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Lean 6 Sigma Teams: Key Elements For Success

The project team you assemble for a Lean 6 Sigma project is critical to generating a successful outcome. A dysfunctional team will not produce the same quality of results as a balanced team that works well together. It is important, then, to pay attention to the key elements for building a successful lean 6 Sigma project team.

Key Element #1 – Create a Diverse Lean 6 Sigma Team

Creating a diverse team is more than just balancing gender, race, or any other factor. It is about putting together a team of people who can work together in a way that encourages active participation by all members and open discussion of all perspectives.

The best strategy is to look at the process to be addressed and select people from several perspectives related to that process. For example, a typical lean 6 sigma team might include:

  • Someone who uses the process
  • Someone who is a customer of the process
  • Someone who is a supplier for the process
  • Someone who is an expert on the process
  • Someone who is unfamiliar with the process
  • Someone who is objective and can facilitate

Depending on the size of the lean 6 sigma team, there may be multiple people from each category. Remember, too, that most process problems are due to human issues rather than technical issues, so the lean 6 sigma team should be balanced in terms of technical and non-technical members.

The following table provides more detail about each team member category.

Team Member Category
  • Hands-on experience
  • Knows how process is performed
  • May not be familiar with the big picture
  • May be resistant to changes
  • Buys/Uses the results of the process
  • Knows practical impact of defects
  • May be focused more on end cost, speed of delivery, etc.
  • May fee material(s) into the process
  • May provide support function(s) for the process
  • May be sensitive to changes required of them
  • May not see the process as a priority in their daily responsibilities
  • Intimately familiar with the process
  • Understands technical issues
  • May be too focused on technical issues
  • May expect deference from other team members
  • Brings a fresh perspective
  • Distance from process helps to spot problem areas more quickly
  • May not fully understand the intricacies of the process
  • May feel intimidated by others who have spent more time working with or on the process
  • Neutral participant
  • Can facilitate without taking sides
  • May need to hire from the outside, such as a consultant
  • Extra expense

Key Element #2 – Create the Right Lean 6 Sigma Team Size and Structure

Most lean 6 Sigma Teams experts will tell you that the best size for a project team is somewhere between three and twelve people. Be sure to take into consideration the advantages and disadvantages of small vs. large team size.

Small Team
(3 to 5 members)
Large Team
(6 to 12 members)
  • Works faster
  • Works more efficiently
  • Less potential for team conflict
  • Represents more parts or perspectives from the process
  • Spreads out the workload
  • Can form sub-teams to work on project components
  • Allows for the greatest diversity of team members
  • Represents fewer perspectives on the process
  • Increased workload for each team member
  • Works more slowly
  • Usually requires a facilitator
  • Greater potential for team conflict

Regardless of lean 6 sigma team size, a core structure of roles is necessary. Common roles might include:

  • Project Director
  • Team Manager
  • Facilitator
  • Notes and Meeting Minutes
  • Sub-Team Leaders
  • Senior Management/Steering Committee Liaison

The scope and titles of roles will of course vary depending on the size of the team and the lean 6 sigma project.

Key Element #3 – Choose the Right People

No team of any size or structure will be successful if individual members do not have the qualifications and characteristics to work well together. Technical expertise is important, but should not be the primary factor considered when selecting lean 6 sigma team members. Interpersonal skills, creativity, honest communication and team focus are arguably the most important qualities a team member needs.

Some experts suggest you avoid putting people on the team who are known to disagree or otherwise challenge each other so that the team does not slide into dysfunction. Others, though, suggest that with a good facilitator and members who are willing to abide by set ground rules, such internal challenges can improve the project outcome thanks to frank and active discussions.

Regardless of the lean six sigma team composition, to maximize success the group as a whole should demonstrate the following:

  • Focus and purpose
  • Problem solving
  • Respectful interpersonal relationships
  • Open, honest communication
  • Mutual support
  • Accountability
  • Commitment to the project goals

Key Element #4 – Give Them the Right Tools

“The right tool for the job” is a well-known cliché, but it is as true for Lean 6 Sigma Teams projects as it is for anything else. A Lean 6 Sigma teams projects must have the right tools to do their job in order to achieve project goals.

At minimum, the team should have the following tools at their disposal:

Initial Team Building Activity

This should occur before any real work begins. It does not have to be fancy or lengthy, but it does need to be effective at helping team members get acquainted with each other and establish positive relationships.

Appropriate Facilities

The lean sigma six group’s workspace should be big enough to accommodate everyone comfortably and allow room for other tools such as flip charts, projectors, white boards, etc.

Conflict Resolution

There will inevitably be conflicts of some sort within the Lean 6 Sigma Teams, whether major or minor. The group should discuss conflict resolution in advance and agree on a method of resolution that will apply.

Ongoing Motivators

This can be anything from team building to fun activities to regular breaks or something similar. The idea is to intersperse opportunities to take a break from the workload and refresh the lean 6 sigma team’s energy level.

Support for Participation

Any lean sigma 6 team members who are pulled away from their regular duties to be part of the groups must have the full support of their supervisor, manager or department head. If they are distracted by pressures or resentment due to time away from their regular job, they will not be able to contribute as fully to the lean 6 Sigma Teams projects.

Responsibility and Authority

Every member should be willing to take on the extra responsibility of team participation. It is just as important, though, that the organization grants them the authority to take actions to achieve a lean 6 sigma project success.


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