Categories : Lean Manufacturing Principles


De-motivating the team members during a Kaizen event is easy.



Kaizen events are the perfect environment to guide a team through a process of improvement that will inspire and motivate them. I like to think of Kaizen events as “play sessions.” Employees are given a time-out from their work schedule to play and think outside of the box. Effective Kaizen events can generate amazing levels of spontaneous creativity for several of the team members.

A company I worked with over the years asked me to facilitate a Kaizen event. They had experienced a change in their management team and wanted to ensure they were still on the path towards continuous improvement. The team members were motivated at the prospect of dealing with a issue that had been creating problems. They decided that their kaizen goal was to take their 5S process to the next level.

The team worked diligently in preparing and designing a new check sheet with more stringent criterion to improve their ability to identify and eliminate waste. They developed a visual map of the work area with color-coding for specific equipment and material locations. Next, they started to paint the floor in the work area to make their plan a reality. It was at this point that a new manager walked by and asked what they were doing. The team shared their ideas by showing the manager their visual and explaining how it was designed to work. He listened for a moment and then told the team members that he did not agree with them painting the floor until they had proof that the process was going to work correctly. What is the team to do after this exchange?

The team members came to discuss the issue with me. After hearing their side of the story, I decided to go talk with the manager. He gave his side while I sat and listened. When he had finished, I told him that I disagreed with his approach. He had missed the point and why it’s important to bring a team together and empower them to find ways to improve their work area. Sometimes, doing this involves an element of risk. He demonstrated his lack of understanding about the Kaizen process and this restricted his level of thinking to within his comfort zone. He forced the team to align to his personal agenda and limitations.

He successfully terminated the team’s motivation and drive, and he confused them. Someone once said, “You can do what’s right, or you can do what works.” Kaizen events are supposed to challenge the status quo, and not accept the conventional wisdom. It is focusing on what works that makes these events incredibly successful. Managers can be their own worst enemy because they are consistently seeking “to get things right” and this leads them to participate in limited thinking, which drives an agenda based on fear, in case they make a mistake. This type of agenda makes them terminators, not facilitators of the Kaizen process.

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