Can you recall a time when you’ve been frustrated with another department in your organization, and you were told nothing can be done to solve the problem? Are leaders fighting about who is supposed to be responsible for something and blaming others when things don’t get done? The best solutions come from the people doing the work day in and day out. This episode focuses on breaking down barriers to improve workplaces. Learn how can you utilize your people to improve processes and systems that aren’t working.
This episode addresses questions, such as:
Recommended Reading: Breaking Down Silos By: John Kotter via Forbes
Recommended Learning: Are We Just Documenting or Improving Processes?
Thank you for joining today’s Accelerate Your Performance Podcast. And thank you for having a desire to be your best at work and helping your organization achieve success. The podcast focuses on tactical actions to improve workplace culture and these tactics align to our Nine Principles® for Organizational Excellence.
I appreciate you tuning into the podcast episodes each week. My work in the field and my experiences as a leader give me many things to share. I’m a teacher at heart so I think you’ve recognized that there are stories alongside tactics throughout the Accelerate Your Performance episodes. If you have areas you are interested in hearing about, I hope you let me know. We have so many experiences and questions that are common. It’s great to learn from each other.
Today, we’ll focus on “Breaking Barriers to Improve Workplaces.” And a big aspect of breaking barriers is shifting away from silo thinking mindset in our organizations.
Can you recall a time when you’ve been frustrated with a department in your organization? You’ve needed something to run efficiently, you communicated the issue, and you were told nothing can be done to solve the problem. Or, you feel ignored because no one responds at all.
Are your leaders constantly fighting about who is supposed to be responsible for something and blaming others when things don’t get done? Are people in departments hoarding information because they don’t see a need for people to know? Are you frustrated because no one seems to want to step up and change things? People say things like – oh well, that’s the way it is.
This happens way too often in our organizations. So, how do we create a culture that changes this mindset?
Here’s what I feel confident about.
People who work in our organizations possess unlimited potential to influence positive organizational results. They have the ability to solve problems, adapt to unforeseen situations, and collaboratively work to execute actions.
Last week we focused on the job that everyone has in organizations, which is executing well. One way to execute well is for people to make decisions with enough data without letting perfection get in the way of acting.
I’ve had the great pleasure of working with the University of West Georgia during the past 5 years. As with many organizations, people at UWG felt that their department teams worked with silo thinking. When problems occurred, it was really difficult to breakthrough and solve them.
To address long standing barriers, we created a Barriers Team comprised of members from throughout the university. We wanted to create a way to break down silos to solve problems.
Their job was to identify a long-standing barrier, do the research on the problem, and work with the respective department to solve the problem. A major goal was to gather just enough information to solve an issue in a timely way.
Before we talk about the specifics of the Barriers Team, let me give you a brief overview of the Engage West initiative at the University of West Georgia.
President Kyle Marrero joined the University of West Georgia 6 years ago. This was his first presidency, and his goal was to create a best place to work environment. Gallup research tells us that people who work in great places have better results. Over the years, the University of West Georgia has recorded increased student enrollments, higher retention and graduate rates, record fundraising, and better quality of life for students on campus.
Every year, we work with UWG to administer an Employee Engagement survey where all leaders receive results aligned to the feedback from their respective units. All leaders roll out the results to their teams and develop action plans outlining areas for improvements.
At UWG, people know the mission - to create a best place to work, learn and succeed. They’ve created an execution plan aligned to their strategic plan and created best place to work standards that define what their values look like when people are living them. And, the university has committed to holding Leadership Development Institutes for leaders four times a year as well as creating continuous professional development for faculty, staff, and front-line leaders.
When I first started working with the University of West Georgia, I heard feedback that processes were broken. So, we decided to create a Barriers team. The goal was to form a group of cross unit people who could solve some of the issues at hand.
A Barriers Team aligns to a Lean approach called Kaizen. Kaizen is a strategy where employees at all levels of an organization work together proactively to achieve regular, incremental improvements to organizational processes. Employees are actively engaged in identifying issues, researching possible solutions and following through and up on implementing improvements. By launching a Barriers Team at UWG, we believed the best solutions would come from the people doing the work day in and day out. And, how right we were.
What then is a Barriers Team? It is a business or functional process improvement team. The team works to identify operational or employee support obstacles that could be improved to create a smoother and more efficient way of doing business. The team identifies barriers that get in the way of employees being able to do their jobs in the most expeditious and supportive way. The team also focuses on breaking barriers that impede “customers” from having high levels of satisfaction with the services.
Here’s what’s important about the Barriers Team. It is not management-led. It is driven by a cross-functional team composed of a diverse group of people. Management has to entrust the team to do the work of identifying and solving operational barriers with a goal of senior leaders approving the recommended actions at a 90% approval rate.
The UWG Barriers Team has had tremendous success. They’ve had leadership approval for 100% of the barriers broken since the team’s inception four years ago. That’s because they’ve implemented a solid approach that empowers them to solve problems alongside good communication with leadership.
President Marrero recognizes each barrier solved by dedicating a sledgehammer that hangs in the Administration building foyer. The sledgehammer has the broken barrier engraved on the handle. When a barrier is broken, he acknowledges the Barriers Team with an announcement to the university and then ceremoniously hangs the sledgehammer on the wall. When you walk into Sanford Hall, it’s one of the first things you see.
The UWG Barriers Team members understand that their role is to focus on the organization rather than on their respective departments. In other words, team members are not there to protect their turf. They serve to improve university processes for the betterment of all employees.
The team establishes a rotation process and a way to select a chair. Also, the team establishes “Rules of Engagement” or ground rules to represent the way team members will conduct business and interact with one another.
Rather than re-invent the wheel, I recommend the Barriers Teams use 8 Ground Rules developed by Roger Schwarz that you can find in his HBR article, 8 Ground Rules for Great Meetings. These are comprehensive, research-based ground rules I’ve found highly effective to use with teams. Once we establish the team, we talk through these ground rules - what they mean and what they look like in action. This is important to create the right team mindset.
So, what process does the team use to solve problems?
At the beginning, I recommend that the team undertake a less difficult problem. We have to learn how to work as team, with other department leaders, and follow a process that works best for the team.
We have our team and know our ground rules. Now we get to work by applying a continuous improvement approach, PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act). PDSA is an iterative approach for continually improving processes, products or services, and for resolving problems. I’ll address more about the PDSA approach in a later episode.
In general, the Barriers Team responds to these questions -
· What’s the problem?
· What could be done differently to solve the problem?
· Who can help us better understand the problem?
· How will we identify what works and does not work and how will we make modifications?
· When do we have enough information to formalize the new process and communicate why this solution, what it is, and how the process will work?
We answer these questions, so that we have enough information to make a good judgment about putting a new process in place. And we also know we need to continue to study and modify as we learn more. If we wait until we think the solution is perfect, we will never put anything in place. And, if we put a solution in place too quickly, our solution may present a continued problem – trading one problem for another.
As a cross functional team of employees follows this type of approach, the organization begins to shift from a siloed culture to a continuous improvement culture. The Barriers Team is focused on working collaboratively and cooperatively with others to improve specific areas. Why? To create a best place for our employees to work – to provide them with the resources and processes needed to be their best at work. Striving to provide better ways to work becomes part of our mindset.
What we know is that people are our greatest resource for improving processes and systems in our organizations that simply aren’t working. When leaders create approaches such as the Barriers Team, they create a better work environment where employees engage with others to build solutions to pesky problems. I’ve found the Barriers Team to have triple wins – problems are solved, trust is established between leaders and employees, and people are happier at work because they have better processes.
This week consider putting together a Barriers Team in your organization. Who would be members of this team and why? How would you structure the team? How would you recognize team accomplishments? What are the one or two major barriers this team could solve? How could a team like this help your organization?
I’m proud of the work that the University of West Georgia team has done – the Barriers Team members took their jobs very seriously and made a difference at UWG.
Thank you for tuning in to Accelerate Your Performance. I look forward to connecting with you on our next episode where we focus on “Small Things that Drive Personal Success.” Have a great week.