later cause every standard to fall into decay.

Therefore, there’s no point in establishing a standard unless it is follow-up on. So the third characteristic of an effective team is that they frequently follow up on everything.

An effective production team actually bothers to keep up with and maintain best practices and standards.

(There are many “families” and non-teams that do not bother at all… and that is a major problem!)

Effective teams value frequent follow-ups and know they are vital to their on-going success.

#4 Effective production teams improve their standards

Any successful sports team is continuously improving their plays, moves, and strategies for winning.

The same thing is characteristic of a high-performing production team: they continuously improve their standards.

While “continuous improvement” is the emphasis of many lean and kaizen programs, the phrase “continuous standardization” may be just as important for the success of the team.

#5 Effective production teams have rituals and routines

Rituals and routines support continued performance. They may appear to be accessory, but they are vital for creating longterm success.

In the case of production teams, they benefit strongly from a daily management system to keep “continuous improvement” continuous and maintain the focus on the characteristics already mentioned above.

The daily management system is often composed of brief standup meetings, a problem-solving process, and daily accountability.

Depending on the size of your organization, you may have multiple tiers of meetings to appropriately escalate issues and communicate progress.

#6 Effective production teams have leaders who know how to coach

The team leader must know the difference between being a player who plays the game and a coach who coaches the team.

He or she is measured by the results they can achieve through others and not through their own production effots.

While this is a simple concept to state, lots of team leaders still think and behave quite a lot like team members.

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