When the Lean Leader Desires to Become the Coach – Part II

As promised here is the rest of the story…. If you missed Part I, click here to read.

After the manager’s initial epiphany, we moved to the pacemaker process. We start by observing the information on their “gemba board“. Understanding the manager was aware of the issues uncovered by the VSM and the actions developed by the team, I begin to ask the same kata questions of the manager. At this point, I was fully aware that this repetitive questioning would frustrate him. And was certain he thought I was being annoying. However, my objective at the pacemaker was to lead him to solve a problem. As a coach, much of what we do to lead people through discovery is experimental. I had no idea if this would work, but to my surprise what followed was simply beautiful.

We tried to connect information from the production board to assist in problem solving the VSM issues. As we continued, more members from the cell came over to answer questions and assist. Surprisingly, they had a few questions themselves. AHA!

Many organizations teach 8 forms of waste, with the eighth being waste of talent or non-utilization of people. Basically it means the organizations doesn’t fully leverage the talents of its people, and most glaringly isolates problem solving to the engineers, technicians, supervisors and managers.

I digress. The cell workers began to ask questions about factors they felt were impeding their ability to achieve the daily goals of the cell. This manager and others began to attempt to answer their questions and jump to solutions. I interjected at this point and asked the cell lead, “what would she do to address the issue?” She offered a suggestion, at which point the other cell workers chimed in. The manager quickly remembered his kata questions and began to coach the cell workers. After a while, I suggested that we give the cell workers time to make the improvements they recommended, returning later to see their progress.

Upon returning to the cell, the managers were elated to see to the progress. It was an AMAZING moment as a coach to witness such a quick and powerful transformation for the cell workers and the managers. The operations manager was extremely excited to witness the cultural shift.

Here are five simple lessons from this story:

1. This lesson is one that can not be repeated often enough to leaders: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE ALL OF THE ANSWERS

2. Again, I repeat there is power in asking. By simple asking, ‘what would you do?’, momentum was created to problem solve. By the way, I love that show, What would you do?

3. If your employees have survived the 90 day probationary period, they can provide insight to solving problems. Ok, well maybe 90 days is exaggerated, but you get my drift. Many of the employees in that cell had more than 15 years of experience. They have some insights to offer. Give them permission and space to try out their solutions.

4. Be prepared to teach people simple problem solving techniques and to ask great questions.

5. Learning by doing is always the best way for people to truly understand the principle.

Thanks for allowing me to share lessons from the gemba.

Hi, I’m Crystal Davis! I am passionate about lean transformations, and intentional leadership. I have 17 years of experience as a lean practitioner and coach. I’ve been exposed to wonderful Toyota sensei coaches and amazingly radical breakthroughs. My mission is to help leaders to succeed at lean, develop the awesome talent within their organizations, and to make their companies stronger. 


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