The Team Leader Role

As in biologic systems, structure (organizational) begets function. To get to the desired outcome of individuals charged with accountability for the quality of their own work that is idealized to be delivered in continuous flow, according to next-customer specification, without defects, timely, accurately, cost-effectively and safely requires us to redefine the expectation of workers themselves.

"It's the work, not the man that manages." -Henry Ford

It is extremely important when training in Lean tools and principles of work improvement to train teams and their leaders along the path of workflow not just individuals to work effectively together.

Here we discuss the all important role of the team leader.

The Team Leader

The concept of the work station team leader is a novel adaption to the work of healthcare that we borrowed from TPS in creating the sustaining work structure of the Henry Ford Production System. The team leader is the equivalent of the quarterback in football and is responsible for the functional health of the team. This individual is responsible for encouraging team members to identify workplace non-value added work or waste, for instance using whiteboards, to mine the type and nature of in-process defects that plague us every day so that teams can generate and test solutions leading to new work design.

Worker Empowerment & Structure

This structure of teams with their designated team leaders requires identification of work stations along the path of workflow in order to foster individual worker and team empowerment and accountability for continuous improvement.

Juran's definition of empowerment is pertinent here as one who "has knowledge, skills, authority & desire to decide and act within prescribed limits and takes responsibility for the consequences of their actions and for contribution to the success of the enterprise."

To arrive at the consistently engaged worker requires us to transform our approach to work from just showing up for work on time and doing as directed, to workers invited to think about and learn from doing their work and to contribute thoughtfully and creatively to doing the work better. In this manner we cultivate empowered workers who now see their daily work in the context of continually learning, constantly communicating with their team members and team leaders in a structured approach to making effective process improvements that are designed and tested by scientific method (PDCA).

We should think of work as something that is supplied to or done or created for someone else's use (the customer). To ensure that the work of the work station is defect free, continually improving for its customer and aligned with the work received from the supplier, requires designation of work station team leaders to assist the team members with their newly expected focus on continual improvement. This is the effective structure that allows teams to consistently understand improvement opportunities presented by the work itself, for instance from white boards, and to employ the tools of improvement in a sustained fashion. If you have multiple shifts, consider appointing a team leader on the work station of each shift so that they can coordinate quality initiatives from workers on all shifts as the in-process defects are encountered. This structures communication between shifts and with the next level leader, the supervisor or manager.

The Work Stations

Our definition of work stations are semi-autonomous and multi-skilled work teams along the path of workflow that contribute to a task, service or product that is used by or serves another group in the workplace. You may ask yourself several questions to identify what constitutes a work station:

Who does what for whom? (Customer-Supplier) Who passes you your work? (Supplier) Who requests work from you? (Customer) Are they inside or outside your department? (Internal or External Suppliers and Customers)

Work may be seen as accomplished in stages.

-----> Stage 1 -----> Stage 2 -----> Stage 3 ----->

According to Deming- " Work comes into any stage, changes state, and moves on into the next stage. Any stage has a customer, the next stage. The final stage will send product or service to the ultimate customer, he that buys the product or the service."

What are the stages of your work? Do you have someone who is specifically designated as a team leader for process improvement in that stage? How have you structured oversight for quality in that stage so that we can achieve Deming's vision that- "Each stage works with the next stage and with the preceding stage toward optimum accommodation, all stages working together toward quality that the ultimate customer will boast about."

Role of the Team Leader

We all have job descriptions sanctioned by leaders, managers and Human Resources. But in a Lean culture the most important job expectation of the often ill-defined "OTHER duties as defined" option. In a Lean managed culture this "OTHER duties" option becomes larger as we ask employees to act creatively within the prescribed limits of the Lean culture and structure to contribute to continual work improvement.

Recognition of team leaders along interconnected workstations in the path of workflow to foster this transformed approach to work is an opportunity gifted to leaders and managers that should not be squandered.

But how do we identify one of the team to serve as the all important team leader? We have numerous options and we should chose very well as this individual's passion and commitment to continual improvement and change are key to success of the Lean culture. Typically this individual is already defined by an existing leadership or work station role. If no work station leader exists then you can appoint by ability, by passion or by vote of the work station members. Of course, as leaders we may occasionally need to side-step an existing but dysfunctional leader by appointing a co-leader to ensure success. This has many advantages over removing a leader who, despite coaching, for some reason is not capable of leading in this fashion or is not supportive of the changed manner of working with empowered, communicating workers.

The team leader choice is critical as this individual must never be complacent with the status quo but rather must continually and proactively push for continual improvement. The advantage of these work station leaders is that they are located closest to the level of the work where the defects are apparent often only to the workers who do the actual work.

Roles of the Team Leader

The newly added team leader work expectations include the following:

  • Project identification, selection, and prioritization
  • Focus on problems and process, not personalities (neutralize the personality blame game
  • Knowledge of and adherence to the Lean work rules and principles, and use of appropriate tools
  • Team member selection
  • Project definition, study, and identification of sound measures for PDCA based improvements
  • Customer-supplier connections
  • Reality test proposed interventions
  • Project tracking
  • Pushing for continual problem identification and ideas for change from the team members Communication and recognition
  • Coach, develop and encourage team members
  • Deal with failures Celebrate the team's success

This team leader role is a growth and development opportunity that leverages workplace learnings to continually develop people to solve problems in a defined manner. This will come to define your new work culture. You will find soon enough after months of team successes that the Lean culture provides fertile ground for self growth and breeds our next generation of leaders.

Did someone just say Gallup again?

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