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Lean is an excellent tool for getting a holistic view of the efficiency of your organization, and improving the total flow. With processes making changes in hard values such as efficiency and income however, there are usually also an impact on soft values such as employment satisfaction, culture and ownership. An overlooked strength in using Lean methodology is that with the proper leadership, it is also a brilliant coaching tool.

Well-run Lean workshops involve employees from different parts of the system and hierarchy, as the nature of the project is to bring issues up on the table that are overlooked by isolated departments, and often by management. Done right, your employees “on the floor” are often the ones bringing up the most important points, because the truth is that it has often bugged them for a long time, but they haven’t seen the right forum to bring it up, or it is swallowed by the stress of day-to-day work. So, how do you maximize the positive impact on your employees while conducting your efficiency workshop?

During the workshop, the world is flat

To get the whole team involved in an open, productive workshop, keep some things in mind.

Assembling the team

Put some thought into who you involve in the workshop, and how the dynamics of the group will play out. It’s easy to assume that the department leaders have the information you need, and that their experience will make it easier to get it up into the open, but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, in some cases, involving them might actually be counterproductive. Subordinates may not contribute as freely as they should. The leader might get defensive when challenges are brought up. He or she may not know the everyday tasks of the subordinates as well as he/she thinks, and be oblivious to facts that to the subordinates are obvious. The point here is not to exclude the leaders, but to give thought as to how you want the group dynamics to be. If parts of the group (leader or not) are excluded, make a point in explaining why. Your goal is to try to mix together a group that work well together, that knows the processes from their everyday work, and that may be positively impacted by the mere fact of being included. Read on!

Setting the ground rules

The facilitator of the workshop should make som ground rules clear before the work has even begun.

  1. There is no hierarchy in this meeting
  2. No thoughts or concerns should be held back, even if you suspect you may be wrong or someone might get offended
  3. During the first rounds, no one should try and explain or reject any concerns/ideas – if it turns out to be wrong, or have a good explanation, we’ll find out in the later rounds
  4. It’s especially important that the facilitator has han absolute open mind and encourages everyone to speak freely
  5. If leaders are present in the workshop, coach them to follow your lead and reward their subordinates for contributing
  6. Make it clear that the point of the process is to improve the collaboration and flow of the organization as a whole

Let the coaching begin

Now you have a group people carefully assembled both for their knowledge, and because you believe the workshop can impact one or more of them positively as a culture tool as well. Why can this have a positive impact?

  • Oftentimes, an employees frustration at a workplace stems from a feeling of not being heard. A Lean process facilitated correctly will give the employee both a chance to speak up, and to see their concerns being taken seriously and followed up on
  • Being asked for input in important questions gives a motivating feeling of importance and competence
  • In many organizations, collaborations between different departments can be a source of frustration too. Lean encourages your department members to learn more about the challenges of other departments, and how the choices they make themselves may affect others. Many-a-time have we seen moments where an employee lights up and confesses “I had no idea we created that problem for you!”. It strengthens the team feeling to help each other out.
  • Rounding off the workshops with a social event (a dinner for example) can help employees from different parts of the organization bond even more, and encourage them to solve everyday problems more efficiently outside the workshops as well

Final thoughts

As you can see, a Lean workshop is an excellent opportunity to strengthen the company culture and increase employee satisfaction and cooperation. It does require a leader that stands firmly by certain principles throughout, and is conscious about the impact the workshop may have on employees. As a leader, stay positive and inquisitive. Look upon the workshop as an opportunity to learn a lot about your team or organization. Good luck!

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