Several tools and techniques have been introduced to simplify Lean adoption. Still, we have witnessed many failed efforts. Does simply implementing the best lean methods guarantee success? No! Lean methods are implemented by teams of people. Therefore, understanding the human dimensions of lean is also needed to assist organizations in successfully adopting and sustaining lean. Here is the question: what makes an effective lean team? To answer this fundamental question, we dug into team dynamics to figure out how lean principles and ideas align with the overall science of team design. It turns out that lean principles and team theory align quite naturally.
To capture the elements that shape effective team dynamics, we employed the A-B-C framework developed by Salas et al. (2008). This framework depicts three essential aspects: Attitudes, shared Behaviors, and Cognition of the team members. These aspects capture how the interactions of the people within the team and their attitudes lead to the targeted level of collaboration and cognition expected of effective teams. In simple terms:
- Team members’ actions can be described by shared behaviors.
- The way team members convey their beliefs/feelings can be seen as attitudes.
- Cognition consists of what team members think/know.
In this blog, we briefly introduce seven team dynamics that help link effective teams with lean principles that support the realization of effective lean teams:
1. Lean Teams are open to new ideas and practices: Lean philosophy focuses on respect for people, which encourages team members to be less dogmatic and rigid in their thinking. Instead, they are encouraged to consider different opinions in new situations. As part of continuous improvement, new concepts are frequently considered for activity improvement. Consequently, lean teams must be open to the potential value of new practices, systems, or methods. Lean's "optimize the whole" principle further suggests that companies should not just focus on their work processes but on the entire supply chain process to satisfy their customers. To follow these principles, a lean team must possess sufficient openness to embrace different perspectives.
2. Lean Teams demonstrate a high level of trust and psychological safety: In lean teams, trust is an enabler that supports the member's contribution toward improving work processes. Members of a successful lean team need to feel psychologically safe talking about mistakes or potential improvements. When team members feel responsible for maintaining and co-creating a high level of psychological safety, this boosts team engagement and performance. Knowing people’s psychological safety level can nurture lean principles like respect for people. Thus, by building trust and creating a psychologically safe workplace, lean practices can be implemented more effectively to support project outcomes. Well-coordinated Last Planner meetings serve as a great example.
3. Lean Teams are cohesive: One of the fundamentals of lean is the consideration of customer requirements. As internal customers, all team members try to coordinate their efforts to answer work-related requests from their teammates. This emphasis helps transition from a coordinated group to a cohesive team with interpersonal bonds. With effective engagement and consideration, team cohesion will grow over time.
4. Lean Teams demonstrate team viability: A team's viability is its capacity for growth, sometimes viewed as a team member’s willingness to remain in the team. Teams with higher social integration and cohesion experience higher member satisfaction and better coordination, showing higher team viability. Lean principles of "Seeking perfection" and "continuous improvement" align closely. The long-term vision of lean management has also emphasized this, essentially encouraging team members to work together on (subsequent) tasks and processes. Yet, the temporary nature of construction teams complicates the pursuit of viability, requiring organizations to pay more attention to this by building relationships across projects and supply chains.
5. Lean Teams communicate and collaborate effectively: When team members collaborate, they bring different perspectives to handle complex problems. Engaging the team creates greater capacity for generating ideas, identifying alternatives, and processing information. Effective communication is fundamental to collaboration. Lean principles and ideas, such as decentralizing decision-making and empowering project participants, encourage these processes but require collaboration and communication to be effective. Lean is driven by principles that inform project teams on how to collaboratively eliminate waste and maximize value. Thus, principles such as pull have been introduced to address how value is generated through the team process.
6. Lean Teams employ effective conflict resolution: Members of a well-structured lean team are open to each other’s ideas within a healthy and safe environment. They employ effective conflict resolution to secure issues and learn from work experiences, extending this into learning and continuous improvement. Teams that effectively manage differences show more flexibility by considering their accomplishments and optimizing the whole rather than their achievement. By concentrating on the ultimate goal of having a better project, individual viewpoints will enable constructive conflict to benefit the overall project.
7. Lean Teams share information and exchange knowledge: Teams with systems for information sharing and knowledge exchange can manage conflicts more effectively and experience better performance outcomes. Well-structured and transparent lean processes encourage information sharing, affecting a team’s learning orientation. This increased process transparency which makes what could be an abstract idea tangible and visible to be shared and managed. Proper information sharing can make the production process transparent and visual, facilitating control, identifying waste, and enabling improvement. Linking the tasks and processes to team members moves from information sharing to knowledge exchange. Hence, the increased process transparency supports the information-sharing construct within lean teams.
Building lean teams does not just happen simply by adopting lean tools. Taking a closer look at lean teams’ attitudes, behaviors, and cognition can help align team constructs with lean principles. Construction companies should consider the behavioral side to reap the full benefits of lean transformation. By emphasizing the importance of lean foundations within the organizational culture and team member behavior, construction teams will be able to create the necessary human conditions for adopting and sustaining lean principles.
1. Salas, E., Cooke, N.J. and Rosen, M.A., 2008. On teams, teamwork, and team performance: Discoveries and developments. Human factors, 50(3), pp.540-547.