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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Small Teams vs Keeping Everyone Informed

In response to the post “Collaboration Techniques for Moving Ideas & Decisions Forward” a reader on our Facebook page recently asked “How do you reconcile between keeping everyone involved and keeping the team small?”

Highly empowered and effective teams are the key to compete in today’s world of high technology processes, six sigma quality and continuous innovation. We all have roles in our organizations but it is the power of teamwork that makes our endeavors successful. It takes everyone working together on a common goal to be successful in Lean. Teams are the engines that deliver successful process improvements.

Smaller teams are more efficient than larger teams. Smaller teams means being nimble, flexible and hungrier, which help them to be more customer oriented than larger teams and organizations. Small and stable teams over a period of time, develop the togetherness and bonding which large teams can seldom replicate.

Communication and coordination overhead rises dramatically with team size. In the worst possible case where everyone on the project needs to communicate and coordinate with everyone else, the cost of this effort rises as the square of the number of people in the team. That’s such a powerful effect, in fact, that a large team couldn’t possibly hope to achieve the goal of everyone coordinating their effort. But a small team could.

Smaller teams have lesser decision lags, act faster, are quicker to change and provide a good breeding ground for innovation. It’s easier for the smaller teams to look in 'one' direction and communicate effectively than it is for any large group. Also, there's less of pointing fingers, no working in 'silos' and 'escapism', given the small size of the team, which brings in more accountability and ownership. All of this produce more value to the customers, better profitability for the organization and more purpose for the people involved.

Getting the buy in from those who are not participating on the team is important for sustaining the improvement.  When you are part of team you are involved in the solution.  For those who are not we need to make them aware of the improvements the team is making.  If you don't they will naturally resist the improvement.

It is the job of those on the team to share with those who are not. For instance perhaps you have a multi shift operation and you have an operator on second shift participate on the team. It would be their responsibility to share what the team is thinking and the solutions with their second shift colleagues. Any feedback from their colleagues can be brought back to the team meetings for consideration. 

Also, at the end of the team activity there should be a readout to a larger audience. This presentation helps to document and spread the knowledge to the area affected as well as others. Some times this can also take the form of an A3. Many organizations even share these visually in their facility for all to see.  And of course there should be some standard work coming out of the improvement to train everyone to the new way. Keep in mind this is the new standard and not the standard forever.

The last thing I would add is that this concern for involvement only occurs when the activity is large.  As I have said many times Kaizen is not about big events but rather small continuous improvements. In this way small improvement is less disruptive and easier digested.

While we can’t involve everyone in every activity because of efficiency and practicality the methods above can be used to keep them informed. Smaller teams are more efficient but we also know there are many sizes of improvement activities along the Lean journey. Communication and education are the single best levers for change the speed of improvement.  So the best I can offer is to keep learning and deducing to practice with an eye for improvement.

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  1. Tim,

    Great post. Where did you come up with the cost of the coordination effort rising as the square of the number of people in the team?

    1. Dan, A study done by consultancy QSM in 2005 looked at 564 information systems projects done since 2002. (The author of the study claims their data for real-time embedded systems projects showed similar results.) They divided the data into “small” teams (less than 5 people) and “large” teams (greater than 20 people).