Right Size Your Lean Six Sigma Team

A recent issue of Fortune magazine focuses on the secrets of greatness: Teamwork. It offers insights into teams past like Apple Computer's Macintosh team and teams of Marines in Iraq. It also argues that "most of what you've read about teamwork is bunk." While you can't just demand teamwork, there are some simple lessons:

  • Size matters
  • Stars try to outshine each other
  • It's what you know and who you know
  • Location matters
  • Motivation Matters

Rightsize Your Team
The Marine's Recon teams consist of six men. Jeff Bezos at Amazon has a "two-pizza" rule: If a team cannot be fed by two pizzas, it's too large. A professor at Harvard, J. Richard Hackman, bans student project teams larger than six. Hackman and Neil Vidmar found that the optimum size for a team is 4.6 people (think the Beatles plus their manager Brian Epstein). They also found that the minimum team size is 3 (two is a partnership).

With three people, there are three communication paths. With four, there are six paths. With five, there are 10 paths and so on. Too many paths result in delays and errors in communication that lead to delays and defects in the team's solutions.

Dream Team's Can Be Nightmares
Star players often try to outshine each other, leading to conflict, not collaboration. The relatively unknown cast of the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding,outperformed Ocean's Twelve with a cast of top actors. Sports dream teams sometimes can't play well together. Want to make some progress? Convene a team of knowledgable, but non-star performers.

Leverage Your Centers of Influence
As Malcom Gladwell identified in his book, The Tipping Point, there are people in your company who are the true centers of influence. They may not have the top job, but they do have the ear of the right people. They can make or break your success. There are two types of centers of influence: connectors and mavens. Everyone comes to the maven for their encyclopedic knowledge of the business or technology. The connector knows everyone and succeeds by connecting the right resources. It would be a good idea to engage your connectors and mavens in the improvement team.

It's hard to think outside the box, when you're still in the same old box.
Lockheed had the skunkworks. So did Ford's Team Taurus. So did Motorola's team Razr. Sometimes you have to get out of your work environment to disengage the forces shaping your thinking. Get out of the building. Find a park bench or a hotel conference room or someplace that doesn't constantly remind you of the status quo.

Enhance Team Dreams
The best motivator may be impending doom or a fierce competitor. Then team members work together to serve the common good as did Motorola's Razr team. Teams can bond to serve a stellar vision of the future as did Apple's Macintosh or IPOD teams. Whether you're defeating a foe or reaching for the stars, high performance teams need something to move away from or toward; something that really matters to them and to the company. Otherwise there's little motivation to survive or achieve.

Lean Six Sigma is Easy
For those of us who have been around Lean Six Sigma for awhile, we know that the methods and the tools are easy. It's the people and culture stuff that's hard. That's one of the main reasons that I recommend people focus on the 4% of the business that's causing over 50% of the delay or defects, and only engage the employees involved in that 4%.

I also recommend that the teams be no larger than 5-9 people. When focused on the 4%, a handful of people can usually solve any problem in a half a day or less, while a wider focus and more people often ensures failure.

Teamwork is important to the success of the team, but as they say in the magazine: it's "like getting rich or falling in love, you cannot simply will it to happen. Teamwork is a practice. Teamwork is an outcome." And teamwork leverages the individual skills of every team member. What can you do now to maximize your team's success?

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537, support@qimacros.com."

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