How to Transition Reluctant Teams to Lean ManagementLean management is often implemented to save a floundering company.

In these cases, an existing team must cope not only with new policies, new managers, and new procedures, but also with emotional distress.

When a company reevaluates its production models using Lean management, it is implicitly rejecting previous managerial concepts.

This realization creates resentment and fear among employees.

New leaders inheriting a non-Lean team are handicapped twice over: First, the company in question probably has limited resources. Secondly, unhappy employees can easily sabotage product flow, even unintentionally.

How can a Lean manager overcome fear and resistance to change, in time to turn around a failing company?

Three Ways to Transition Reluctant Teams to Lean Management

Initial Staffing Considerations

One can implement Lean management without layoffs. However, some employees are not open to working in a Lean culture. They do not agree with Lean philosophies, nor do they want to better understand these principles.

Are you doing these individuals any favors by permitting them to keep working miserably for a company whose culture has gone on without them?

Consider respectfully transitioning recalcitrant employees out of their positions.

Keep in mind that these employees are not unsuited for employment; they are simply not suited for their present employment.

Before you announce your plans to implement Lean, begin planning healthy transitions for managers unwilling to work in a Lean culture.

Communicating with Your Team As a Whole

Use rich communication mediums to announce change. Face to face communication cannot be discounted as a method of conveying positivity. An “all hands” meeting is an appropriate venue for an initial announcement.

Do not make a habit of distracting teams from their primary responsibilities with updates.

Following your initial announcement, meet as needed.

Informal settings for interaction humanize a new Lean manager and dispel negative rumors. Even if you are leading a company with little to no cash on hand, plan informal gatherings outside the office environment.

Take a sunny afternoon off as a team for a picnic lunch and tag football in the nearest public park.

Introducing Greater Individual Responsibility

Employees accustomed to traditional workplace cultures will not readily evaluate their own actions and suggest process improvements.

Most team members will find the concept of increased responsibility daunting, rather than empowering, at first.

To teach Lean thinking skills, identify team members who are fully invested in Lean and learning quickly.

Provide training and encourage them to share their insights with other employees.

When individuals reach out to you and point out unnecessary movement or wasteful inventory, praise them publicly.

Other team members will see that you are rewarding productive criticism.

Over time, team members will come to recognize themselves as part of a greater whole. Even in an industry like automotive repair, which attracts solitary workers, employees will communicate productively as they center thinking around Lean principles.

You will know that you have succeeded when you notice employees at all levels behaving like effective leaders, taking pride in the entire production process and working to improve it.