Does your team have a list of potential projects for future improvement? Parking Lot, To-Do List, Rainy Day Projects, whatever you call it, your team needs a list of improvement projects. Here’s why.
It’s noon on a Friday, and your team has had a great week. The problems that normally seem to show up and ruin the end of the week didn’t materialize, and everyone is starting to get a bit nervous. That situation that everyone says they want is upon you, and no one’s quite sure how to handle it . . .your team has free time on their hands.
A few questions come to mind: Will the team let you know they have free time, or is it up to you to recognize it? Are people nervous, or excited at the prospect of working on improving their work? Do they feel empowered to pick a project off the list, or do they seek your direction? Is there a list of projects for people to see, or is it all in your head?
Or maybe your team is so strained for resources that the above scenario isn’t reality. If that’s the case, I encourage you to check out this post on the benefits of slack in your capacity. If your team has no time to manage exceptions and work on improving the work, why would you expect things to improve?
Here are some helpful hints for the Lean manager when thinking about free time in your office:
- Project selection-Allow your team as much freedom as possible to select projects. They are the closest to the work, and know what needs improvement. This doesn’t mean you aren’t involved in the improvement, just that you aren’t making the selection. If you were to graph employee satisfaction against the amount of input they have into their improvement work, you would see a very strong positive relationship.
- Focus on skill development-Do you have an employee that wants to move into a new role, but lacks certain skills needed in that role? Allow them to use this time to work on projects that develop these skills. This can be a huge personal motivator for people who normally lack the confidence to learn new things.
- Recognition-Celebrate people who use free time to improve their work. These are the future leaders of your team, and highlighting their contribution will help others see a clear path between improvement work and recognition.
- Reward free time with free time-Not every minute has to be accounted for. Set up a weekly culture-building activity that allows people to have a little fun at work. This will give people yet another reason to fix problems to free up time to participate.
- Start a list and keep it updated-Create a list of improvement activities, and make it readily available to your team. Better yet, turn it over to them for ownership. Encourage them to add items throughout the day that prevent them from doing their best work. This is the exact opposite of the “suggestion box” setup, where employees send ideas to a far-off place, and rarely (if ever) hear back from upper management. There are several to-do list applications available – here’s one in particular we like.
In my experience, free time is contagious. Once people experience it on an individual level, and see the benefits of using this time to improve, more free time magically appears. And once several individuals are using time to gain leadership and problem solving experience, expect the entire team to get on board.
What about your own experience? Is this something that you’ve tried with your team? I’d love to hear what worked (and didn’t) in the comments section below.