Teams are “Us” – Part 5: More Nitty-Gritty

Teams are “Us” – Part 5: More Nitty-Gritty

“If you want one year of prosperity grow grain. 


If you want ten years of prosperity grow trees. 


If you want one hundred years of prosperity grow your people”

— Confucius (~ 500 BC)

In my last post, I outlined the various Team structures that I have worked with over the years. I went into some detail as to the differences between Cross-Functional Teams and Natural Work Groups. I also stressed that just forming a Team is not sufficient in of itself. A Team must have a clear vision of what over-riding principles and goals they are trying to achieve. How do their current efforts fit within the organization’s “True North”? Once again from Joel A Barker:

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”

For Cross-Functional Teams I suggested that a well-thought-out Team Charter can be the key driver towards maintaining the proper visionary focus. Basically, the charter is the initial attempt to define the “P” in PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act). A good Team Charter should contain these basic informational components:

  • Team Mission (How Relates to Critical Business Issues)
  • Team Goal
  • Project Scope
  • How Progress will be Measured
  • How Baseline Measures will be Established
  • Team Members/Leader/Facilitator/Sponsor
  • Key Stakeholders
  • Team Boundaries
  • Team Duration and Time Commitment Required

I described how the Team Sponsor is the key player in making the Team Charter a living document. The Sponsor prepares the Charter and negotiates the Charter components with the Team itself before any action is taken. All Team members must literally sign-off on the Charter. This is where the “Us” is formed! The acceptance of the Team Charter is the starting point for a successful Team.

Now a word for our Sponsor! (I hope this phrase does not date me too much). Of all the duties and responsibilities that rest on the shoulders of the Team Sponsor, none is more important than the rigorous thought and effort that should go into drafting a meaningful Team Charter. A Team Charter can be written in five minutes if so desired. Or the writing of a Team Charter can take many hours. I should know – I’ve done it both ways many, many times. But I have also learned some hard lessons along the way.

A five-minute Team Charter can get you started – and started and started and started and started…. You may be stuck in the “start mode” for many, many hours when the Charter is presented and negotiated with the Team if it has not been well thought out. The “end mode” just never seems to show up. But Team frustration does show up – and quickly. This is not the way you want to start!

The creation of the Team Charter by the Team Sponsor represents the beginning of the “learning mode” for the whole Team experience. Even if you think you understand beforehand the scope and nuances of the problem to be tackled, once you start seriously pondering the Team Mission, Team Goal and Project Scope you will usually discover that there is a lot more “there” there than you originally anticipated. And the Team Boundaries can send you back to the first three several times over (I will cover Team Boundaries in a moment).

Another thing to keep in mind for Cross-functional Teams is that these teams are special. Organizationally they lie way outside the normal hierarchical structure. Members should come from the horizontal “functional silos” that contain the necessary skills, knowledge and experience that covers the entire project scope. And, very importantly, the team members should also represent different levels of the vertical hierarchy within the organization. A typical Cross-functional Team may contain managers, engineers, production planners, supervisors, etc. as well as shop floor operators and office workers. Remember that the job of this type of team is to replace opinions with facts. A truly diverse membership increases the chances of finding those sometimes-elusive facts.

Since these teams are special, the Mission, Goal and Scope as outlined in the Team Charter should be considered special. Notice that when I first outlined the three types of Teams in my previous post, I also called the Cross-functional Team a Breakthrough Team. I also said the goals should reflect a 50 – 90% improvement. This is what differentiates kaizen from kaikaku. I will acknowledge that kaizen performed over a sufficient time-span will eventually yield kaikaku. But the difference here is that pesky time-span. Breakthrough Teams are meant to yield results much more quickly. Setting a 50 – 90% improvement target eliminates the inclination to “tweak” or “fine-tune” processes. We are looking for “paradigm breakers” here, not safe, feel-good, “let’s get this over with” efforts.

This is where the “Team Boundaries” component of the charter comes in handy. The “Team Boundaries” section usually just contains a simple two column table. One column is labeled “The Team Can”. The other column is labeled “The Team Cannot”.

The “Team Can” column gives the Team Sponsor the ability to give real power to the Team. This is where the Sponsor, even if he doesn’t really know exactly how the Team will reach their expansive goal, can provide guidance and reflective ideas as to how the Team may approach the challenge. The Sponsor can list things that the new Team may not consider on their own. The sponsor may say that the Team “can”: move equipment, eliminate equipment, modify equipment, tear down walls, change processes, eliminate processes, change procedures, talk to customers, involve other people from the organization, involve vendors, change specifications, modify procedures, combine departments, eliminate departments, etc., etc. – but you get the idea. We want real change not tweaks!

The ”Team Cannot” column should be as short as possible. I usually stress safety items here and make a general statement about cost and quality if appropriate.

The other components of the Team Charter such as the key metrics and baseline determination should be easily determined once the Goal and Scope are clearly defined. But I would like to stress that I personally do not like financial measures as the focus of Team Goals. The Team should be focusing on system processes and the flow of information and materials within the system. Financial measures do not lend themselves well to system flow. Get the flow right and the financials will take care of themselves. To quote Taiichi Ohno again:

“One of the main fundamentals of the Toyota System is to make “what you need, in the amount you need, by the time you need it,” but to tell the truth there is another part to this and that is ‘at a lower cost’. But that part is not written down. …I have been telling people that they must not put ‘at a lower cost’ first.”

One last note about Breakthrough Teams: these types of Teams are especially valuable when the Lean/TPS transformation is in its earliest stages. That is when you need to take rather dramatic steps to change the way things have been done in the past. This is the time to challenge the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. As the Lean culture begins to become second nature rather than “the new way”, Natural Work Groups will become the predominate way to do kaizen on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis. But until then, Breakthrough Teams should play a very visible role in marking and cultivating new ground.

Before I wrap up this overview of Team structures, I need to draw attention to one other key component buried within the Team Charter. That would be the very important, but often overlooked, Team Member – the Team Facilitator.

The Team Facilitator is a vital component in the early, initiative stages in creating a Team culture within the organization. While a member of the Team, the Facilitator has no ownership of the Team’s goals and takes no part in Team decision making. A Facilitators job is to assist a Team in performing as effectively as possible.

Any newly formed Team goes through four stages of learning:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing

I will not go into the details of these stages now, but the words themselves should give you a pretty good idea of what happens in each stage. A Facilitator is there to guide the Team through these stages with minimal disruption (although some disruption is expected and maybe encouraged in step 2).

The Facilitator is the indispensable right-hand-man of the Team Leader and usually serves as a primary conduit between the Team and the Team Sponsor. As you might have guessed, the Team Facilitator should be a trained Facilitator. The Facilitator should be able to teach the Team certain skills during the process of the Team carrying out its responsibilities. These skills should include:

  • Meeting management
  • Decision making
  • Problem solving
  • Learning styles
  • Managing change

This teaching/training should happen when or if the Team needs these skills during the Team life cycle. This is true “learning by doing”.

Facilitator training is usually very accessible through various outside organizations. There are also many handbooks and guides available for this type of training. The one I grew up with is still available and can be obtained on Amazon – it is The Compleat Facilitator. (There are countless other books out there but I just can’t personally vouch for them).

The good news is that once your Team culture starts to gain some relative stability, the Facilitator role can usually be taken over by experienced Team Leaders. It becomes second nature. But until then, I highly recommend the availability of a trained Facilitator.

I hope this post has given you a good grasp of some of the fundamentals of building a successful Team culture within your organization. Without that culture, your Lean/TPS efforts will not succeed. But once you begin the journey, the power of the Team will become very obvious very quickly – to everyone. But the key is getting started. Just make sure you get started on the right things. To quote Mike Rother (“Learning to See”, “Toyota Kata”):

“Just trying to establish teams is unlikely to do much for introducing lean manufacturing. Good teamwork on the shop floor does take training and development, but it is the act of developing a lean material flow, moving away from batch-and-push production, that creates both a need and an environment for teams.”

So Just Go Do It! And have fun – I did.

Next: what about this “Kaizen Blitz”, Kaizen Event”, Kaizen Workshop” thing?


2 thoughts on “Teams are “Us” – Part 5: More Nitty-Gritty

  1. Amen, brother. In fact, an important aspect of Supplier Development is the proper creation and management of the joint supplier – customer team. In reading your article I recalled many instances relative to Forming, Storming, Normal and Performing and can assure you that the Storming aspect gets a lot wilder when you have members from two different companies involved. We had two primary team related documents, as follows;
    1.) The first was a Memorandum of Understanding which covered Business type parameters of the engagement. For instance, who owned the intellectual property; who owned project related information; and the financial aspects. This was based on a standard form but allowed revisions, at least in some cases.
    2.) The Project Charter was put together by the Team after I had (in consultation with supplier management) formalized the Mission/Vision. The rest of the document was created by the Team and submitted to the Project Sponsors for approval.

    These two documents were essential for project success since the team was given parameters within which to work and then (for the most part) defined their own work, responsibilities and timeline. The also helped each side better understand what was important to the other company.

    1. I had similar experiences when forming “Concurrent Engineering” Teams. Rather than having R&D throw the new product over the wall to Process Engineering who threw it over the wall to Manufacturing, all groups had to work together as a Team from day one. Turf wars also broke out on day one. A typical first-time Concurrent Engineering Team would spend 80% of the Team cycle in the Storming stage. But once the Norming stage began to form they went through the Performing stage like greased-lightning. After the learning mode had been mastered, new product lead times typically were cut in half – and there were very few re-do’s. It worked the first time. But a good Facilitator is a must when starting down this bumpy road.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *