Self Directed Work Teams?
I wrote earlier about one of the Lean lessons that was learned when I read Toyota Kata. I had another interesting epiphany later in the book that I thought I’d share.
This revelation was about the dismantling of the autonomous worker myth in TPS. There are a lot of resources touting suggestion system data and the concept of the team members on the line making the improvements to their process. I’ve heard or read variations of this narrative dozens of times and, frankly, never gave it much thought. Although, I have been around people that were completely taken in by the thought and invested a lot of effort trying to figure out how to make it happen. I hear people from time to time asking what has to be done to develop self directed work teams that manage themselves, make process improvements and don’t need an ‘indirect’ employee like a lead or a supervisor to be a part of the process.
The thing about this misconception is that it doesn’t make any sense at all. If you have an area staffed with the correct amount of team members working to takt time, where is the excess labor capacity to make improvements? Who responds to issues that fall outside of the standardized work? Who is looking at the bigger picture needs as well as upstream and downstream impacts? Those are all logical (some might say obvious) questions that I had never asked myself before. Author Mike Rother points out that there is involvement from the front line workers, but not at the level that some resources may lead you to believe.
I had been involved with and studying Lean for over a decade before I gave this concept any thought at all. I didn’t blindly accept it, it just wasn’t anything that I invested time or energy in to. Looking back, that’s kind of unfortunate. Had I taken a bit of time to understand this point, I could have helped save some of the effort spent working towards this goal and redirected it to where it would be more beneficial.