Lean Management & Trust: nothing beats the ground

One of the pillars of Lean Management is to develop people in the actual place where they work. The responsibility of the manager is to show the example; he must go to meet them. Through discussion, he helps them to identify problems, to put themselves in a learning attitude and to experiment. And that’s where trust is born…

As every Monday morning at 10am for 3 months, Maxime, Director of the “BGL” department brings together his management team of 5 domain managers on the 1st floor of the CHA1 building in room “1239”. The meeting is rhythmic. Each manager takes turns to expose his carefully completed reporting in a power point document. He/she presents the overall progress of his/her projects, the difficulties encountered, the mood of the collaborators and the three important points for the coming week. Decisions are noted in an Excel file.

Take a step back and introduce a break…

All is ok for Sandrine in charge of the Purchasing part. Then it is Alexandre’s turn who manages the IT projects. The latter explains that this is 3 sprints (period of time during which one develops a part of a product – example software – on which one is committed) that his team does not manage to keep his engagements without precise explanation. Maxime takes a step back. He doesn’t want to embarrass his software manager. He believes that this situation is a great opportunity for him to put into practice his recent training on Gemba1 and for his managers to begin a learning phase.

Go on the field to observe…

Maxime proposes to stop the meeting and go to meet Alexandre’s team. They are all going to the 3rd floor.

The collaborators are in front of their PCs. Maxime takes the time to observe. He remains silent and little by little makes his own opinion. His first observation: no information is visible.

Learn to learn…

He then asks Alexandre who could present him the problematic mentioned in his report. Martine and Alexis are the two chosen developers. Maxime goes to them and starts asking them questions. To their great surprise, they realize that the Director is trying to better understand the situation: they all discuss together to agree on the real problem, the facts, the impacts and possible hypotheses of causes. Maxime is not there to provide a ready-made solution but to challenge them so that they themselves develop this way of taking a step back and embarking on an analysis in a structured way. There is no sign of judgment.

Solve problems…

The discussion makes it possible to identify the problem in a short time. Martine is ready to launch a working group to deepen the information mentioned in the exchange and go to the resolution. Maxime offers them to contact two people from outside the department who could contribute.

Decide to change…

Alexandre then realizes that for the last three weeks, he has been so focused on writing documents that he has not taken the time to get out of his office. He said “hello” in the morning to his teammates but as soon as he finished the tour he moved to his computer. Maxime is also aware of his responsibility. He is the one who asked his IT manager to take charge of writing many presentations.

Following this experience, everyone shares what he learned from this morning. They decide to train on the field. It’s essential.


Four weeks later, the situation is as follows: the work group on the defined problematic met with all the stakeholders. He was able to analyze the causes, test and go back to the root cause. The solution deployed in recent days is regularly monitored to ensure its sustainability. Finally, 3 out of 5 managers have done Gemba once a week and teams have set up Visual Management to detect any gap as soon as possible.

Exemplary, source of trust creation…

This story is a fiction but inspired by situations experienced in my professional experience. It allows me to illustrate the three important points I noted in Vineet Nayar’s book “Employees First, Customers Next”:

  1. The example of the manager goes through transparency
  2. The transparency creates trust through credibility, reliability, intimacy, and personal motivations.
  3. The trust stimulates everyone’s responsibility

So, Managers, are you ready to go on the field to set an example and develop trust among your employees?

1 Where do real-life activities really take place, in real situations and about real products? (Page 17, Lean Management, Michael Ballé, Godefroy Beauvallet)


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