You’re probably reading this because you’re an entrepreneur or business owner. You’ll also know that trending business concepts are often nothing more than communication-blocking corporate jargon.
The ‘Lean Team’ concept isn’t one of those cheap trends. It’s here to stay, and it works. And amazingly, it’s a military concept that has also found a good home in sound business practice. If you haven’t embraced the business potential of Lean Teams yet, maybe it’s time to consider the idea.
The Original Lean Teams in Action
You might think the concept of a lean team is unique to business, but it isn’t. In fact, it has multiple birthplaces, and one of them is the military.
The US Navy’s special operations SEAL teams are a great example of lean team leadership. Members of a SEAL team are highly disciplined and motivated. They’re also highly autonomous.
Teams like these are trained to operate with minimal supervision. If you’re a team member, you’re expected to take the initiative and accomplish the mission. You’re also expected to do so in tandem with close-knit team members who each carry the same purpose.
There are some obvious advantages to this approach:
- You can move faster, with more flexibility and adaptability.
- The team can make independent decisions on the spot.
- You’re forced to find the most efficient ways to implement a plan or strategy.
- Every action you undertake is focused on one important overriding goal.
- There’s no room for miscommunication or mixed agendas.
- You’re expected to discard wasteful or pointless processes.
And, perhaps most important, you’re measured by one thing only – the results you produce.
What Makes the Lean Team Concept So Effective?
In business terms, you could argue that the modern Lean Team concept probably originated in Japan. Most notably, the Toyota motor company embraced the idea in the mid-20th century. To compete with US-based companies, Toyota had to produce quality imported vehicles at a better price.
They created a philosophy called Kaizen – which means ‘continuous improvement’. The goal is to eliminate waste and increase productivity. Doing so leads to better quality and customer satisfaction. Toyota dramatically changed the traditional corporate structure in several ways:
- They gave their teams permission to redesign processes without interference.
- Team leaders were told to implement suggestions right there on the factory floor.
- Each team operated independently – but could interface with other small teams to find a better process flow.
So, what makes the lean team such a revolutionary business tool?
Simply this: you can use it as a bottom-up way of figuring out what works best. You can do this practically, and in real time. You can also get fast feedback and make incredibly quick adjustments. Compare that to a corporate environment where every tiny decision has to pass through gatekeepers and layers of obscure company policy.
Key Attributes of High-Performance Lean Teams
The best lean teams in the world share some common traits. You could use these to measure your current teams – and to make positive changes.
They’re Highly Focused on Metrics
If you can’t measure results or processes, you can’t improve them. Successful lean teams are obsessed with constant improvement. They also understand the power of compound progress. For example, if you improve something by just 1% per day, it adds up to a 37% improvement in a year. That’s a massive leap forward in business terms.
They Constantly Seek Better Flow
To improve flow, you need to focus on 3 things:
- More efficient processes with less time or resources wasted. Where are your teams wasting time unnecessarily?
- Enhanced productivity. How can you create an environment that encourages more productive thinking and working?
- Quicker adaptation to changes. In what ways would you anticipate and react to sudden shifts or challenges?
They’re Often Mavericks
You want to create teams comprised of individuals who are capable of unorthodox thinking. They should be encouraged to think outside of corporate norms to find solutions that you maybe haven’t considered. You should also accept the fact that one lean team can adopt a radically different process to another.
Inspiration is As Important As Experience
If you only place experienced individuals in lean teams, you run the risk of restricting innovation. Remember that a complete beginner might come up with an idea nobody has considered before!
They’re Assured of Executive Support
Your lean teams should enjoy your total support and backing. You can empower them by letting them know that it’s okay to make mistakes or to experiment. Give them every tool and advantage you possibly can – and set them free. You might be surprised at what they’re capable of producing!
They Have a Highly Specialized Goal or Function
Make sure that each lean team knows exactly what they need to accomplish. Be highly specific. It’s far better to have two teams each focused on a single goal than to have one team focused on two goals.
At the same time, encourage your teams to communicate with each other. They need to dovetail with each other while keeping your larger business goals in mind.
They Find or Create Leverage
Put simply, your teams need to find ways to optimize everything they do. To make that happen, you need to give them the best tools for the job. Ask them what they need. Focus on automation and information tools for the best results. For example, enlisting the help of a virtual research assistant can save hours of productive time.
How to Implement Lean Teams Within Your Own Business
When you decide to implement the lean team process in your business, it’s best to start small. Set up a team and see what processes and dynamics emerge. Once you’re familiar with the (sometimes disruptive) innovation that results, add more teams.
To prepare you, here are the 5 most common stages lean teams go through as they function:
1 . Forming. Allow your teams time to settle and gel. Let them find their own center and don’t rush them.
2 . Storming. Yes, they’ll brainstorm. They’ll also argue, rearrange ideas, and sometimes present you with options you won’t like. Let them do it!
3 . Norming. Once your teams have developed internal flow, they’ll start speeding up and refining their functions. Encourage fine-tuning and constant incremental improvement.
4 . Performing. This is the stage you’ve been waiting for. Now, your teams are delivering the goods (and probably changing the way you do business). This is also a great time to get them to train other teams to think laterally as well.
5 . Evolving. Once a team has accomplished its goal, it typically dissolves or evolves. Don’t be afraid to present a well-established team with a completely new task or challenge.
The Lean Team Power Tool: Outsourcing
One of the most effective advantages you can give a lean team is the ability to free up time. There are dozens of peripheral tasks they shouldn’t be focused on – but someone else can. Metrics, reports, project management, and communication can all be handled remotely, by a professional virtual assistant.
Book a discovery call today and discover how a virtual assistant can add value to your lean teams – and to your business.