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Lean Cross-Functional Teams
Part 1 of 1

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Lean Manufacturing, Basics, Principles, Techniques

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Today, business, government, professional practices, and not-for-prof-its are following sports by forming teams. The question is whether or not they are effective, or do they have teams for teams' sake? It is not uncommon to hear from CEOs complaints that they have a lot of team meetings, but few results. Too many organizations have teams that are stuck in process. For example, in a division of a large multinational corporation, their setup reduction team spent six months trying to de­cide on the type of hat and jacket they would have. Another organiza­tion spent a year and a half in developing a vision, and their end result was a statement that was not measurable.

Effective cross-functional teams can lead to dramatic results. One manufacturing company that had steadily declining revenues over a four-year period was able to dramatically rum around its performance by imple­menting an effective cross-functional team in 1993. In the six years fol­lowing, the same company more than doubled its revenue and is cur­rently in the process of building a brand-new, multimillion-dollar facil­ity. Similar results of effective teams have been obtained by implement­ing ISO/QS initiatives in record time, dramatic inventory reductions, setup reduction times in excess of 300 percent—and the list goes on.

Cross-functional teams, by definition, are a diagonal slice of an organization with ideally five to seven members to represent various departments and levels within the organization. It is key that these team members participate voluntarily. The announcement of the formation of such a team must be constructed with considerable care. All em­ployees need to be made aware of the opportunity to serve on the team, the expectations regarding participation, frequency of meetings, and again, most importantly, that the corporation is looking for volunteers. If more than one person from a designated area within the company volunteers their name, the names should be drawn in a random fashion and in a public area, such as a lunchroom or cafeteria. The reason for this meticulous attention is that most teams start off on the wrong foot by having at least one if not all handpicked members who are seen by the rest of the organization as the company favorites. In these situa­tions, teams have instantaneous difficulty in developing credibility with the rest of their peers or subordinates.
How do your teams measure up? We often think of letter grades because of our indoctrination in the formal education system (ABCDF). Prepare your own teams for those letters.

A Appreciation—Is there a genuine but simple process in place that demonstrates top management's personal appreciation for the volunteer's participation?

B Buy-in—As indicated earlier, it is most important that the first step of the team be formed through utilizing volunteers. The members must also understand prior to participating that they have an obli­gation to keep the rest of the organization informed regarding their progress via minutes that reflect topic, desired outcome, owner­ship, resources, target date for completion, and percent completed.

C Conflict—In order for teams to achieve dramatic results, they must work for constructive conflict. Teams that have not reached this cutting-edge position are no different than a newlywed couple that has never had an argument or difference. Conflict in and of itself can be very destructive, but conflict that is worked to resolution by attacking the issues rather than the person is absolutely essential for quantum gains in team performance.

D Direction—All teams need a direction or focus. This is no different than a family deciding to take a vacation without any destination in mind. It can quickly wind up overbudget without having ever reached anyone's unspoken, desired destination.

F Failure—We have all felt the anxiety of failure in our personal lives, and unfortunately, failure has gridlocked many teams from trying something different that can have a dramatic impact on the busi­ness. Henry Ford went bankrupt before founding Ford Motor Com­pany. Edison wrote in his diary that he spent time on the 999th way not to invent a light bulb. It is critical for teams to utilize failure as a tool for progress, not as an ax for repercussion. Underlying failure is the essential element of attitude. The organi­zation and its employees or team members see problems or opportuni­ties by utilizing brainstorming techniques. Individuals can quickly iden­tify mass quantities of opportunities for cross-functional teams to sink their teeth into. Once these ideas are identified, it is important for ev­eryone to use their imagination as to all of the options for resolving these issues or taking them to the next level.

FOAR°—the FOAR-step process is a creative process that quickly takes a team through successive steps of divergent and convergent think­ing of the facts, options, actions, and results. The FOAR-step process is the map for the cross-functional team to truly become change agents. Its important that teams build excitement or positive energy. The ques­tion is whether the excitement is hype or results.

In order to avoid the pitfalls of teams, several elements must be in place. Too many teams spend months and sometimes years providing process tools without any particular task to work on. Great results can be achieved in a shorter period of time if teams first are given the op­portunity to work on issues. Then if they achieve a stall point, they should identify the tools needed to move forward. Today, many em­ployees have worked in different departments or organizations before being part of the team. Why reinvent the wheel if the skill level of the team members is higher than assumed?

Dramatic results are directly proportional to the information that cross-functional teams have access too. If ownership or leadership feels that it is imperative for information not to be shared, it is strongly sug­gested that they consider confidentiality agreements, signed by the team members prior to participating on the team. With good, clear, concise information teams can be empowered to make decisions with a greater sense of urgency. Team budgets and ability to purchase to predeter­mined levels is a true measure of trust. Budgets also form an essential methodology for measuring a team's performance.

Other measurements must also be considered by developing base­line data on the targeted area and measuring the impact of the team's effectiveness by the ability to show continuous improvement against baseline data. With all of these components in place, key cross-func­tional teams can, in fact, achieve very dramatic results in a short period of time.

If management or leadership tolerates nonperforming teams, it is sending the wrong message to the rest of the organization. Why should a production worker or staff person be motivated to perform their jobs or duties with safety, quality, or productivity in mind if individuals on teams are seen as handpicked favorites who get to escape from daily duties? Business success is directly proportional to the quality of prod­ucts, services, and information that responds to a niche market through TEAMWORK, innovation, and URGENCY!


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