Blog Archives

How to Use Group Learning Effectively

Group learning is becoming more popular today.  There are different forums for this such as consortiums, networking groups, non-profit organizations, conferences and symposiums to name a few.  At the beginning of the year, I highlight the Smith County Lean Consortium as an example of work being done and the range of organizations that can be involved.

In order to make this type of learning successful, a couple of elements and structure have to be there.  First and foremost, the companies have to be very open.  Open to letting other companies see the work they are doing.  Open to presenting the truth of what they are doing, not a dog and pony show.  Open to honest and candid feedback from outside eyes.  Open to accepting the candid feedback in order to help them improve.  And finally, open to giving honest and candid feedback when they visit another facility.

In short, a safe learning environment needs to be present.

Once a safe learning environment has been established, then the learning process needs to be followed.  Spend some time learning about a concept, a problem, or an organization.  After learning about it, go to where the work is done and understand how to apply the concept in that environment, come up with potential countermeasures for a problem, or give suggestions to move an organization forward.  Finally, discuss what was observed with the host organization.  Help them to improve.  Then discuss how what you learned and saw will help to improve your organization.

I know this sounds simple, but too many organizations create a dog and pony show where they just show off what they have been doing and don’t really address a problem when a learning group visits.  Or they will make it an unsafe learning environment.  Usually it is unintentional.  You will hear comments like, “But our business is different.” or “Great idea, but you haven’t seen the whole picture.”

Group learning can be very effective if done correctly.  It can be cost effective too.  So the next time you want have multiple organizations learning from one another make sure to provide a safe learning environment and follow the learning process.

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Lean Consortium in Tyler, TX

Three years ago  I was living in Tyler, TX working for Trane.  Tyler is a medium sized town of about 100,000 people and has a lot of industry.  Goodyear had just shut down their plant there.  I knew that lean would have helped them.

My passion for lean needed an outlet.  I decided to write several organizations across the city about starting a lean consortium.  I even called the mayor.  To my surprise, there was a lot of interest.  Approximately 80% of the organizations called me back and wanted to meet.  Including the mayor.  His office called and put me in touch with the city manager.

I met with several manufacturing facilities, both hospitals, the city manager, the president of Tyler Junior College, and senior executives from Brookshires Grocery, the regional grocery chain.

After a year of one-on-one meetings and lunches, we had a group meeting.  Joe Rizzo who was leading the Jacksonville, Fl consortium was kind enough to fly into Tyler and give us some background in setting up a consortium.

A few of us had a couple more meetings and were on the verge of starting the consortium when my family and I ended up moving to Kansas City.  I kept in touch for a few months but we lost contact.  I was hoping the consortium had enough momentum to continue but wasn’t sure.

Last week, I got an e-mail with a link to an article about the Smith County Lean Consortium.  The consortium has been going strong for 2 years now.

About two years ago, after Hood Packaging had already begun to implement lean practices, the business joined the newly formed Smith County Lean Consortium.

Hood was one of the companies I met with that committed to the consortium.  The had been using lean and were very open to sharing.  Another company I met with was Brookshire’s Grocery.  They were the big regional family owned grocery chain.

Scott Reily, senior vice president of logistics for Brookshire Grocery Co., said when Brookshire’s was first approached about the consortium, the company was already looking at continuous improvement efforts.

He and other leaders of corporate development at Brookshire’s formed a team to go through training and come up with continuous improvement initiatives.

He said the lean concept is all about making small improvements – looking at every process, breaking it down and asking how it can be done better.


There are several companies that have joined the consortium.

Entities involved in the consortium from the beginning are Hood Packaging, Brookshire’s, TEEX/TMAC, Vesuvius, the city of Tyler, Smith County and Tyler Junior College.

Other members include Air Rover, Cardinal Health, Distant Lands Coffee, Luminant and Teknor.

I can’t express how happy I am that the consortium has been continuing one and educating organizations in the area on lean.  What really moved me was that after 2 years they were kind enough to mention my part in starting the consortium.  It was something they didn’t have to do, but did.  It meant a lot to me.  I want to say thanks to the consortium for doing that and I wish them continued success as they move forward.