Today, teams are the ones winning the most important battles in life, not individuals. Members of outstanding families have an outstanding emotional life, outstanding teams at the workplace achieve the best results in business, and so on. You simply can’t succeed alone today, you need a team of people around you, supplementing your weaknesses and supporting you through tough times. But in order to have an outstanding team in an outstanding organization, be it company or family, you need to nurture outstanding culture.
A culture eats every strategy and goal for breakfast.
Every outstanding culture known to man today is a kaizen culture, the culture of constant improvement, the culture of consistently following the basic Kaizen rules. For teams, specifically, to really function based on the Kaizen philosophy, there are a few additional rules that need to be followed. Here they are:
- Always lead by example.
- Treat others as you want to be treated.
- Practice mutual respect every day. Work together as a team.
- Create a tolerant environment.
- Focus on the solutions, not on blame.
- It’s the process, not the people.
- Improvement is not made in a conference room.
- Never leave in silent disagreement. Speak out if you disagree.
- What’s said in the room stays in the room.
- Results should be publicly displayed.
Always lead by example
You always have to lead by example and be an outstanding team member by example. But if you are a leader of a team, never lead only with formal authority and formal position. You can’t expect others to do what you yourself aren’t practicing. Always practice what you preach. Other members of your team don’t pay as much attention to what you say as they do to what you actually do. If you have a messy desk, they will have a messy desk, if you’re always late, they will be always late, and so on. No matter what you say to them and no matter what you wrote down in your strategy book, what you do is the standard for other people’s behavior. So you have to start implementing any change on your personal level first.
Another important fact is also that if you expect other people to do things that you aren’t practicing, they will see you as a hypocrite and someone with double standards. If you don’t lead by example, team members will start investing more energy into gossiping, politics and other unproductive behaviors than into performing. So always lead by example and make sure that people respect you. You have to be the formal and informal leader in an organization.
Treat others like you want to be treated
You should always treat others like you want to be treated. That probably means in a fair, respectful and integrative manner. Even if you aren’t a leader, your team members will treat you as you treat them sooner or later. That doesn’t mean you always have to be nice and agree with everything. You should be extremely honest (the so-called radical candor) and push each other among the team members.
Treat others like you want to be treated. If you want all team members to work constructively with you, you must work constructively together with every single one of them. If you want them to share ideas with you, you have to contribute and share your ideas. If you don’t want them to gossip, you mustn’t gossip. If you want other members to be honest with you, you have to be honest.
By default, people are very forgiving towards themselves and extremely critical of other people. Don’t do that. Be honest with yourself and be honest with other people. Have the same standards for yourself as you have for other people. And if they underperform, help them get better.
And be aware: change, even if a positive one, is always stressful for people. So implement change in an integrative and respectful manner, with small steps. Too much stressful change through a longer period of time leads to nothing but burn-outs and long-term under-performance.
Practice mutual respect every day. Work together as a team.
Respect is the fundamental value of productive teams. Respect and trust. You should always respect other people and demand that other people respect you. You have to accept that different people have different values, beliefs, experiences and ideas. Combining different views and angles enables real creativity. Therefore, respect diversity in people and strive to work together and create something new.
You can immediately notice an outstanding team, much like you can notice an outstanding leader. An outstanding leader or an outstanding team is like beauty. It’s hard to define it, but you recognize it immediately when you see it. Even if it’s hard to define an outstanding team, one thing is for sure, they simply respect and trust each other when they work together.
Create a tolerant environment
If individuals, teams or the whole organization want to strive towards constant improvement, you need a very tolerant environment. In order to be creative, to find new ways how to do things, you have to connected yet unseen patterns. To do that, you have to be tolerant towards the unknown and towards different out-of-the-box ideas. If you want to be tolerant towards different views, you also have to be tolerant towards everything (except intolerance) – different religions, cultures, values, views, stupid ideas etc. Creative environments are always tolerant environments.
There’s another reason why the presence of tolerance is mandatory. You have to be tolerant towards failure if you want teams to improve. Finding new ways always also means failing when searching for new ways. Failure is always an integral part of success and progress.
If an environment is tolerant enough, people aren’t afraid to try new things and they aren’t afraid to fail. As individuals or teams. And even when people fail in a tolerant environment, they keep the motivation to continue innovating, because they weren’t punished. Usually they continue innovating all the way until they really find a better way to do things.
Make sure that tolerance is an important value in the teams you build, manage or participate in. Tolerance towards different ideas and failures among team members will motivate all the members to try new things and to become better and better as individuals and team as a whole.
There’s no improvement without failing first.
Focus on the solutions, not on blame
When asking yourself how to do things better, there’s always an easy solution – you blame others for things being as they are. But pointing fingers rarely leads to any improvement, even if it is legitimate. It’s much better and smarter to focus on solutions (how to improve the process and culture) than on blame.
You should expect you and all team members to not point fingers, but instead dedicate every single atom of mental energy to searching and creating better solutions instead. All you have to say is that no blame is allowed, so let’s focus on the best solution.
It’s much easier to avoid pointing fingers if you have a team of A-players. If team members respect each other and if mistakes are tolerated, focus will always be on solutions. On the other hand, if you don’t have performers in the team (you have the so-called Bozos), politics and blaming other people can pop up fast. So make sure there are no bozos (non-performers) in your team.
It’s the process, not the people
One of the approaches that will significantly help you avoid blame in teams is immediately focusing on the process when discussing the problem, especially on how things are currently done and what are the rules behind that should be improved. Look for flaws in the process and how the process isn’t bulletproof, instead of focusing on how someone made a mistake; because people always make mistakes, no matter how good they are.
A good technique that can help you with that is the 5 Whys technique. You define the problem and then ask yourself “why” five times. Simply write down a problem you’re currently facing and ask yourself “why” five times. After every answer that comes up, you ask yourself “why?” again and that will lead you to the core of the problem.
Here is a practical example (from Wikipedia) of the 5 Whys technique and how it can help you focus on the flaws in a process:
- The vehicle will not start. (the problem)
- Why? The battery is dead. (first why)
- Why? The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
- Why? The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
- Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
- Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, the root cause)
Now you have two options. You can point fingers and look for the person who hadn’t maintained the alternator according to the recommended service schedule. But if you do that, it will happen again sooner or later, just to someone else. So a much better investment of your mental effort is to think about how to improve the process, be it with double checks, new technologies or anything else.
Improvement is not made in a conference room
This one is an easy one. It’s so easy to moralize, talk about theoretical solutions, defend your point of view and so on, and it’s so hard to really implement change and bring results to the table. The fact is that improvements are not made in a conference room, but with immediate implementation.
In order to not get stuck in a conference room with analysis-paralysis and endless debates, all other Kaizen Rules are really important, like starting small, aiming for 50 %, and so on. You don’t want to just debate about change over and over again and get stuck with the analysis-paralysis syndrome, or measure the rhetoric power, like it often happens in political debates. You have to be eager to get out of a conference room and start implementing change in the real environment, based on validated learning, as soon as possible.
Don’t just moralize, brainstorm, analyze and talk. Be a doer.
What’s said in the room stays in the room
If you want to get good ideas, there must be some friction. There must be different views, there must be different values and a passionate debate. No friction, no progress, no improvements. Only a healthy level of conflict can lead to creating new and better things. So you shouldn’t be afraid of conflict, if it happens in a respectful and adult way, with the final goal of bringing out the best ideas possible. Therefore, what’s said in the room stays in the room, no hard feelings. Honesty must always be an important team value, but it has to be presented in a respectful manner.
There’s one more important fact when we’re talking about passionate debates and arguing in order to bring out the best ideas. Always put data before rhetoric. It’s not about opinions, it’s not about assumptions or egos or who is better with words, it’s about finding new ways to do things better by experimenting, testing and trying and measuring in real life. You can improve only what you can measure. So focus on the data, not on how good different team members are with words.
Never leave in silent disagreement. Speak out if you disagree.
This rule is closely connected to the previous one. The worst thing you can do is to not speak out when you don’t agree with a solution. What most often happens in that kind of a situation is that your negative feelings start to grow and consequently you start sabotaging the implementation of the solution, often even on the subconscious level. You start gossiping, spreading your fears and doubts to other people, and so on. The disagreement you didn’t express becomes cancer to change.
Therefore, an extremely important rule of Kaizen for teams is to speak out if you disagree, if you have a bad feeling about something or if there’s an alternative way you see and others don’t. Always have the courage to express your feelings and opinions. Never leave in silent disagreement, because in that case, you’ll only awaken the emotional monster in yourself that will grow bigger and stronger and will find a way to sabotage any progress in the implementation phase.
Only outstanding and honest communication, where every team member can express their fears, doubts and different views, can lead to the best ideas and successful implementation of improvements. The more silent doubts that exist, the more resistance and sabotage will be present in the execution phase.
Results should be publicly displayed
All the positive changes should be publicly displayed. Publicly displayed successfully implemented changes should be a reminder of the positive and tolerant culture that’s cultivated among team members, striving for constant progress and improvement. Improving isn’t an easy task, so you should be proud of every small improvement you make and show it to people.
Not to brag, but to encourage the change culture even further. As mentioned, people don’t pay as much attention to what you say as they pay attention to what you do. And if you reward positive change, improvements and progress in all forms (material and non-material ones), people will embrace positive change as something they should strive for every day.
Only the right environment can make non-believers into believers. Therefore, make sure that you build the right environment with the right values and culture for the teams to thrive and constantly improve. Visualize and display as many positive results as possible.
Share the success
Last but not least, when you publicly show the results, make sure that you share the success with every single person who deserves the credit. Everyone involved, everyone who contributed to implementing a new change in the smallest way, should also be rewarded and share the credit. It brings people together and motivates them.
Unfairness is the thing people hate the most, so always make sure you share the success fairly.
As a team, you should always have small celebration rituals for every success that you achieve. Rituals that bring people together and additionally motivate them for further change and improvement. Never forget that making changes and enforcing improvements is a relationship business. To keep the relationships strong and deep and trustworthy, share the success and enjoy the victory rituals.
The key takeaway
Here are the key takeaways:
- You have to build dream teams around yourself, you simply can’t succeed alone.
- Involve talented people in your life, in business as well as personal one. Then build a respectful and tolerant culture where people will constantly improve.
- Understand that failures and mistakes must happen in order to improve, so focus the effort on the bulletproof process and immediate implementation of small changes.
- You should be the first and most passionate evangelist of improvement and change, and people will follow you.
- And it can all only be done with super honest communication.
Never forget the rules
The best thing you can do is to download and print the rules and stick them to a visible place in your home or your office. When stuck, look at the list, read the rules, and you will refocus your brain on the path towards the solution, and hopefully stop feeling sorry for yourself.
You can download the documents here:
- Kaizen Rules: Your Personal Mindset for constant improvement (PDF)
- Rules of Kaizen for teams: The mindset teams should have (PDF)
- Anti-Kaizen: The mindset that prevents any progress in life (PDF)