Lean teams are the benchmark for best practice in manufacturing and field service organizations. With their emphasis on autonomy, continuous process improvement, and value creation, the appeal of lean-teams has broadened to include most every function in today’s flatter, leaner organizations. Yet, despite the popularity and well-documented benefits of lean teams, many fail to keep improving their work practices and value creation. Why do some lean teams meet or exceed expectations, while others fail to do so?
In a study of 25 lean teams in manufacturing and service organizations, van Dun and Wilderom (2016) explored the role of team leader values on lean team effectiveness. The 395 team members were part of teams that ranged in size from 5 to 44 members. Six hypotheses were tested, structural equation modeling and linear regression analyses was performed on the data. The authors demonstrated that highly-effective leaders of lean-teams focus on two key areas of team behavior:
- They espouse and establish the team-centered values (norms) of honesty, participation and teamwork, candor, and responsibility for continuous improvement.
- They actively promote team relationships via information sharing and communications.
Those behaviors were strongly aligned with the expectations of the members of lean teams. When team leaders exhibited behaviors that were aligned with those expectations, the teams were highly-effective in delivering expected lean-team benefits, including: continuous process improvements, rapid day-to-day problem solving, and longer-term value creation. Team leaders who did not focus on team-centered norms and developing deeper team relationships via information sharing, and instead maintained a focus on conforming to only the traditional dimensions of lean-team implementation such as tools and process maps, saw the team’s performance suffer.
If your lean-team initiatives are not delivering results that meet your expectations, look beyond the processes and tools, and place greater emphasis on the norms and relationship behaviors that your lean-team leaders are fostering.
van Dun, D.H. & Wilderom C.PM., (2016). Lean-team effectiveness through leader values and members’ informing. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 36(11), 1530-1550. doi:10.1108/IJOPM-06-2015-0338