We all know about the cost savings generated when we eliminate waste from manufacturing processes. How many of us consider the savings available when we address another source of waste: the waste that occurs in our workplace interactions?
This scale of this waste is substantial — and often invisible. Miscommunication results in errors and rework. People move mountains in response to a leader’s “directive” only to find that the leader meant it as an offhand comment. When people are afraid to speak up, they fail to make problems visible, allowing those problems to drag down performance and create a fire-fighting environment rather than an environment in which root causes are addressed. Meetings include the wrong people for the work at hand. Or a meeting is missing critical people, and precious time is lost in updating them during the next meeting. Decisions drag on when people are unwilling to address the “real” issue in the room, or when they agree just to agree and then fail to execute that agreement.
In our work at manufacturing sites around the world, we have seen many situations where interactions create waste:
- A high-volume plant could not make further productivity gains because of a longtime obstacle that no one felt safe enough to raise.
- When a new person joined the plant leadership team, her colleagues kept her at arm’s length. She often heard comments like, “You don’t understand,” or, “That’s not the way we do things around here.” Their critical stance eventually dissuaded her from speaking up.
- Several senior leaders were visiting one of their company’s production sites. As part of making conversation with the local plant manager, one of the leaders remarked, “I wonder how many valves there are at this site.” A team then stayed up all night to count the valves.
- A product development team held a meeting to discuss a key opportunity, despite the absence of one subject matter expert. As it turned out, the expert had information that impacted the opportunity substantially — requiring an additional meeting to cover the same ground, and a rework of the decisions made in the first meeting.