Kaizen and Chemistry

I recently experienced  the pain associated with coaching a team with poor chemistry. It was a kaizen event team, so the pain was finite. But there are team formulation lessons learned - whether it be a kaizen event team or any other continuous improvement oriented team, kaizen circle activity teams, mini-kaizen event teams, project teams, etc.

Teams need to be built around the mission, not the other way around. So, for example, when selecting kaizen event teams, our criteria should encompass a number of things. At the risk of being way too brief and broad brushed:

  • Representation. I usually like the "1/3 rule" - roughly a third of the members from the target process, 1/3 from upstream and downstream of that process and a 1/3 "fresh eyes." We also need to ensure that representation includes more than a couple of folks who actually DO the work within the target process, etc. Keep the team multi-level and avoid putting the manager of the target process in the team leader role (and sometimes on the team at all).
  • Size. 6 to 8 folks is a pretty good rule of thumb. Less than that is fine if the scope is really heavy on analysis (i.e., kanban sizing), otherwise we most likely need to reduce the scope or expand the duration of the event or activity. More than 8 people and we risk losing team effectiveness.  In such a situation we should be thinking about sub-team strategies.
  • Technical competencies. A team should include folks who know the technical aspects of the target process. We also need at least several people, including the team leader, who have a good measure of kaizen expertise (process, forms, etc.).
  • Core competencies. Teams should be selected such that there is a good nucleus of work habits, attitudes and behaviors that are conducive to team effectiveness - for example, group facilitation, change leadership and self-management.
But, What About Team chemistry?!?

Chemistry is critical and, at the same time, a elusive. It's something that we often "feel" our way through. Much of the time though, it really is not considered in an explicit way.

We're going to get a little scientific here, but know that this is just to provide some insight into things we should be considering when selecting a team for continuous improvement activities. I'm going to refer to the DISC model of behavior, mostly because I think that it's pretty straightforward...and I am familiar with it (but NO expert) .

The DISC behavioral model is based upon the work of the late psychologist, William Moulton Marston and provides insight into people's work styles (within given situations). Again, basic knowledge of the model  and an understanding of different styles can be helpful when we consider how to optimize team chemistry, or at least try to avoid BAD chemistry, for a given team. I am NOT proposing that we have team candidates or teams take one or more of the DISC assessment tools that are on the market.

So, what does DISC stand for? It's an acronym for a four-dimensional model with the following "pure" dimensions. No surprise, most people are usually a combination of dimensions. For example, a high D, low C.

  • Dominance. High D's try to shape the environment by overcoming challenges. They generally seek to get immediate results, cause action, accept challenges, make quick decisions, take authority, solve problems, etc. They desire power and authority, prestige and challenges, opportunities for individual accomplishments and direct answers. They need others who are more likely to weigh pros and cons, calculate risks, use caution, research facts and the like.
  • Influence. I's shape the environment through influence and persuasion. Their tendencies include networking, making a favorable impression, being articulate and creating a motivational environment. I's like popularity and social recognition, freedom of expression and positive feedback. They can use the help of others who concentrate on the task, seek facts, speak directly and take a logical approach.
  • Steadiness. High S people achieve stability by supporting and cooperating with others to achieve goals. They typically perform in a predictable and consistent manner, demonstrate patience, help others and show loyalty. S's desire an environment that includes maintenance of the status quo, consistency and predictable routines and clear goals and expectations.   S people need others who react quickly to unexpected change, stretch toward the challenge of an accepted task, become involved in more than one thing, apply pressure to others, etc.
  • Conscientiousness. C folks work conscientiously to ensure quality and accuracy. They tend to follow key directives and standards, concentrate on key details, think analytically, weigh pros and cons and check for accuracy. They like environments that have clearly defined goals and performance expectation, policies and SOP's and, of course, value quality and accuracy. They benefit from others who delegate important tasks, make quick decisions and move toward action and use policies only as guidelines.

Now, of course people can have different styles in different environments and if stressed they can modify their styles. For example, stress a high C and they can move into high D territory, stress a high D and well, they can become more D (that can be scary), stress a high I and they can move toward the C quadrant. As a team leader or facilitator, inducing the right stress can be a useful strategy to improve team effectiveness.

A Quick Test for You

So, given the characterization of the DISC styles, take a look at the two team DISC "circles"  (A and B) and reflect on which team, all things being equal, would be more effective kaizeners. Each of the dots represent a team member. The star represents the team leader.

Now reflect on some your past teams. Is there anything that you would have done differently to improve the chemistry? Different team member selection? Perhaps induced more or less stress on the team?

Just trying to get you to think...

Related posts: Of Team Size, Social Loafing and Lack of Direction, Kaizen Event Team Selection – No Yo-Yos Needed