This website covers topics on knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Aligned and engaged teams

I have known Kevin Fox for over fifteen years.  I first learned Theory of Constraints through him  in a couple Critical Chain implementations and later worked on a manufacturing (drum-buffer-rope) project with his company.  He has a new book out this past fall, Aligned & Engaged: Hidden Keys for Turning Teamwork into Profit.*

Overall the book is split into two sections that cover the dimensions of Alignment and Engagement.  And the bulk of the book is set up as a set of 29 "practices" around teamwork, each of which are linked to four key topics: Creating Time, Doing the Right Things, Doing Things Right, and Magnifying Impact.  The practices are written for leaders, not the teams - leaders have responsibility to create the right environment that enables the company to achieve more and more of its goal.  

Many of the practices Kevin describes are ideas and elements I am familiar with in my own consulting practice, but I haven't always thought of them in the ways he describes.  And many of the concepts come right out of Theory of Constraints, though it is nice to see that he talks about the ideas in ways that do not require deep TOC knowledge.

The introduction sets the stage.  Companies are made of people, and those people have to work together well for the company to work well.  Just like an athletic team.  But it is not teamwork itself that a company should strive for - it is results.  Ineffective teamwork is strongly connected to poor performance, but the classic "teamwork" solutions to the problem like retreats or team-building activities don't address the core problems.  Ineffective teamwork is a symptom of deeper problems in the organization - it won't be solved by going on a retreat.

How do you recognize a problem with Alignment or Engagement?  Chapter three provides a nice discussion of the likely effects.  Alignment issues will appear in things like strong (internal) silos; problems that show up late; internal measures look good even though company performance is poor; local improvement efforts don't impact the bottom line; end-of-the-month syndrome is strong; and mismatches between supply and demand.  And issues with engagement appear as things like low employee participation; few new ideas generated; a lot of time spent explaining problems, rather than solving them; blaming; and people keep regular hours.  This last one struck me as odd, but Kevin's explanation strikes a chord: it's not that we should demand long hours of people, but we should expect people will do what it takes to get things done, which might mean starting early or staying late from time to time.

The 29 practices that make up the bulk of the book are those practices that link to the bottom line.  Some practices help create more time for the leader or the team to focus on the right things - they might even help the teams discover the right things to do. That gives you better effectiveness.  There are also that help up in doing these things well - once you know what to do, how do you do that better (efficiency).  Interesting that "not doing the wrong things" isn't mentioned explicitly, but it goes without saying that clear goals and clear ways to achieve those goals will have people doing much less of the wrong thing too.

While the book doesn't explicitly claim to be a Theory of Constraints book, many of the practices have elements borrowed from TOC ideas and practices. So, for me many of the deeper explanations behind the practices weren't necessary for me.  The language is intentionally removed from the details of TOC, so that anyone could pick up the book and make use of one, two or all 29 of the practices. 

The list of practices with my quick comments in italics

  1. Communicate the goal - If people don't know the goal, how can there be alignment?
  2. Share company results with everyone
  3. Replace local measures with global ones - This one is obvious and not-so-obvious. What does it mean from day to day for people? Most people shouldn't be busy all the time in order to have protective capacity to deal with variability, uncertainty, surprises.  Local measures drive busy-ness, rather than effectiveness. "Accountability is overrated if what you are holding people accountable for doesn't help your company reach its goal."
  4. Find the constraint of your business
  5. Blue light your business - I've used versions of the blue light story many times. "Putting people in charge of somethings is not the same as having them care."
  6. Use T, I and OE to align decisions to the goal - This comes from TOC and is a much better way to use financial information to help make decisions.
  7. Routinely review and re-align your measures
  8. Map what good alignment looks like- Another idea i've used many times: What does good look like for you, for your business, for the team?  
  9. Spend most of your time and energy on today
  10. Use Pareto to stop wasting efforts
  11. Stop the multi-tasking - Nothing more to say here!
  12. Relate everything back to the big picture
  13. Focus on throughput  - Very specifically, focus on those activities that will generate more money through sales.  Not more production. More sales (and profits from them - big discounts to ship more product doesn't get you more profits).
  14. Use measures to provide fast feedback on ideas
  15. Picture what engagement looks like - More what good looks like thinking.
  16. Innovate on process - If you ask people for suggestions, ask them to focus on the areas that are creating the largest problems in your business.
  17. Use images to show 'what good looks like' - The third entry on this topic. What good looks like is a strong way to help people think about how things could/should work.
  18. Reward the good more than you punish the bad
  19. Share your ideas last - Leaders influence people by everything they say and do. Let people have their say first, before injecting your own ideas.
  20. Provide opportunities for growth
  21. Don't kill ideas, use questions - Ask questions about any suggestion: What problem are you trying to solve?  Is the problem worth solving?  Will the solution (idea) solve the problem?  Will the idea create unintended consequences?

* Review based on a complimentary galley copy when the title was Teamwork for Profit. Some of the specific practice names and titles may have changed in the final book, but the overall concept remains. 

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