February 21, 2024

Discussions about continuous improvement frequently mention the term ‘waste’ which is anything that doesn’t add value. But how often is waste discussed with respect to managing Lean teams? Leadership, like operations or any other process, uses resources. Doesn’t it make sense to figure out ways to lead teams more effectively by using the least amount of time and energy?

In an attempt to take a look at this subject through a familiar Lean lens, consider how Taichi Ohno’s 7 Wastes apply to leadership.

  • Quality. Is the manager making good decisions? What is the impact of her choices on the individual employee? On the team? On the product or service?
  • Time. Do employees have to wait around for a supervisor to give instructions or are they empowered to act on their own?
  • Transportation. Are leaders delegating in the most effective way or does a manager have to be present for a team to operate effectively? If so, that creates a lot of back-and-forth between different areas of responsibility for a leader.
  • Overprocessing. Does the leader micromanage? Does she feel the need to give instructions about things that people are already doing? Does she have to explain things that could be standardized? Does she delegate something and then do it herself anyway?
  • Inventory. Is the manager giving constant feedback or does he save it all for an annual review? Does he give individual input or lump it together for a whole team?
  • Overproduction. Is the supervisor effective at prioritizing or does she pile on more work than teams can handle? Is work parceled out Just-in-Time or is there a long backlog of things to do?
  • Motion. The ‘motion’ of leadership is really communication. Are instructions concise? Is the communication clear? Do employees understand the message? Do managers make it easy for their teams communicate with them? Are instructions effective in producing the desired outcome?

In Ohno’s view, overproduction is the worst of all the types of waste because it creates or hides all the other forms of waste. For leadership, though, it is really something else that drives other waste. It is the waste of mistrust.

When leaders and team members don’t trust each other, the other forms of waste are exaggerated. Why do leaders micromanage? They don’t trust that an employee will get it right. Why don’t employees take a risk and choose to act independently when the leader is not around? They don’t trust that their leader will respect the decision, and are worried that they will get in trouble if they make a mistake. Trust is the cornerstone of a leader-team relationship. When it exists, an organization is much more effective than it would otherwise be.

Building trust takes time and is not always easy. A good starting point, though, is for a manager to apply a continuous improvement mindset to her own actions as a leader. Have a misstep with one of your a direct reports? Think of or something that you could have been done more effectively? Do a root cause analysis. Look for the waste. Come up with a better way to do things next time. Make a change. Make sure the change was effective. Repeat.

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