Along time ago when I was studying how to manage change and efficiency while working for a city councilmember and later trying to rethink what an effective learning space needs to look like, I read a lot about system thinking and managing systems of change. Back then, I was intrigued with the model that Toyota had been incorporating from and evolved thinking models they used to help make the production and problem management process clearer for all involved.
As the company got bigger, as more artists were brought into projects, the questions poured into management: how can we clarify the systems in order to prevent the tyranny of ambiguity? Ambiguity creates a lot of people issues. People issues are expensive in every way.
CREATING A COMMON LANGUAGE:
As a storyteller, it’s super important to pre-visualize and visualize the ideas and the thinking. Clarifying the product (the WHAT), clarifying the process (the HOW), is the project. The project is simply not the final product, consequently, its the sum of the product and process components. Making sure this is visually clear, making sure the language is synced up with the team helps create a better story, thus, limiting ambiguity.
PARAMETERS AND PROCEDURES:
The essential question for Toyota as it learned from the cultural failures of American manufacturing was: how can we be more empowered and effective AS A TEAM?
For me, this is a great question, too, since I still see a lot of “us vs them” situations today in schools. I noticed that we consistantly try to change the stuff around people without actually making the WHY clear, clarifying the system and empowering them to change the stuff for themselves. Clear goals provide parameters; unclear goals require procedures (step-by-step). Parameters allow a certain level of ownership with the tasks. Procedures only give you the option to do it right or wrong. So, the teams limited to ask “just tell me what to do, how to do it, and when it’s do— very disempowering.
Back then, as a new educator, I wanted to engage my colleagues in these types of conversations, however, because it was not a content area lead conversation, I was not very successful. Empowerment, motivation, purpose was not the star of our sentences, meetings, reports, and grades. Sadly, I still find a HUGE focus when we meet as a team on content and curriculum (stuff) and not on systems (way of thinking through things) that can help inspire, clarify, model, and support change.
Yesterday, I saw a cool story about an organization that helped rebuild homes in New Orleans after Katrina that received some strategy (systems thinking) support from a couple of Toyota systems thinking managers to help them be more effective and efficient. They coached them on how to visualize the goal so everyone is clear. They clarified language into simple categories. They assisted them in publicizing their challenges daily. They encouraged people to contribute to the solution finding with the clarified and agreed-upon language. They helped make needs and concerns have an appropriate stage for action and reflection without doing “the blame game thing”.
Consequently, this humanitarian organization became 50% more effective and less than a year. They were able to get more people back into their homes more efficiently because they had a system in place that helped create clear goals, clarify specific roles, and have a reflective process that was being utilized as a tool for assessing and adjusting. This mapping out process became part of the culture.
Below, is an excerpt from a medical journal blog written by Richard Zarbo, also, used this thinking process to help make them more effective and efficient. Below each paragraph, I’ll ask reflective questions for you to think about or consider.
“The primary role of team members is to reveal in real-time, to each other, and to their managers what is not working as expected, that is, to identify in-process defects and waste.”
QUESTION: How does your school, classroom reveal, in a safe and comfortable way, what is not working as expected? Do you have evidence of this?
“To this end, we place white boards in the workplace so that defects can be made visible by the workers themselves, in a blameless fashion.”
QUESTION: How do you visualize a process for your teams to share their victories, their lessons learned, and their needs and concerns regularly?
“A white board is a work communication tool for the worker and manager so that ‘no problem doesn’t become a problem’.”
QUESTION: how are you or your team aware of problems, possible problems? How are they addressed? What does that process look like? Is it transparent to the team?
“Why write it down publicly? Simply, to collect factual information about less than optimal work and because lack of effective communication begets poor quality.”
QUESTION: reflection. How many times has a problem gotten worse because we failed to address it and talk about it? How many times did we avoid talking about it because we were too scared of hurting someone’s feelings?
The even bigger questions here are that what happens when we continue to not be clear with the goal(s), when we don’t have a clarified and common language on how we plan, how we produce, and how we reflect to assess, adjust, and re-evaluate? What happens when we don’t help make it clear, when we don’t visualize the process? Can we continue to assume we can make change and manage it if we only address the stuff like content and curriculum only? What happens when we don’t talk about how to think things through and what that looks like?
Talk about it. Share the ideas with your teams.