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Lean Six Sigma Teams: Leadership Skills And Strategies

Six Sigma Training and Certification (31)
A Lean Six Sigma project team leader has special responsibilities to ensure productive team interactions that lead to successful results. This challenging role requires someone with excellent leadership qualities and the right set of skills to bring out the best in a project team.

Lean Six Sigma Team Leaders

The role of a Lean 6 Sigma team leader is central to proper implementation of a Lean 6 Sigma project. He or she guides the project team from start to finish, serving as coach, mentor, leader, facilitator, mediator, and more.

A good team leader can literally make or break a project. A project team without an exceptional leader is much like a ship without a captain or a busy intersection without a traffic light. In other words, the team may appear to be doing a lot but they have no direction, work in chaos, and are very likely to crash at some point.

Choosing a team leader for a Lean Six Sigma project requires attention to a number of qualities in each candidate. A few of these important qualities include:

  • Level of Lean 6 Sigma training
  • Leadership experience and skills
  • Personal characteristics and integrity
  • Business frame of mind
  • Passion for their job

The team leader generally works with the process owner and the rest of the Lean 6 Sigma group to select the rest of the project team. His or her input and active participation in the selection process are vital, as they allow the team leader to help shape a group that will be more likely to work smoothly together in the months to come.

Lean 6 Sigma Leadership Qualities

The leadership qualities needed in a Lean Six Sigma team leader both universal and specific to the Lean Six Sigma process. Each quality is generally seen in good leaders across many different industries and applications, but also tends to be present at exceptional levels in a good Lean 6 Sigma team leader.

What are the key leadership qualities required? Lean 6 Sigma experts may vary somewhat in the specific words and labels they give to each quality, but they most often fit into one of the following categories:

  • Project Management
  • Problem Solving
  • Team Dynamics
  • Customer Focus
  • Business Expertise
  • Technical Expertise
  • Integrity

The following table shows why each category is important.
Leadership Quality Why It’s Important

Project Management
  • Deal with all aspects of a project from start to finish
  • Effective use of resources, time, team personnel, and Six Sigma processes
Problem Solving
  • Anticipate probable obstacles and issues
  • Create solutions for emergent problems
Team Dynamics
  • Facilitation
  • Motivation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Guide team through common stages of development (forming, storming, norming, performing)
Customer Focus
  • Attention to needs of internal and external customers
  • Advocate for customer as final judge of quality
Business Expertise
  • Understand and apply alignment between project results and overall business strategies
  • Attention to financial results
  • Attention to competitive issues
Technical Expertise
  • Understand data and statistics
  • Analytical skills
  • Fluent in Six Sigma methodology
  • Trustworthy
  • Well-liked
  • Respected
  • Open, honest communication
  • Commitment to do the right thing

Training for Lean Six Sigma Team Leaders

In most cases, the Lean 6 Sigma team leader will be a Black Belt, but sometimes a Green Belt will fill the position if the project is smaller or less complex. Hands on training and experience are also important, so the team leader will have been involved in other Lean Six Sigma projects in a variety of capacities.

The amount of training necessary for a Lean Six Sigma team leader is a subject of some discussion in the Six Sigma community. While Black Belt qualification is still the “gold standard” for team leaders, some people advocate for team leaders that are leaders first and Lean Six Sigma Black Belts second.

In other words, as the thinking goes, it is much easier for someone with strong leadership skills to acquire Six Sigma training than it is for someone with strong Lean Six Sigma training to acquire leadership skills. The reality is that both sets of skills – leadership and Six Sigma – must be present for a team leader to perform well and it does not really matter in which order the skills are acquired.

Success Strategies for Lean 6 Sigma Team Leaders

All Lean 6 Sigma teams go through various stages and processes to get to the final project results. Each step along the way presents unique challenges and opportunities to the team leader, requiring different leadership and management strategies to ensure success.

Here are some of the most common situations a team leader faces, along with suggested strategies for working through them.

Team Development
  • Team building exercises
  • Clarification of roles and expectations
  • Establish team ground rules
  • Ensure participation by all team members
  • Foster open and honest communication
Obstacles And Impediments
  • Anticipate potential obstacles
  • Facilitate team actions for emergent obstacles
  • Foster problem solving skills and behavior among team members
  • Intervene on team behalf when necessary
  • Encourage creative solutions
Team Motivation
  • Recognize what motivates each team member
  • Regularly recognize and reward team accomplishments
  • Foster culture of mutual support among team members
  • Call for breaks, down time, team building, motivational activities, etc. as necessary
  • Coach and counsel team members who become frustrated or discouraged along the way
Conflict Management And Resolution
  • Establish communication and conflict resolution expectations
  • Provide conflict resolution tools
  • Manage team morale to anticipate and prevent conflict when possible
  • Facilitate conflict resolution activities
  • Recognize that team members have varying levels of comfort with conflict
Project Completion
  • Facilitate gathering of “lessons learned” from team members
  • Ensure appropriate celebration of successful project completion
  • Ensure appropriate recognition for contributions of team members
  • Provide individual coaching and feedback to team members to support professional and/or personal growth


A Lean Six Sigma team leader fills many varying roles over the course of a Lean Six Sigma project. From manager to facilitator, mediator to mentor, each of these roles is important to the success of the team as well as the growth and development of individual team members.

The best team leaders have the right balance of leadership skills and Lean 6 Sigma knowledge to help guide a team through all of the project stages and ultimately to a successful result. Any organization that is fully committed to Lean Six Sigma will make a concerted effort to attract, develop, and support the right people to ensure a steady flow of leaders well into the future.

Learn more information about 6Sigma.com’s Lean Six Sigma training coursework, available as classroom, onsite, or online options.

SixSigma.com offers both Live Virtual classes as well as Online Self-Paced training. Most option includes access to the same great Master Black Belt instructors that teach our World Class in-person sessions. Sign-up today!


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