Monthly Archives: July 2013

Picking a Winning Lean Six Sigma Team

picking a teamNo one would argue that building a great team is one of, if not the, most important task in successfully executing a Lean Six Sigma project.  If this is the case, I would ask you to think about the last time you put together a new team.  How long did you spend thinking about who should be on the team?  What process did you use to select team members?  How did you evaluate potential team members and make your final selections?

I’m guessing most of you put little thought into a “process” for selecting team members, and instead were either given a team to work with by your champion, or simply picked team members based on who was available and / or the functional roles required for the project (i.e. engineering, operations, HR, etc.).  In the ten plus years that I have been working with process improvement teams this is the most common way I have seen team members selected.  Teams tend to be selected based on who’s available at the moment and their link (i.e. functional role, department, etc.) to the problem being worked on.  In this posting I propose a better way to select team members that will lead to greater efficiency in generating results with your Lean Six Sigma team.

What does it mean to be engaged?

The ultimate goal in building an effective team is matching the needs of the project to the skills of the team members, but if the focus is limited to just skill sets there is no guarantee of success if your team members don’t have the time or are not passionate about the goal of the team.  Much has been written in both the academic and practitioner world in recent years about the concept of engagement, which has been further refined to work engagement that is characterized by having vigor, dedication, and absorption for and in your work.

Here’s a quick engagement test to see how engaged you are in your work.

  • Vigor: When you wake up in the morning do you look forward to going to work?
  • Dedication: Do you find your work challenging and something you get excited about when telling others what you do?
  • Absorption: Do you frequently lose track of time when you’re working when time just seems to fly by?

If you answered yes to these questions there’s a good probability that you are highly engaged in your work.  Research suggests those who are highly engaged in their work are better performers, and from a larger perspective, organizations with a high percentage of engaged individuals outperform those with less engaged people.  I would argue the same is true for Lean Six Sigma teams.  So then, how do we find team members who are likely to be engaged in the team’s activities?

The research on engagement points to a number of factors that may drive work engagement.  In relation to Lean Six Sigma project teams, the data suggests that we are more likely to be engaged in activities we are good at (strengths).  The research also suggests that when we have the opportunity to learn something new and / or expand our capabilities in an area we are interested we are likely to be more engaged.  Social elements also add to increasing engagement.  Working with people you actually like to be with may also help increase your probability for success.checklist

Team Selection Process

Picking a winning team takes time, and without a defined process to go about finding those best suited to the needs of the project whether you get the “right” team members will be more about luck than skill.  A winning team can be defined as one that has team members who have the capacity (i.e. time, intellectual), passion, social elements (i.e. liked by other team members, “team player”), and matching skill sets for the needs of the project.  The following is a process you can use when putting together your Lean Six Sigma team.  Keep in mind this process assumes you have already defined the scope of the project and have a fair assessment of what skill sets, functional roles, etc. that will be needed to successfully complete the project.

1. Do they have the time?

Finding time to be part of a project team is always a challenge.  When was the last time you heard someone say, “I wish I had more to do!”.  Rarely are people looking for more work to do, so it’s important to be realistic with the time requirements needed for your project.  I always suggest talking with the supervisor of the individual you are recruiting to ensure they are willing to commit the person to the project for the time needed.

2. Matching skill sets to the needs of the project.

Doing what they are good at enhances a team member’s level of engagement and should also be part of the process.  Think about it, how often are you doing something you are not good at that you really enjoy?  Probably not very often, if ever does this happen.  When talking with potential team members find out what Lean Six Sigma tools, process phases, etc. that they really enjoy.  Making a list of potential tools and activities the team will be doing can serve as a checklist to compare with potential team member’s strengths.

3. Identifying opportunities for growth and learning.

Doing something that increases opportunities for growth and learning has also been shown to increase engagement.  Ask potential team members what they are interested in learning.  For example, one of the projects I worked on recently had a need to use control charts created in Excel, and one of the team members we recruited wanted to improve his skills using Excel and making graphs and charts.  This match between his desire to learn and the needs of the team made him a great addition to the team.  Seeing his enthusiasm as he presented the data he compiled in Excel confirmed his passion to learn this new skill.

4. Do they “play nice” with others who will be on the team?

Working with people we like does make a difference in team performance, I would argue.  Some people believe all we need to do is have “respect” for other team members, but research suggests that when we work with people we actually like we tend to be more engaged in our work, which does make logical sense in that if work becomes more social it’s also more fun, which may lead to greater engagement.  When selecting team members discuss who may be on the team and ask those you are interviewing for a team position if they like working with those who may be on the team.  Taking this proactive step will minimize the potential “people issues” that may come up during the course of the project.

The Final Selection

Using the four selection criteria, the process should work similar to an interview process for a new job candidate.  I recently worked with a belt selecting a team and we started with the supervisors of those individuals we thought would be great candidates.  Starting with their supervisors will let you know whether or not they will have the time for the project, which is a deal breaker if they don’t.  No matter how great the candidate may be their supervisor will quickly derail their efforts if they don’t allow them the proper time to work with the project team.

Once you’re past receiving permission from their supervisor you can move on to reviewing the skill sets you will likely need for the project to individual abilities and areas they are looking to grown in.  This can be as simple as reviewing your problem statement and making some assessment as to what type of tools and activities the team will be engaged in.  For example, is the project more geared toward Lean tools, or will the project be more data focused using primarily Six Sigma tools?  Knowing what you are likely to encounter and the ability and passion of potential team members will provide a higher probability of finding individuals who will be engaged in the project.

Finally, as you begin to build a list of team members you can start to assess whether the team will have good “chemistry”.  Past behavior is quite possibly the best predictor of future behavior, and with that in mind look for evidence that those you are selecting have worked with or are friends with those who may be on the team.  This doesn’t mean they have to be close outside of work, but have the team members shown in the past they like to work with one another?  Do they genuinely like to be around each other?  If so, they are likely to go from forming to performing much quicker.

While no team is perfect the process outlined here provides a structured approach that helps to increase the probability team members will be engaged for the time it takes to complete a typical Lean Six Sigma project.  Your team is a key to success, and skipping this vital step by just taking who’s available or given to you and working through the DMAIC process is likely to be a challenge if you don’t have the right players on your team.  Every minute you invest up front in picking a winning team is going to pay dividends later on when it really matters so don’t rush it.  Take the time to pick a winning Lean Six Sigma team and you’re sure to be celebrating in the end.




Getting in the Mood for Lean Six Sigma

smile-happy-yellow-faceThe research on emotional intelligence continues to build a case that individuals who have the ability to work well with others tend to be more successful.  Over the years I have been working with Lean Six Sigma belts I have noticed those who have “people skills” tend to do better in terms of project success than those who are purely “intellectuals”.  When I ask others their opinion of my observations and anecdotal evidence they tend to agree that being a successful belt is more about working well with others, rather than purely analytical skills.  However, there is no question one must know how to use the tools in the Lean Six Sigma toolbox, but what may be more important is the ability to tap into the human element of process improvement.

So what does the human element mean in relation to Lean Six Sigma success?  A large part, I would argue, is related to team dynamics.  For a project to succeed it takes an effective team to work through the DMAIC process.  This leads to the question-does emotional intelligence effect team performance?

The research on team performance and emotions tends to zero in on a concept known as emotional contagion, which can be described as the spread of emotions from one person to another.  You have no doubt experienced this phenomenon at home and/or work when you’ve been around people in certain moods.  Think about it-it’s hard to be in a bad mood when everyone around you is happy and having a good time, for example, at a party, or on the opposite end of the spectrum when everyone is sad, for example, at a funeral.  The same argument can be made when thinking about working with your Lean Six Sigma team.

As the leader of the team you have the ability to change the emotions of the team based on how you feel.  Much of the work we do in Lean Six Sigma takes place in team meetings, and depending on the mood and/or emotions of those in a team meeting how well you perform may depend on how the team is feeling at the moment.  The good news is that you can change emotions of the team with some simple techniques I’m going to outline in this posting.

The process starts by assessing your current feelings and energy level right before the meeting.  This is one of the key elements to becoming emotionally intelligent-perceiving your emotions.  Before your team meeting rate your energy level and feelings from 1-10 using a grid similar to the one illustrated below.

mood meter

Based on what you have planned for your team, where you find yourself on the mood meter will determine if you need to take action to change your emotions and/or energy level before the session.  For example, if you plan on having a brainstorming session looking for causes to a problem or solution ideas to implement as part of an improvement, you will want high energy and pleasant feelings.  Research suggests we come up with better ideas when we are in positive moods.

There are a number of techniques that can be used to change your emotions.  Some of the methods I have used include:

  • Listening to music
  • Watching inspiring or funny videos
  • Looking at inspiring or funny pictures
  • Taking a short walk and leaving all gadgets behind
  • Meditation or prayer
  • Thinking about a time when you have overcome a challenge

As the leader of the team you have the ability to “contaminate” the team in a good or bad way depending on where your mood meter is starting from.  By accurately perceiving your emotions before the session and using the techniques to get yourself in the “right” mood you can then move on to doing the same with your team using what I call an emotions check-in at the beginning of your meeting.

To conduct the check-in ask the team to assess their current level of energy and feelings and plot them on the mood meter.  Once the assessment is complete, use the aforementioned techniques to shift the mood meter into the appropriate quadrant depending on what you have planned for the session.  What I hope you will begin to discover is that getting in the mood for Lean Six Sigma is not all that difficult, and when a team is in the mood look out because you are on a path to success!