The Lean Facilitator

The practice of lean involves eliminating waste wherever it is found and solving problems (which typically leads to waste elimination). In all things, we are trying to remove the barriers that keep our teams from being successful. But team building can be a tricky thing in any culture.

Most western cultures are deeply rooted in the need to recognize individual performance and achievement. Our rewards systems are often set up to encourage individualism. Many people strive for the number one position, the pole position in racing, the gold star award, the penthouse suite and the corner office. While all of these are important, they do little to encourage the type of team collaboration needed in a lean environment.

goal alignment

One key part of a lean effort is the lean facilitator. This person is important at the start of the journey and plays a balancing role throughout the implementation and life of the effort. What key roles and characteristics make up a good facilitator?

Primarily, the knowledge, skills, and abilities you would expect in any facilitator. For example, a lean facilitator:

  • is capable of maintaining objectivity
  • is skilled in reading the underlying dynamics of the group and using that understanding to keep the process on track
  • is skilled in adapting to the changing situation
  • demonstrates professionalism, self-confidence, and authenticity
  • maintains personal integrity
  • remains neutral on issues
  • practices active listening
  • knows how to ask questions
  • encourages open communication
  • maintains focus on the issues


All teams go through a development process. The development process has at least four distinct phases (Form, Storm, Norm, Perform) which can be repeatable based on a number of different factors. AN important point to remember also is that each time there are changes to the team, there will be potential impacts on where the team is in the cycle. New members always add an amount of “change” to the mix and that should be a key indicator for the need for a reassessment.

Understanding where the team is in the cycle can help the facilitator to become more effective in guiding the teams through a lean journey. This places a burden on the facilitator to not make assumptions but taking the time to make well measured assessments at varying points along the way. The key thing is to continue to re-evaluate with enough frequency based on the key indicators (conflict, chaos, productivity gains and losses and so on).

Finally, the ability for a facilitator to balance inquiry and advocacy is critical to their success. Inquiry means that the facilitator is allowing the natural flow of ideas to come from the group being facilitated. That does not mean that the facilitator cannot advocate for an idea or a direction. If the group is failing to come to the place where lean thinking is the key factor, it is acceptable for the facilitator to take a more proactive approach to get the team back on track.

A great lean facilitator can make all the difference in a lean journey.

True North

True north is a place that can be reached if only the right amount of direction can be applied. Being prepared to provide that general direction while allowing the group to discover it “on their own” is a true challenge and a true opportunity.

Mister Mac

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