Avoiding Potential Pitfalls of Cohesive, Efficient Lean TeamsWhat could be undesirable about a cohesive team within a Lean company?

Believe it or not, cohesive team dynamics can turn destructive over time, especially if the highly cohesive team is an island in an organization generally characterized by loosely organized business units.

If you manage one of the most effective, cohesive Lean teams in your organization, be on the lookout for these troubles—and be prepared to implement these suggested solutions.

Lean Teams Have Excessive Commitment to Colleagues

Cohesive teams work well together. They often also play well together, forming an inseparable group whose positive relationship extends beyond the workplace.

This dynamic makes for a happy, efficient workplace as long as the team functions undisturbed, but new employees may be ostracized. If a member of the Lean team is let go, his or her colleagues could place loyalty to a former teammate over business interests.

  • Solving It. If a team you manage becomes a "clique," seek opportunities to create working partnerships across project and departmental boundaries. Do not waste employees' time with busywork; instead, learn about each individuals' goals, then seek legitimate opportunities for each person's professional development. Pair effective mentors with younger employees.
  • "Going Native." Highly cohesive Lean teams may be more committed to the customer than to their employer. While customer service professionals should provide top-notch service, this should not include exposing the company to excessive costs and liability. Highly effective customer service teams go to bat for customers, and over time may resent their obligation to generate a profit, even if it means a customer must leave dissatisfied.
  • Solving It. De-emphasize absolutist performance measures when a Lean team develops this problem. Emphasizing NPS improves performance in less cohesive customer service teams, but more effective teams may obsess over KPIs, to the detriment of business success. If this technique is insufficient, consider job rotation.

Conflict Avoidance

No one wants to manage a team that is in constant conflict, but an allergy to conflict can become detrimental over time.

Highly cohesive Lean teams can behave in ways antithetical to Lean management, protecting coworkers' inefficient habits rather than kindly suggesting methods of improvement.

Projects may near completion before a known problem becomes obvious, due to teammates' unwillingness to voice a concern.

Productive, functional conflict is a necessary part of organizational communication; if it is lacking, so is the heat and pressure that turns an idea into the business equivalent of a diamond.

  • Solving It. Aversion to conflict in cohesive Lean teams comes from the fear of disrupting relationships. Allay this fear by modeling healthy conflict for the teams you manage. Criticize ideas and work habits privately and constructively. There is no need to make this process public; if cohesiveness really is at the root of the problem, what one employee hears from you will quickly spread to the entire team. Criticism delivered well creates gratitude. When employees receive criticism and express to their teammates that they feel they have been helped to improve, teammates will feel comfortable initiating functional conflict within the team.

How do you manage cohesive Lean teams to avoid pitfalls?