Continuous Improvement Without the Angst
Recently, in working with a rapidly growing client company, the subject of continuous improvement was added to the “issues list.” As they continue to add and grow key accounts, mistakes borne of the need for speed are predictable. How these are identified, understood, and remedied is an enduring cause of stress and strife inside the business.
Each week, key team members meet to discuss unforced errors made as jobs are entered, moved through the organization, shipped, and invoiced. Sales, production, and customer service are represented at the meeting. Since the subject centers on mistakes, the potential for conflict is ever present. Emotions run high as accusations of incompetence, lack of attention, ambivalence, and carelessness are traded. Relationships suffer and below the surface resentments grow between and among departments. One participant described the weekly meeting this way: “It’s where we go to get beat up.” There’s a better way.
Inter-department teams are essential and are designed to improve systems and workflow throughout the organization. Why then do these “teams” underperform and, in some cases, do more harm than good? Roles, responsibilities, and establishment of ground rules are good places to start.
The role of team leader is critical. When it comes to preparing, organizing, facilitating, and following up on meeting outcomes, the team leader must be in charge. Each member of the team, irrespective of the department they represent, reports directly to the team leader in their role as team member. This must be understood and accepted by all responsible parties starting with the department heads. Responsibility without authority is a set up to fail scenario. The two go hand in hand and this is no different for inter-department team leaders. Individual performance evaluations should include reference to the effectiveness of the team leader and to each member of the team in those specific roles in addition to their “real jobs”.
Meeting ground rules are essential and define the way each session will be conducted. Once adopted (and these must be constructed and adopted by the entire team) it is the responsibility of the team, both the leader and the members to ensure compliance.
Finally, some basic skills training in effective communication, meeting structure and protocols and team processes can make a positive difference. Throwing a group of people from different departments together to talk about mistakes and hoping for a good outcome is bound to bring sub optimal results.
For more information on building effective teams, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.