Category Archives: Continuous Improvement

A Closer Look at High Performing Teams

high performing team

Spring boarding off of recent posts that focused on workplace relationships, and building on a point made in our previous post that nothing brings to light the quality of relationships more than in the workings of a team, today’s focus is on building high-performing teams.

Building high performing teams can bring about significant gains – gains that go beyond those typically achieved by individuals — and for good reasons:

  • It is nearly impossible for a single person to possess the same amount of knowledge and experience that a high performing team possesses
  • The exchange of ideas leads to new thinking and innovation
  • The involvement of multiple people in decision-making strengthens commitment levels
  • A team environment provides mutual support and a sense of belonging

Yet virtually every organization we’ve encountered struggles with developing teams. Many teams are dysfunctional; they take too long to accomplish tasks, the work is filled with errors and waste, the costs are excessive and turf wars abound.

Based on our work with thousands of teams, there are eight key attributes associated with high performing teams:

  1. Work on what matters
  2. Create the “right” structure, including sponsor, leader, facilitator and members, all with clear roles
  3. Create a team charter
  4. Manage team meetings effectively
  5. Follow a defined methodology for problem solving and continuous improvement
  6. Monitor and improve teamwork skills
  7. Share accountability
  8. Recognize and publicize accomplishment

Teams & The “R Factor”

team

While the quality of relationships can be observed and evaluated within one-on-one interactions as discussed in our previous two posts, nothing brings to light the quality of relationships more than in the workings of a team.

Teams have become the primary and core structure for getting work done and it would be difficult to find an organization which does not have “teamwork” as a fundamental value.

This is highly logical when you consider that it is nearly impossible for a single person to possess the same amount of knowledge and experience that a high performing team possesses, and that the involvement of multiple people in decision-making strengthens commitment. The exchange of ideas that takes place in a team environment, (as opposed to a setting in which people work in individual silos), promotes new thinking and innovation as well.

Yet, it is interesting that although the value of teams is readily accepted, it is rare to find teams that have truly reached their potential. In team language, this means they have yet to reach a level of high performance.

What is often missing is the realization that creating high performing teams is not just about implementing the basics of team structures. Going from an effective team to a high performing team requires additional skills, practice, commitment, and most importantly, in the words again of Mike Morrison, “It’s the relationship!” Teams seeking to become high performing must have strong relationships at their very core.

Consider the following key areas when measuring the strength of your organizational or team relationships:

  • Mutual Accountability
  • Trust and Loyalty
  • Esprit de Corps
  • Commitment to Results

These characteristics are exemplified by the preeminent model for high performance — The Navy SEALs! Their creed, actions, and success solidly point to their reputation of high performance.

Observe any high performing team and you will find these same characteristics evident — and not just “some of the time.” A high performing team reflects these characteristics in every way and at all times.

You might also take a look upward, or a more reflective look depending upon job function, because a concerted, focused effort needs to take place. And as is most often the case with any change or improvement initiative, it needs to happen at the top. Hence it is an absolute requirement that the Senior Executive Team “walks the talk” of high performing teams. It is not enough to accept a “do as we say, not as we do” attitude. Failure to model high performing team characteristics at the executive level is a sure path to mediocre team results throughout the organization.

In actuality, high performing executive teams are less plentiful than high performance workforce teams, and possibly for good reason. Many executives got to the top by their individual ability to be the best; and many successful executives have not necessarily had a track record of either leading high performing teams, or even having been a part of a high performing team. In addition, because of the rotating door of management (one of Dr. Deming’s “deadly sins”), many executives aren’t around in one position long enough to develop the skills and most importantly the relationships required for high performing teams.

Yet, in spite of the inherent challenges for executives to truly create high performing teams, it is a challenge worth overcoming.

This need is particularly strong, not only because of the clear advantages of a high performing team anywhere in an organization, but also because of the need to model such behavior at the executive level. When any value is proclaimed by an organization (in this case teamwork), the first and constant litmus test of the value is evidence that the value is demonstrated at the top levels.

The “R” Factor Part 2: Show Me the Money!

Our previous post focused on the importance of relationships within the workplace and the impact on people.

It has also been well-documented with facts and data that the cost of poor relationships in the workplace is significant; and in contrast, improving relationships improves the bottom line.

For example, a Watson Wyatt Worldwide study found a direct correlation between trust and profitability. Where employees trusted executives, companies posted returns 42% higher than those where distrust was the norm.

In a different study, they found that of the 7,500 employees surveyed only half trusted their senior managers. So imagine the impact of improving the relationships with the ‘other’ half!

Another study on trust in the workplace conducted by Leadership IQ, which involved a database of 7,209 executives, managers and employees, revealed that 44% of participants’ responses ranged from not trusting to strongly distrusting their top management, and that trust significantly predicts employee loyalty and their inclination to stay or leave the organization. Having employees “go” is costly and especially so at the managerial and executive level. As once cited in the Orange County Business Journal, the cost of losing one executive who underperforms or one who chooses to join another executive team is an average of $1.5 million per executive hire. Calculated another way, the cost can reach 400% of the yearly salary of a high level employee.

Along the same lines, in his book The Speed of Trust, Covey quoted Professor John Whitney of Columbia Business School, who said “Mistrust doubles the cost of doing business.”

In addition to the obvious and direct costs of attrition (recruitment, severance, training, etc.), there are other costs associated with dissatisfied employees at any level. There is the pervasive, though
often not measured, cost of wasted time and lowered productivity — the unproductive time spent in unresolved conflicts, complaining about management or co-workers, lack of engagement and not putting forth best efforts. It follows that reducing wasted time, like reducing other forms of waste, can contribute to improved profitability.

Imagine how much better-off we all might be if we could better manage our relationships; as noted above, the improvements could be staggering!

Risks of Quick Wins

risk of quick wins

Our previous post focused on the benefits of quick wins, which are many! But going after Quick Wins is not a sure fire strategy.

Without effective leadership, an organization may end up with quick failures instead. Here are some of the potential pitfalls of Quick Wins: To get a solution implemented quickly a team might skip over the analysis.

This is fine in situations where it is easy to quickly determine if the solution worked. If trying the solution is cheap, and it is quick and easy to determine if it solved the problem, just do it! In such a situation, measuring the results is all the analysis you need. But if the results are not likely to be quickly visible or measurable, it is better to do more analysis up front to make sure that the solution you want to implement will actually yield improvements.

For example, if an organization is concerned about employee morale, there are many quick changes that could be made in hopes to improve morale. But organizational morale cannot be measured daily or even weekly. It could take many months to know if a change was actually for the better. In a situation like this, more analysis up front is essential to choosing the right solution.

Sometimes, when you aim for speed, you get a rush to judgement resulting in sub-optimization; the first idea becomes the only idea, when a more thoughtful consideration of the alternatives would surface a substantially better solution.

An organization may simply resort to a band-aide or patch or work-around rather than a solution that addresses a root cause. These band-aides can accumulate until they represent a pretty big component of waste in themselves.

Often a Quick Win is really just an idea someone has “on the shelf” — that is an idea they have been carrying around for a while. When an organization is introduced to Continuous Improvement, a flood of these ideas may be surfaced. But an off-the-shelf idea doesn’t provide a real “cycle of learning” in systematic process improvement because eventually people run out of ideas “on the shelf”. Unless an organization really internalizes the search for waste, the study of facts and data, the search for root causes, and the testing then standardization of the solution, they don’t know how to keep improving once these “on the shelf” ideas get used up.

Speed, however, does not necessarily mean a team must take short cuts in the process improvement methodology. Thoughtful exploration of alternatives can be bounded by time. Even 30 minutes of brainstorming alternatives or improvements to an idea can make a difference. Allowing 24 hours for feedback and improvements on the idea can identify ways to make it even better — with minimal impact on speed.

Leveraging Quick Wins!

When it comes to Continuous Process Improvement, action is what it’s all about. It matters not a bit what training you provide, slogans you use, or posters you post if you do not promptly move into action to get things done, measured, and stabilized so the solution sticks.

‘Quick Wins’ is a powerful tool for moving teams into action.

But it is more easily said than done.

What Is A ‘Quick Win’?
The key elements are right there in those two words: it’s got to be quick and it’s got to be successful. A Quick Win must be completed in 4 to 6 weeks at most, but many are implemented much faster such as in a “kaizen blitz” where a small group focuses full time on an improvement for a day or two, or half-time for a week.

Because of the speed imperative, if a solution requires a significant capital investment, it is not going to be a Quick Win.

If it requires a large team or cross-functional buy-in, chances are it will be a slow win if it succeeds at all.

Many Quick Wins do not require a formal team; often a natural work team can identify the problem and implement a quick solution. For a solution to become a Quick Win it is almost always an improvement that can be completed with the people closest to the work and with the resources close at hand.

Sometimes a Quick Win is a high value improvement executed with speed. But even an improvement with small dollar impact can have a great ROI — because the time and expense invested is so low and the organization begins reaping the benefits so quickly.

Why Do They Matter?
According to John Kotter, author of Leading Change and The Heart of Change, creating Quick Wins builds momentum, defuses cynics, enlightens pessimists, and energizes people.

In addition, and as depicted in the image above, when involved in any type of improvement or change initiative, education, promptly followed by action, yields motivation, and success inspires success. Theoretical opportunities and methodologies are meaningless until a person starts to see the possibilities through real-life hands-on process improvement.

Conclusions?
So a Quick Win is a shot of adrenalin for a Continuous Improvement culture. The people involved get a great deal of satisfaction from making the work more effective, more efficient, or lower cost. Their effort pays off, and pays off quickly.

Plus, they are more inclined to look for another such improvement. The people who see or hear about the Quick Win are often inspired to begin looking for their own Quick Wins as well!

Ultimately, the motivational value of a Quick Win makes the return on the effort even higher.

The Ohno Circle: Watch & Learn!

circle

The most important responsibility a manager has is to continually improve the system of work so his or her people can work more effectively and efficiently, producing higher quality and greater value for the customers. We surface and eliminate the waste in a variety of ways, asking people close to the work for their input, studying how other companies have achieved improvements, bringing in consultants and studying journals.

However, the most effective and least expensive process improvement method may be the simple method of looking and thinking about what you see.

For example, a small team of professionals was asked to determine how to fix the problems with a multi-million-dollar robotics line. This robotic line was designed to prevent stock-outs and excess parts inventory on the assembly line by using bar-coded totes, an overhead conveyor belt, and scanners and switches to send a new tote of replenishment parts to exactly the right workstation.

When a tote was emptied, it was placed on the return conveyor and when the return scanner read the barcode, the tote number would be captured. The scanner would record the emptied tote numbers, and every three minutes this list would be transmitted to the inventory software. Inventory would be decremented for workstations that had been assigned that tote number and a replenishment order would pop up at the material handling station.

The system failed so miserably that the supervisors had to take a complete physical inventory at the start of every shift to correct the inventory records.

The improvement team spent several weeks conducting interviews and studying the floor layout diagram, the process flows, and the computer code to crack a mystery that, as it turned out, could have solved in 20 minutes using the ‘Ohno Circle’ method.

As you may know, Taiichi Ohno is credited for much of the thinking behind the Toyota Production System, and he invented a novel method of making improvements. He would go to where the work was being done, draw a chalk circle on the floor, and stand in it.

He would stand for hours, watching and thinking about what he was seeing. He would look for what was getting in the way of people creating value and he would study the situation to determine what was causing it. This gave him the insight he needed to make lasting improvements.

Of course, the team of problem solvers had toured the line, but while they had looked, they had not watched. If one or more of them had stood in one place long enough to watch carefully, they would have seen the returned totes drop off of the return conveyor and nest one inside another. The next minute, they would have seen someone take the newly dropped empty tote from the top of the stack and use it for the next order. The material handler would key in the tote number, the new workstation destination, and the part numbers being sent there and send the tote on its way — often less than a minute after the tote had dropped off the return conveyor.

That is, the observers would quickly have realized that the tote re-use process was too fast for the information flow — which reported the list of emptied totes only once every three minutes.

Whenever a tote was reused before the list was sent, the inventory of the new workstation would be decremented instead of the inventory at the workstation that had returned the tote. With this insight, the problem was easily solved — change the frequency of the systems updates or change the return tote process so that no totes were refilled within 3 minutes of dropping off the belt. The latter was the easier solution, and a poka-yoke was quickly implemented to make it impossible for a recent tote to be selected and keyed in.

A little bit of watching can tell us a lot.

Increasing Customer Satisfaction

Dr. Deming

There are a variety of approaches to hearing the Voice of the Customer, a voice with which we should be very familiar!

Consider that we can know all there is to know about our internal processes and still not know enough about them to increase client satisfaction. For this sort of challenge we need additional tools and methods.

Customer Surveys are a staple for measuring and possibly surfacing areas for improvement. A popular tool for measuring customer satisfaction is the Net Promoter Score. Studying variation in the Net Promoter Scores (NPS) by area, customer type, and over time can help pinpoint trouble spots that are impacting customer satisfaction.

Analyzing customer Complaint Logs can help identify and address the problems that customers have identified and shared, but this is a bare minimum in the effort to increase customer satisfaction. The Complaint Log is a place to seek information about where we are falling short on what the Kano Model calls “Must-Be Quality.” The absence of the quality dissatisfies even though the presence in itself will not please the customers because it is assumed. Addressing gaps in the Must-Be Quality can lift one out of the hole, but will never lift customer satisfaction any further.

To effectively increase customer satisfaction, we need to create and deliver work that will delight the customers. One client described his method as the Ambassador Visit: “I go to meet with the customer, I say thank you for your business, and then I shut up. And listen.” Providing a good forum and opportunity for the customer to express what they like and don’t like is very useful. What’s more, the Ambassador Visit provides a forum to discuss what the customers see coming down the road, so we can proactively anticipate and address their needs.

Another client finds tremendous value in visiting clients as they work with the product — meeting them in the field to watch, listen, and study the customer’s challenges and how the product currently helps them — and how it could help them if something were to be changed. This approach, sometimes called Contextual Inquiry, provides value in understanding what is truly working as expected for the customers and how we can solve problems for the customers that they did not even think to mention.

Regardless of which or how many of these tools we might use, we might also keep in mind, on a daily basis, Dr. Deming’s frequent quote, “Quality is for the customer.” He also reminded us, “No customers, no orders, no jobs!”

Using Flow Charts

Often we have a process through which we want to increase the throughput or output without adding resources. In these situations a Process Flow Chart or Process Evaluation Chart is an excellent tool to start with.

A Process Flow Chart or Process Evaluation Chart (the latter is populated with measurement data) can be created by bringing together the participants in the process and mapping it out together. Some organizations believe that mapping the processes with the frontline associates always results in lightbulbs going on and the associates voicing concerns and ideas once their process is on the wall.

There are always surprises, they find ‘black holes’ or dead ends, see the ‘wastes’, waiting and handovers get visible and they learn what the other ‘swim-lanes’ (teams or team members) do and how what they do impacts others and vice versa. They always start to create action logs based on the concerns/ideas and they serve as the basis for the improvement project.

Another approach is to start with observation. Follow the process, observe the work and gather what data is available about the current process. This can be compiled into a draft of a flow chart to bring to a meeting with participants from all areas of the process under study. At this meeting, the group goes through the draft, discussing, adding to, questioning, and correcting the draft to better reflect reality.

Below is a graphic summary of flow chart symbols and their meaning:

Retaining Talent Through Engagement

Continuing the theme of “retaining talent” from our previous post, we have found the combination of productivity and engagement drives many things, including employee retention.

In reality, and like most things in business or in life, it’s the ongoing execution, work, measurement, and improvement projects (which sounds remarkably similar to Deming’s Plan—Do—Study—Act cycle) that will yield better performance results as well as higher levels of employee engagement.

In fact, we have found engagement can be a bi-product of productivity, as opposed to the other-way-around, which is the more accepted ‘conventional wisdom’ opinion.

Thus, it is by taking a formalized approach to creating a workplace culture that is linked with team productivity, performance, and job satisfaction that an organization will achieve the fore-mentioned levels of performance gains, engagement, and talent retention.

In a white paper shared in the past, we described an approach that aligns nicely with the ISO 10018 People Involvement and Competence guidelines. It incorporates Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) as well as Continuous People Involvement (CPI), so we call it CPI².

ISO 10018 and the concept of CPI² will require a formalized plan for improving the work and the workplace… a formalized plan for helping people to achieve higher-levels of productivity and job satisfaction, which will yield better business performance as well as the “skyrocketing” levels of engagement we all strive to attain.

To achieve optimum results, a system for gathering, synthesizing, and analyzing data must be developed, followed by a rigorous method of priority-setting to decide what to work on.

People at all levels must be involved; they must be educated, empowered, and engaged so that the concept of improving both their work and their workplace becomes cultural, and so they become emotionally-invested in their work and workplace.

Supporting this perspective is research conducted this past year by Dale Carnegie and MSW Research, which revealed that although there are many factors that impact employee engagement, there are three key drivers:

  1. Relationship with immediate supervisor
  2. Belief in senior leadership
  3. Pride in working for the company

Recognizing these drivers as “targeted outcomes” is a good first step for business leaders who would like to initiate and document (a-la ISO 10018) a formalized approach to engaging people into their organization’s quality and improvement system.

Tough Problems v. Tough-to-Implement Solutions

Continuing with our previous post’s theme of problem solving, business leaders often find themselves with these kinds of difficult decisions: significant problems or opportunities versus proposed solutions that cost too much, take too long to implement, or carry adverse unintended consequences of their own.

Here are some examples:

  • A large chemical company had opportunities to increase sales by $60 million if they could expand production capacity, but the capital investments would cost $20-$30 million and would take 18 months to implement.
  • A data processing company received too many complaints about quality but the market and margins would not bear additional costs for ‘QC.’
  • The manufacturing company needed to cut raw material costs without weakening its suppliers.
  • Breakthrough technology that cost too much to be commercially viable.
  •  Centralizing the Purchasing function had reduced responsiveness and efficiency but when it was decentralized, it lacked sufficient controls and access to expertise.

In most problem solving situations, the first idea is the barrier to the second idea. Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head, observing, “When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there.”

In every example cited above, the people working to solve the problem had stopped at the first idea. Once an idea was developed the attention shifted toward evaluating the return on investment and lining up support rather than improving or replacing the idea with something better, faster, less expensive, or more effective. They stopped too soon!

The best idea is almost always hidden somewhere behind the first idea. In order to arrive at the best idea, you have to keep going. As Steve Jobs observed, “… if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions.”