Why is Teamwork such an important part of a successful lean journey?

Its a great Navy Day! The weather is amazing here inport and the
crew is motivated to do great things today.

Submarine thought for today: The best submarine in the world does not become the best tied up to a pier… it becomes the best when it is on its journey.

In the fifteen years I have been implementing lean, one of the first questions I am always asked is “What is the most important factor to ensure success in a lean journey?”

Of course its a natural question since imlementing lean in a traditional environment means an investment.

First, there is an investment of effort since everyone from management to the newest hire will have some level of responsibility in the journey.

Second, there is also an investment of time. We have become so time oriented in our measurements that time is inextricably linked to everything we do. Whether its a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) used to track performance or a graph on a team board that helps the team to understand their
daily progress, time is an element that drives most organizations. But does time really mean success?


In my experience, many organizations have become so wrapped up in the timing
element, they lose track of the longer term gains that come from doing the”Right Things”. The mere focus on the wrong things causes waste. Eliminating waste is one of the critical measures of a successful lean journey.

The common denominator on both of these issues is people. Without a combined effort of all of the people involved in the journey, lean will be nothing more than another flavor of the month that will quickly lose its taste.

Teamwork is the keystone because it means you have prepared the members of the team for the roles they will play. Their efforts are the bedrock that is needed to support the sacrifices that will come from an initial implementation. Without a strong structure that is clearly understood all the
way through your “system” the nature of most people is to lose energy and passion. The old way has not worked for so many because we have built structures which encourage finger pointing and the blame game.

I have seen it every place I have gone at the beginning of their lean journey. One shift doesn’t do something the other shift thinks they should. Engineering doesn’t support production. Management and labor have conflicting goals. The list goes on and on.

I suppose I got spoiled on submarines because even though we had our share of conflicts, we all had the same goal. At the end of each patrol or operation, the most important goal was to equal the amount of surfaces and dives.

Now the skeptic might say, yes, but wasn’t your driving motivation the fact that if one of you fails it could cause all of you to fail? Of course it is. But if you are being totally honest, isn’t the same for your business or organization? Can any organization truly survive with team members who are not
committed to the long vision and goals? Sooner or later, you will run into a competitor who has  decided to take the “All Hands On Deck” approach.  Somehow, they have discovered the magic that comes from everyone aligned in the same direction: Being the best.

Those teams still have conflicts. That is where creativity and growth occur. They just manage them in a way that a positive outcome can give them a competitive edge. Each team member is aware fo their role in the successful outcome. No team member feels that their inputs are ignored so they
stay engaged. If a team member needs to talk with the CEO, they know they will be rewarded not punished. Every member taking personal responsibility for the teams success leads to a kind of power you can’t build or buy.

The business world in which we operate is having to get leaner and more efficient every single day. If your team structure is not built in a way that recognizes that threat, you are already sinking from your own weight. Your competition has already started a lean or sigma approach and learning the
lessons that will propel them past you in the market place. Teamwork can help you to prepare for the lean journey but one word of caution: All of the elements of lean working together will be required to get you to the integration phase of your journey. Teamwork alone is not the only answer. In the days and months ahead, I will write about all of the elements that team
must deal with in their journey.

So today’s question was: “What is the most important factor to ensure success in a lean journey?”

I would tell you that the most important starting element is having a team that is committed to success, has a compelling vision that is shared, that learns as a team, and manages their natural conflict for success.

On every submarine, every crew member has a purpose and is highly trained to do their individul part. Can you say the same of your organization?

Thanks for stopping by. Please give me your feedback since that gives me the opportunity to continue to grow on my journey. And have a Great Navy Day!

Mister Mac

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