I frequently like to unwind by playing some basketball at a local gym. Actually, to be a little more accurate, I play something that is vaguely recognizable as basketball. You’d think that with my years of experience at process improvement, I’d learn how to fix my jump shot.
The other day, my wife asked me about the rules for these pickup games. I hadn’t really put much thought into it before then, but it got me thinking. Somehow, despite there being a different group of people playing every time I go, the ‘social norms‘ that govern the game remained constant.
No matter what day I showed up, all the little things seemed to be the same-the score we played to, the way teams were picked, how we handled fouls. Even the general ‘personality’ of the game didn’t vary.
The game changed from friendly competition to something a little more antagonistic. And it all started from one person. He was losing, and didn’t like it much. He got louder and more aggressive and more confrontational as the game went on.
The problem was that his attitude was contagious. People who were generally reserved and laid back started mixing it up.
The same thing happens in a continuous improvement project. All it takes is one person to rewrite the rulebook for a kaizen to go downhill in a hurry. A single example of poor behavior can quickly spread. After working with or observing hundreds of kaizen teams over the years, I’d venture to say the the biggest reason teams fall short of their goals is not because of a lack of Lean skills. It is because teams let their dysfunction get in the way of progress.
A solid facilitator (or black belt or consultant or other change agent) will watch out for this, but help her out. If someone on the team seems especially upset about something, bring it your facilitator’s attention. They generally see resistance to change on a regular basis, and have some good tools to help deal with the issue. Finding out about the problem early on improves that chance of the tool working in a way that helps the team before things get too out of hand.