Lean Leadership: How Five Minutes a Day Creates More Effective Teams

6/24/21

Typically, when we talk about Lean methodologies, most conversations hover around project design and delivery—providing more value with fewer resources (eliminating waste). How does this apply to leadership? What does it mean to be a lean leader? (Google, of course, could provide several answers.) During an interview with Derek West, highlighting his recent leadership promotion in Mazzetti Sacramento, he mentioned something he had started doing with his team—daily, he offers informal 5-minute check-ins with each of his team members, particularly geared toward younger staff. The intent, in a “shotgun approach”, as Derek refers, is to increase productivity by quickly removing a barrier (i.e. answer a critical question). This five-minute allotment can justifiably evolve into 30 minutes if a learning and development opportunity is achieved. At the end of the conversation, the co-worker is that much more informed, confident, and able to tackle a similar obstacle in the future. AND, the lean aspect, the need for Derek (or others) to coach/advise on that topic in the future is mitigated or completed alleviated.

SIDENOTE: Derek credits this simple, yet effective practice to his local lean group, consisting of many local contractors applying 5-minute check-ins with their teams. “In the construction world, you have to remove barriers quickly,” Derek describes. “Why not apply to engineers?!”

WHY IS THIS EFFECTIVE?

First, you should know, both of Derek’s parents (and his aunt) had careers in teaching. He has had the privilege of understanding greater nuances in terms of how we consume information and how we learn. Unfortunately, those hour-long lectures may not be the most effective. We typically are more able to absorb information in small chunks, short bursts, and build over time. Hence, the 5-minute check-ins.

A perception issue is at play too—five minutes is typically perceived as “less formal,” more inviting for casual dialogue. Five minutes forces participants to stay in the moment, addressing the most relevant issue at hand. Again, Derek notes, he will organically allow/encourage the conversation to extend beyond the five minutes when it’s warranted.

HOW TO AVOID REPEAT ANSWERS?

Naturally, similar questions from more than one person will emerge. In this case, to minimize Derek’s response time, he might address in one of several ways (instead of using the 5-minute check-in with the individual):

  • Schedule a team meeting to address collectively  
  • Record a video of him answering the question and share with his team 
  • Email a textual response to the team  

NOTE: Lean leadership starts with the leader in terms of effectively managing his/her own time while balancing the needs of the team.

ADVISING OTHERS RE LEAN LEADERSHIP

Derek credits his mentors (professional and personal) and his local lean group for shaping his lean leadership style.

“It’s my job to establish trust and a ‘safe’ environment to encourage learning. There’s a reason someone asks a question, and I realize one answer could change a person’s outlook, shut them down, build them up, etc.”  

Derek humbly advises leaders seeking to employ lean practices, to reflect on how you facilitate learning… How do you facilitate questions? How do you answer questions? How do you manage your time in this effort? This reflection requires a small “first cost” investment of time, but likely with a more sustainable return of time.  

As he’s experienced, by focusing on developing his people more quickly, he can do more with his own time, adding more value overall.  

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