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Team Communications

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When problems are identified in an organization today, the overpowering urge exists to bombard the problem with high-tech solutions. MRPII, EDI, Data Collection—think for a while WHY these systems are typically considered for a business application. Is it because everything is working perfectly and life is wonderful and we had some extra time and/or money on our hands? Safe to say usually not. It's because "something is wrong with this picture."

However, one of my favorite questions is "WHY?"—Why do you have too much inventory? Why do you have trouble translating customer requirements to the shop? Why can't you find that order on the shop floor? Why is our reject rate so high? Why are we losing market share? If you are having trouble executing on a simple, more manual level, why do you labor under the illusion that automating the process is going to help? It 'aint gonna happen!
Under the existing conditions, these systems will simply serve as another roadblock to the flow of information in an organization. We don't trust the data; the reports are always wrong; so we go back to our manual systems and everyone feels safe and happy, defeating the purpose of any integration we've attempted.

The point here is that safe and happy aren't where it's at. I certainly don't advocate psychotic management styles that keep an organization running out of fear, but you need to challenge the thinking of your people to find that certain level of performance that will keep you above the competi­tion. Last year's conference theme was all about winning the business war and that hasn't changed—it's still a jungle out there. Think about the theme of this confer­ence—managing change. Our ability to break out of the safe and happy and integrate the different areas of our business to remain flexible enough to respond to the changing marketplace determines whether or not we survive.

How Do I Recognize the Problem?

Given that the communications issues I've highlighted so far are relatively difficult to identify, how can you determine where to focus your improvement energy? One of the best places to start is to look for what I call "Communica­tion Stoppers"—warning signs, if you will, that indicate a deviation from the desired (effective) flow of information.

The first sign is the existence of a lot of manually generated "subsystems" in different areas. While you may have a business system in place that is theoretically integrated, are there users who insist on generating their own informa­tion and using that as the main driver of a portion of the business?

That practice can undermine the trust factor in the system very quickly and in the rare event that some really useful information exists there, other users aren't linked into it. This practice also supports the"knowledge is power" mindset, which can alienate other members of the organization.

My next two signs are usually seen together—More "desk time" than usual for your key players and an increase in "CYA" activity. When communication between groups stops, the natural tendency is to retreat into a defensive position to make sure "we don't take any unnecessary heat from that other department." More time tends to get spent on this defensive activity instead of on productive, innovative work, and in the Ibng run that reduces the effectiveness of your organization. As the focus shifts from team to indi­vidual, the goals of the business become secondary to the goals of the silo-dwellers.

The last sign to focus on is the "confrontational meeting," where the different functional groups start to do battle with each other. This is really a final stage of communica­tion breakdown—your professionals have come to look at each other as the enemy, when the true focus should be towards the competition. Everybody in your business pro­cess has to be recognized as being a customer, whether it is the obvious end user of your product or service or the person who sits in the next cubicle. Getting everyone to understand who their customer is and what their particu­lar communications needs are is an excellent starting point. If you can't begin to diffuse this situation and re­direct the energy of your staff, things will go from bad to worse quickly and you stand the chance of alienating and losing your good people.

To be Continued

For balance of this article, click on the below link:
Lean Manufacturing Articles and go to Series 02



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