Effective Team Facilitation

Effective Team Facilitation

When completing Lean Six Sigma projects, one key to success is formation of a team to fulfill the project goals.  This is true not only for overall project success but also for the successful application of almost any tool in the Lean Six Sigma Toolbox.  The team approach results in numerous advantages including a more well-rounded solution, a solution which inherently has more buy-in and reduces the workload amongst peers. It is also a great way to develop knowledge and skills of team members. Finally, the experience of serving on a LSS team often serves as a stepping-stone in the maturation of future company leaders.

So – what is required to create effective project teams? There are two main components of Effective Teams:  Selection and Facilitation.

First, let’s dive into Selection.  The most important part of Team Selection is diversity of the team in terms of skill set and process knowledge.  From a skill set perspective, it’s always prudent to surround oneself with as many skills as possible.  Example:  If engineering is a strong skill already contained within the team, look for something other than technical expertise in other team members. 

Another important consideration is to select team members from inside the process and outside of the process.  Inside the process Team Members provide valuable insight and process knowledge.  Outside of the process Team Members provide alternative ideas and challenge historical assumptions and habits.  Example:  If the process in focus is production, pick a few people from outside the production process such as purchasing or human resources.  These team members provide a valuable outside-the-box set of eyes and have few if any historical biases.

Another perspective on team diversity is that of personality type. A team made up of employees who all have very similar personalities – say shy introverts – is not a good recipe for an effective team. Once again, the best practice is to assemble a diverse team with a mix of different personality types. In fact, Dr. Meredith Belbin did extensive research on this very topic. Working with a group of researchers in the 1970s, Belbin developed a model of successful teams which defined nine different Team Roles. This doesn’t mean you need nine people for a team because all of us are adept at each role to a greater or lesser degree. For more on Belbin and his Team Role theory click here.

Once the team has been assembled the next consideration is effective facilitation. This is the role of the Team Leader. From a LSS perspective the GB or BB serves as the Team Leader. And also acts as the Project Manager. 

Now to a basic question: What is facilitation? There are two definitions in the dictionary. One is “to lead or moderate (a workshop, discussion, etc.)”. The second definition is to “to make easier or less difficult; help forward (an action, a process, etc.).”  Both definitions are appropriate for a Team Leader of a Lean Six Sigma project.

How does team facilitation occur in the context of a Lean Six Sigma project?  Well, the DMAIC process is based on a series of formal meetings called Gate Reviews. In addition, LSS Projects occur through a series of team meetings, typically once every week or two. Finally, many LSS teams have occasional working sessions (e.g., process mapping) which are different from a team meeting.

Very broadly, facilitation of a LSS team can be separated into two types of activities:

  1. Activities during team meetings/gate reviews/working sessions
  2. Activities between meetings/etc.

Let’s start with facilitation of Team Meetings. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Pre-Meeting Preparation – All meeting logistics should occur well before the meeting (Agree on date and time, Reserve meeting room, Arrange for any special needs,…). Prepare and send out an agenda. Also send any additional information needed for an effective meeting (Background information, Meeting Minutes, Quad Chart, etc.). An agenda is key to keeping the meeting on-time, and on-task.
  • Open Meeting with Project Status – Start with a brief summary of where the project is in terms of DMAIC and any high-level updates. Introduce any new team members. Highlight successes.
  • Review Action Items – Go through any Action Items or Open Questions.
  • Engage Participants – During the meeting make sure all team members participate in discussions and decisions. If some people are quiet be sure to ask for their input.
  • Document New Items – The team member responsible for Meeting Minutes should document three types of items: (a) Key decisions, (b) Action items, (c) New information learned since the previous meeting.
    • New Action Items – Be clear on who is to do the work, and by when.
  • End with a Meeting Summary – Briefly go over decisions and action items and agree on plans for the next meeting. Thank team members for their work.

Facilitating team meetings is one thing. However, what’s done between meetings is usually the most important role of the Team Facilitator.  This time is also known as the White Space, as it is typically used to keep the project on track and on budget.  What the Team Facilitator does in the White Space will help fulfill the goal of making an action easy (or easier) for the team members.  Making team Members’ tasks easier and more memorable instantly gains buy-in, which is arguably the most important currency that can be pocketed by a Team Facilitator.

Here are some guidelines on Between Meeting activities:

  • Review Action Items – Go through the Meeting Minutes to see who is to do what, and by when. Some LSS practitioners prefer an Action Item Log. Others use a Quad Chart. A RACI Chart can also be a useful tool.
  • Follow Up with Team Members – GBs & BBs are dependent on team members to do the action items for the team to be successful. How you follow up should vary depending on the situation. Options range from sending reminder emails to text messages to phone calls to hallway meetings. Some team members may not require reminders. Others may require several.
  • Remove Barriers – If a team member runs into a roadblock your job is to help that person by removing the barrier. For example, if a team member doesn’t have time to do her action item approach her supervisor about taking some work off that person’s plate.
  • Set Aside Time for 1-on-1 Conversations – Depending on the situation a short face-to-face conversation with a team member or major stakeholder can be the most productive way to accomplish an action item or answer a question. It also can have a huge impact on gaining buy-in. Be sure to follow the ‘2 Ears, 1 Mouth’ approach to communication. In other words, spend twice as much time listening as speaking.
  • When Needed, Ask for Help – If you run into a major roadblock don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Usually, the best person to ask is the Project Sponsor. If the barrier involves a technical issue, reach out to a person in IT or engineering. If it requires help in terms of LSS knowledge reach out to your Master Black Belt. Or contact TMAC.

To summarize, during LSS Projects – or any projects for that matter – success is based on a relatively small number of significant activities.  Effective Team facilitation falls into this significant category.