August 2013 | Commentary | The Lean Supply Chain

We’re All in This Together: Teamwork in a Lean Workplace

Tags: Lean, Labor Management

Paul A. Myerson is Professor of Practice in Supply Chain Management at Lehigh University, and author of Lean Supply Chain & Logistics Management. 732-441-3879

While some Lean practitioners focus on manufacturing pioneer Taiichi Ohno's Seven Wastes (transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, overprocessing, and defects), many add an eighth waste: behavioral waste, or under-utilized employees.

It takes a real change management effort to successfully implement a Lean program—especially when it involves changing workers' habits. Someone who has been doing a job for a long time may be reluctant to adopt new procedures. That's why a culture of teamwork is vital in creating a Lean workplace.

Team Building

Two keys to success in any team-based activity are support from upper management, and the participation of everyone in the organization. To build a successful team effort, a company should meet the following conditions:

  • Executive leaders must communicate that they expect teamwork and collaboration.
  • Organization members should talk about and identify the value of a teamwork culture.
  • Management should encourage employees to emphasize teamwork.
  • The company should reward and recognize teamwork.

A key feature of a team-based culture is the concept of employee empowerment. Empowered employees bring their knowledge and involvement to daily operations, and can support teams through tasks such as training.

Management's Role

In addition to supporting teamwork in the organization, the company's management must have a vision for Lean supply chain and logistics management. These goals can provide the foundation for operations excellence, continuous improvement, and supply chain efficiency.

Management should develop some guiding principles for the Lean implementation effort related to employee involvement, quality, standardization, short lead times, and continuous improvement—and communicate those principles to everyone involved.

When creating and running a Lean team in a warehouse, for example, it is important for team leaders to own their processes; for supervisors and managers to remove roadblocks; and for hourly team members to earn bonuses tied to metrics and improved processes.

Keeping It Going

To keep everyone informed about the Lean implementation's progress, discuss performance and improvement in weekly departmental meetings. Scheduling a monthly kaizen event to concentrate on improving the operation will let everyone know how important a Lean culture is to management.

Lean tools can also be helpful in the warehouse environment, such as problem-solving using root-cause analysis and fishbone diagrams, and error-proofing with standardized work that includes visual instructions on how to perform tasks such as using strapping machines and loading/unloading trucks.

An estimated 50 to 70 percent of Lean initiatives fail, often because management does not both lead and support the cultural change. When company leaders do support a Lean culture, however, the long-term advantages can be extremely beneficial to the organization.


Parts of this column are adapted from Lean Supply Chain & Logistics Management (McGraw-Hill; 2012) by Paul A. Myerson with permission from McGraw-Hill.