We live in a time where nothing stands still and everything is as changeable as the weather. It is important for organisations to remain agile and continuously improve and renew themselves. Only then can they get and stay ahead of their competition and be successful in the long term.
Moreover, the process of continuous improvement is at the heart of a mature quality management system. External auditors rightly keep a critical eye on the effectiveness of this process. It doesn’t matter if things don’t go perfectly or sometimes something goes wrong; as long as you learn from it as an organisation and improve.
In our practice, we often see an extensive improvement cycle at organisational level. From planning improvements, to implementing them and evaluating the effects. Yet we see that despite these efforts, both the drive for improvement and performance fall short. All too often, the power of improvement in teams is still too limited. And that while the improvement power of the organisation as a whole is a sum of what happens in the teams, just like the performance in ‘normal work’.
If we look at improvement in teams, we see a diffuse picture. Of course, there are teams that occasionally manage to turn their ideas into successful improvements. In this article, we focus on the two extremes that are less likely to succeed. By recognising them, you can start improving sustainably. We are happy to share our success formula as an answer to the question of how you do it.
First, there are teams in which the potential for improvement seems to be completely lacking. Professionals in these teams do not come up with suggestions and do not seem to see any opportunities. We are then quick to think that they lack the time for this, as daily work demands priority. Yet something else is more likely to be lacking: it is the morale, the motivation to improve that is far from being there in these teams.
At the other end of the spectrum, we see teams bursting with ideas and self-confidence. They do not lack the will to improve. Indeed, they often have many different improvement processes running simultaneously. So why don’t we see great results in these teams? The answer is simple. They do not sufficiently manage their improvement potential. These ‘flutters’ literally go in all directions: they lack structure.
So the big question is how to strengthen the improvement power of teams. We already mentioned it: the motivation, the will to improve, is a hard requirement for this. We believe that this drive can be found. Always. It’s a matter of looking carefully and fanning the flame. We can do a lot of that , but we’ll park that topic for now. After all, motivation alone is not enough, as the aforementioned example of fluttering teams shows.
Focus is the magic word to get these teams on track. To be truly powerful, a team must have direction. Focused improvement is what we call it. Compare it to the physical principle of force. Again, the resulting force is greater if it is applied in one direction.
So how do you bring that focus? Themes are a good tool for this. A team is usually quite capable of choosing its own topic. Or let the theme tie in with the organisation-wide strategy or important risks. Other sources such as incidents, performed checks, audits and inspections, or satisfaction surveys can also provide a lot of inspiration.
The big advantage of a theme is that you can share the results of your efforts more easily. The team writes its own improvement story, and will happily pass it on to other teams.
So far, we have captured two key components of our success formula: the will to improve and focus. Let’s look again at the physics formula for force. Force is mass times acceleration. It is precisely that acceleration that is interesting. In our view, focus alone is not enough to accelerate, to be really powerful in your improvement actions.
This requires rhythm. Only through a decisive rhythm of actions that follow one another can we accelerate. Interim moments of evaluation determine whether we are still moving in the right direction. Focus and rhythm: a highly effective duo!
You would think that this formula would get us there. Unfortunately, in practice it is more difficult. There are several other factors that determine a team’s improvement success. For instance, time and money do play a role. Is there time available to work on improvement suggestions? Can resources be used to implement and secure innovations or changes?
Another important factor is the mandate and support from line management. They will have to support the intended change. In general, it is smart to realise precisely those improvement ideas that you as a team can actually influence. This helps create the necessary preconditions such as time, money and support.
In summary, three elements are decisive for the improvement power of a team: the will to improve (motivation), a clear direction (focus) and a regular sequence of actions (rhythm). So look especially for the team within your organisation that is already applying this success formula. After all, the example of one successful team may just lead to massive and contagious enthusiasm and an unstoppable acceleration in your organisation. Full power ahead!
Wondering how teams within Infoland use this success formula to improve? Our experts would be happy to share our experiences with you!