13 February 2017

CI Dilemma: Not meeting with expectations

A lean-style morning debrief distorts into an excuse to down tools in this month’s dilemma

We introduced lean-style daily debriefs in a bid to slicken up our factory, but have become bogged down in badly managed meetings instead. Now, productivity is sinking fast and I’m rapidly losing the faith of senior management colleagues who’d been promised quick wins from the morning meetings concept.

We always knew there would be challenges rolling this out in a 75-year-old engineering firm. Most of our operators saw meetings as something for the weak willed or a harbinger of bad news. Not surprising when they were once used as a mechanism for redundancies, union disputes or a management-led bollocking.

Times change and we’ve been trying to take a much more collaborative approach with our workforce. Their input and ideas are crucial as key OEMs demand a step up in quality and delivery performance. We began a continuous improvement journey in 2014 and have enjoyed early success around workplace organisation and kaizen blitzes.

Hopes were high then, that the daily morning meet could build momentum. We instructed team leaders on running the sessions and set a date debriefs for all cell teams from 8am the following Monday.

The results were abject. One meeting was still going over an hour later as a particularly vociferous operator rattled off his lifetime’s grievances. At the other extreme, we had a team leader barking instructions for 10 minutes, halting for questions and, when greeted with stunned silence, telling the guys to ‘stop slacking and get back to work then’.

Overall, we lack direction and are letting big shopfloor personalities lead the meetings astray. Most sessions are overrunning and triggering a spate of ‘follow up’ meetings later in the day.

What hasn’t helped, in my view, is having to hold the sessions away from the factory floor. It’s my opinion that a couple of old lags are making every second count from the comfort of the cosy back office chairs. My senior colleagues insisted we do this, in-case we were accused of applying one rule for workers and another for management by making the guys stand up on the shopfloor.

Would ditching the cosy chairs salvage the situation?Or would I be better adding the death of the daily meet as first item on the agenda at 8am tomorrow?

Kevin Eyre, managing consultant, S A Partners
It's great to hear that workplace organisation and some kaizen blitz events have proven to add value and a disappointment that your meetings process has not. This must be frustrating, so let's look at what's to be done to rectify what is essentially a 'social' practice.

The first question to be answered is 'what is their purpose?' 'Slickening up the factory', is a hope, not a purpose – so I'm hardly surprised at the small chaos that has ensued. If we imagine that in some way, the meetings are there to support performance improvement, then we need to decide how this will be achieved. There are four things to consider if you wish to avoid your white boards becoming 'monuments'. These are: the structure and process of each meeting; the skills needed to run these meetings well; the connection between types of meetings within the company; and the evolution of this meeting process.

Let’s look at these in detail:

1.The structure and process for meetings: this must be standardised and adhered to. You can begin by dividing the meeting into three broad categories - information sharing, work scheduling and problem solving. Shared information will be delivered by the team leader on pre-determined items such as company and team performance. The team leader will need to be sufficiently well informed to answer questions that arise or he risks losing credibility quickly. Work scheduling will deal with the allocation of skills and resources for the day and address problems associated with this. Problem solving will visualize priority areas for improvement in the short term, as they have arisen from performance gaps, scheduling issues and generally identified issues. It pays to always locate meetings close to where the work is done.

2.The skills needed to facilitate: Team leaders need to be able to communicate clearly, handle objections sensitively, manage the problem solving process and facilitate discussion. Many team leaders find this a challenging combination of skills and intensive training and coaching is required. If you don't provide the skills: the process fails.

3.Connection of meetings within the company: you need to offer a clear map of how the shopfloor meeting links with other types of meetings within your factory. Try to address how information flows up and down different tiers? How problems are devolved and escalated? What information is delivered at what level? How are resources allocated based on what current information? What KPIs exist at what level and how do they join up?

4.The evolution of meetings. If all of the above sounds daunting, then start with just a single aspect of it. Implement it well and learn from the experience. Simply having a well drilled information sharing process will get the ball rolling and help to overcome the historical perception of meetings as bad news. You can build from there.

Your meetings structure is a system and it requires a conscious design. This is an expensive process that will bring rewards, if it is well thought through, well managed and supported. Don't dump your system. Don't fret about the comfy chairs. Learn from your first attempt and put your brain to work. Your people will respond.

Adam Offord

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