Team Building and Team Development are two phrases that are often referenced as top priorities by leadership teams.  The amount of information available on developing teams (and the challenges) is abounding.  Team Coaching International, through its studies, indicates less than 20 percent of the teams it has measured actually score as “high performing teams.”

Lean Healthcare Kaizen Team.  Team Building is a benefit of a Kaizen Event.

What about team development occurring through a popular and frequently-used Lean Healthcare tool: Kaizen, or rapid improvement, events?  I rarely hear organizations discuss it, however, if leadership teams are listing team building as a high priority then we should consider highlighting team building as a strong positive result of a successful Kaizen.  Allow me to draw a more explicit connection between team building and this Lean Healthcare tool:

The key dimensions that assure team effectiveness are decision making, accountability, goals and leadership. Each of these is evident in a successful event.  First, a successful Kaizen team will have a clear set of objectives that members have a vested interest in improving.  There is an expectation that the team has a responsibility to produce results, not in weeks or months, but in days.  The design of the event’s activities is purposefully oriented toward making decisions based upon analysis – no navel gazing permitted.  The team knows that each person has specific knowledge that will contribute to team progress and success as well as role and voice in the work at hand.

In addition to the above, there are the softer aspects of positive team development that are critical to successful teams: trust, respect, communication, constructive relationships and camaraderie.  In the preparatory work for an event, there is the establishment of a team agreement (ground rules) which set expectations for acceptable behavior within the team and during the event.  The team agreement helps to establish an open environment where it is safe to speak one’s mind.  Everyone is expected to respect the input of their team members.

In successfully facilitated events, the group members with the right preparatory work, leadership and facilitation can emerge as the voice of positive behaviors.  The very nature of the Kaizen design, being out in the gemba, interacting and sharing with co-workers and the immediacy of implementing changes promotes open communications with all of those impacted by the improvements.  Focusing on the process and not the individuals inherently enhances constructive relationships.  How many times have you seen co-workers early in an event ready to point the finger at a person, only to soon realize that the true perpetrator of the problem is a system and process failure rather than any one person? By focusing on the system instead of the people, camaraderie becomes a natural result of an effective event.  People naturally pull together and celebrate success.  Ownership becomes shared.

So as we work with leadership teams, I encourage us to actually call out the team building benefits to leadership.  If we are mindful of these team building dimensions then we will be more successful as facilitators and the event group will become a high performing team and serve as a catalyst for similar positive behaviors and actions to become the norm in the workplace.

Have you assigned certain team members to an event with the goal of having a stronger team emerge at the end of the week, in addition to a process improvement goal?  Tell us about it in the comment section below.


Today’s post was written by Bill Kirkwood, Ph.D., Director at HPP.

Bill has 30 years healthcare leadership experience in both system and individual hospital settings in the Mid-West and North-East, and oversight of change management activities and Lean Transformation engagements.  This experience includes serving in an executive capacity in Quality, Operations and Human Resources. 

He holds a Masters in Health Administration from Xavier University and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Organizational Behavior from the Union Institute and University.  

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