The importance of structured Team Management: From firefighting to improvement-driven approach


All organizations should have a team management model that allows them to create a culture of improvement and drive sustained growth. However, many companies still face the challenge of dealing with reactive management, in which they are constantly “putting out fires” and dealing with urgent problems, unable to focus on improvement activities.

The goal is to move from a traditional management model where “firefighting” is the daily routine to a culture of continuous improvement. To do this, it is necessary to transition from a scenario where problems are recurring, where the amount of non-value-added tasks is large, and where there is an inability to sustain improvements, to a scenario where there is effective problem-solving, where processes are standardized, and where teams are focused on improving and growing.

To implement effective team management, organizations need a structured program that facilitates this process. In this article, we will explore the importance of these programs and implementation models.

What is Structured Team Management?

Team management should be based on a development program for the leaders of natural teams to make them autonomous in the application of continuous improvement within their scope of action. This empowerment allows teams to maintain and improve their processes daily. Through structured implementation, these programs promote the basic stability of the organization’s internal processes and consolidate the improvements achieved in the project scope. In summary, a team management program should follow a bottom-up approach and aims to develop the skills of leaders, making them capable of teaching, guiding, and motivating their teams to continuously improve.

Benefits of Structured Team Management

A good team management program has several advantages for organizations that implement them. Trained leadership focused on the organization’s real priorities facilitates the implementation of defined strategic initiatives. On the other hand, the maturity acquired by teams in implementing improvement, visible in new habits of analyzing, questioning, and solving problems, is fundamental for the sustainability of results.

Next, we develop some of the main benefits that a good team management model can bring to organizations.

Organization Alignment

The existence of structured team management promotes alignment throughout the organization. When teams are managed in a structured and effective way, it has a positive impact on the entire company, promoting the alignment of objectives, cooperation between areas, and the maximization of results. The deployment and implementation of business strategy and the sustainment of results after the completion of key projects are easier when there is effective management of functional teams.

Continuous Improvement Culture

Good team management facilitates the development of a culture of continuous improvement within the organization. Teams, by creating habits of following performance indicators, identifying deviations from objectives, and defining countermeasures, create the habit of identifying improvement opportunities daily. When teams are encouraged by their leaders to suggest improvements to their daily work, they realize that they are in a safe environment where ideas and suggestions are valued, promoting a cultural transformation.

Agile Teams

Structured management plays a fundamental role in creating agile teams. Teams, by having effective management, where leaders are close to the Gemba (field) and the business, develop agile collaboration and gain a greater ability to respond quickly to changes and deliver high-quality results.

Agility is facilitated by the existence of clear responsibilities, open and transparent communication, the definition and following of clear goals, efficient planning, and the growth of autonomy and continuous improvement capacity of teams.

Consistent Processes and Results

A good team management model facilitates the creation of consistent processes and results. Teams that work in a structured way to improve and standardize activities and that monitor indicators frequently develop consistent processes essential to ensure the desired output efficiently and with quality.

Good management usually has a direct impact on reducing variability and the positive evolution of key team indicators.

The Pillars of Effective Team Management

The KAIZEN™ Institute has developed a program called KAIZEN™ Daily (KD), which enables organizations to improve the performance of their natural teams across the entire organization.

The goal of KD is to create leaders who develop their teams to be autonomous and capable of maintaining and improving their processes and work areas daily, contributing to the implementation of a Continuous Improvement culture.

KD activities differ from project activities in that they are not time limited. They are a continuous improvement activity carried out by all-natural teams.

KD leaders are the leaders of the natural/functional teams at all levels of the organization. Starting from implementation in the Gemba (field) teams and ending with management leaders. KD involves everyone, every day, in all areas of the organization.

In this process, leaders play a crucial role in engaging the team, consolidating new work methods, valuing their employees’ ideas, and guiding the continuous improvement process. The KAIZEN™ Daily program consists of 4 levels, which we will present next.

Diagram Illustrating the Various Levels and Components of Daily KAIZEN™️

Daily Management – The Key to Continuous Improvement

Daily Management aims to provide the leader with a set of tools for organizing and managing their team in their daily work. The goal is to ensure alignment between performance and objectives, a greater ability to react to deviations and optimize the time for discussing improvement opportunities, enhancing their realization and improving team communication and motivation.

This first level of KAIZEN™ Daily has as its key tool the holding of frequent meetings between leaders and their teams. In these meetings, a set of standardized information is analyzed, referring to the team’s performance, organization, and improvement activities. The information is usually displayed on a physical or digital board. The main objectives of the team meetings are to ensure alignment around the execution of the work plan, the analysis of deviations in indicators, and the identification of countermeasures for these deviations.

In summary, level 1 of KD aims to identify the team’s key behaviors to sustain and improve them over time through the definition of metrics that allow tracking and acting quickly whenever necessary. This organizational change also allows all teams to be involved in the improvement and thus develop a culture of continuous improvement.

Work Organization – Work Routines and Spaces Organization

The second level of KAIZEN™ Daily aims, on the one hand, to analyze the current work routines of leaders and help build a vision of greater added value and, on the other hand, to make workspaces (physical, transactional, and virtual) more organized and easier to work in.

To improve work routines, we start by studying the agendas of team leaders and then move on to their improvement and standardization. To analyze the leaders’ agenda, a tool called WILO (Week In the Life Of) is generally used, which consists of a detailed record of a typical week in the life of a leader, including all types of professional activities. These activities are then classified as being of added value or waste. The improvement involves trying to eliminate or minimize all low-value-added tasks and replace them with team management and improvement tasks.

The goal of this first theme of level 2 is to develop leadership skills, minimize “firefighting” activities, and promote leadership by example. Leaders, by following a structured workday to deliver the highest value-added tasks for leadership in a standardized and consistent way, are promoting these types of behaviors within their teams.

The second point of level 2 is the organization of spaces. The alteration of physical or digital work areas facilitates, in the first instance, the change in people’s behaviors and allows the elimination of time spent looking for materials or information, the improvement of information management, and cost reduction through better use of materials and equipment.

The tool used to organize spaces is called 5S and is a work organization method arranged in 5 steps starting with the letter “S” in the original language, Japanese. It can be applied to physical or digital spaces. Although it may seem like a basic methodology, it allows managers to understand if the organization has the necessary discipline to maintain compliance with the standards that guarantee the expected results. A team that cannot maintain the organization of its workspace is hardly prepared to improve and comply with other types of standards.

Standardization & Training – Driving Efficiency and Compliance

Level 3 aims to introduce routines of analysis and standardization of work, which should be implemented in each team to continuously eliminate waste and variability. This third level, first and foremost, focuses on the standardization and improvement of existing methods, the creation or updating of standards, and the training and education of employees. The standardization of activities is crucial, as standards promote consistency, serve as a reference for identifying deviations, ensure the preservation of knowledge, facilitate team versatility, and form the basis for audits.

Another theme worked on in this third level is the implementation of a Kamishibai system. A visual management system based on cards that aim to reinforce work methods, functioning as an audit. A board is created with cards; each card has two sides with the same content but with different colors. Green shows that everything is in order and reads that there is at least one non-compliance. The visual display of Kamishibai cards allows anyone to quickly assess the reported state of the area. Kamishibai cards can be used by different levels of the organization.

Finally, the implementation of Gemba Walks is also worked on. A Gemba Walk is an activity in which the leaders of the organization visit the teams’ workplace to observe daily operations in order to verify compliance with standards, interact with team members, and identify improvement opportunities. Gemba Walks represents a standardized way of connecting leaders with the Gemba, so they can know the reality and aim to reinforce behaviors or habits that leaders consider relevant for business success. They are a process confirmation. Gemba walks are carried out with an audit mindset, with the support of Kamishibai cards or checklists, and should follow fixed routes and be carried out by various levels of management.

Structured Problem Solving – Tackling Complex Issues

Finally, the primary objective of Level 4 is to establish routines for improvement and problem prevention within natural teams, thereby ensuring the ultimate purpose of Daily KAIZEN™: to empower teams to sustain and improve their processes daily.

This level addresses two themes. On the one hand, teams are trained to use structured problem-solving tools, and on the other, they are trained in the method of approaching more complex problems, the Improvement Kata.

To fully solve problems, a structured problem-solving approach should be adopted that seeks to identify and solve root causes, preventing their recurrence. For simpler problems, the 3C methodology (Case, Cause, and Countermeasure) is used, while for more complex problems, Kobetsu KAIZEN™ is employed.

The other theme addressed at this level is the Improvement Kata, to make the continuous improvement process consistent among natural teams and establish new routines of coaching and improvement. With the Improvement Kata, the focus of improvement is directed towards a target state, resulting from a challenge. Teams work on eliminating obstacles, iteratively incorporating lessons learned from the previous step. This improvement process is supported and sustained by coaching sessions conducted by higher hierarchies: Coaching Kata.

It’s important to note that daily management meetings are used to identify improvement opportunities, but problem-solving should not be discussed in detail in these meetings. When there is a need to solve a more complex problem, a problem-solving meeting should be scheduled. Structured problem-solving should address complex issues identified in daily management, which require more time to study and evaluate the root cause.

Implementing a Team Development Program – The KAIZEN™ Approach

The Team Development Program, or TDP, is a step-by-step program to implement a complete Daily KAIZEN™ system in all teams of a value stream or department. The goal is to train team leaders and supervisors to implement Daily KAIZEN™ in their teams. This program follows a standardized 5-step approach that allows organizations to implement KD with sustainable results. This sequence of 5 steps is repeated for each level of Daily KAIZEN™️.

Diagram of the 5 Steps Sequence to be Repeated at Each Level of the Daily KAIZEN™️

Design and Prototype

The first step of the TDP involves conducting a pilot workshop. The first objective of this workshop is to empower team leaders in the practical implementation of a specific tool or methodology. The second objective is to prove the effectiveness of this concept within the organization, collecting examples that will allow customizing the implementation guide to be used by the remaining teams. For the pilot workshop, a group of 8 to 10 leaders is selected, who will participate in the implementation of a specific level of Daily KAIZEN™ in the pilot team. The activities begin with the training of leaders, followed by implementation in the Gemba.

Program Deployment Preparation

It is in this second step that the KD implementation support guide is customized, with respective implementation agendas, coaching standards, and the audit process.

The implementation support guide contains the entire step-by-step explanation and concrete examples of applications collected during the pilot workshop.

It is also in this second step that the Daily KAIZEN™ Mission Control room is set up. It is in this space that all relevant information is gathered that allows tracking of the implementation of the KD program in all teams.

Team Leaders Training

In the third stage of the program, a workshop session is held for the leaders to prepare to implement Daily KAIZEN™ in their own teams. In this session, the result of the pilot workshop and the implementation support guide are presented, and all doubts that may arise are clarified.

The KD implementation plan is also agreed upon with all involved leaders.

Implementation with Coaching

In the fourth step, the leaders implement the defined initiatives and promote behavioral changes in their own natural teams, following the implementation support manual and the established schedule.

Leaders train their teams On The Job, implementing the agreed initiatives, in addition to receiving coaching sessions and support from experts to clarify any doubts and ensure the achievement of the expected results.

Audit and Levelling

Finally, an audit is conducted to verify the level of maturity of the implementation in each team. Subsequently, a workshop is held to level the implementation among the teams, share success stories, reinforce key behaviors, and recognize achievements. The goal is to promote a learning and collaboration environment where teams can exchange experiences, improve, and celebrate the results achieved.

The Relationship Between Daily KAIZEN™️ and Strategic Initiatives

The relationship between Daily KAIZEN™️ and Strategic Initiatives or Projects, which stem from Hoshin, is understood as a symbiotic one. Strategic Initiatives require Daily KAIZEN™️ to transform new standards into daily practice, that is, to sustain disruptive leaps. We can say that today’s Hoshin is tomorrow’s standard work. On the other hand, an organization that only applies Daily KAIZEN™️ may be able to eliminate variability and make small improvements, but it will hardly demonstrate double-digit annual growth, as it does not act on the organization’s cross-functional processes.

It is essential that Daily KAIZEN™️ and Project KAIZEN™️ work in tandem for companies to achieve their desired growth.

Still have some questions About Team Management?

What is Gemba?

Gemba is a Japanese term referring to the place where real work happens and where value is added. The philosophy of going to the Gemba involves the idea that the best way to understand a process and identify opportunities for improvement is to go directly to the place where it occurs.

What is the 5S Methodology?

The 5S methodology is a management and workplace organization approach, whether physical or digital, originating from Japan. The 5S are a set of five principles or steps where each “S” represents a Japanese word describing an action or concept related to organization and discipline:

  • SEIRI (Sorting): separate what is necessary from what is not;
  • SEITAN (Set in Order): organize items in a visual and efficient manner;
  • SEISO (Shine): inspect areas, verify good working conditions, and restore original conditions;
  • SEIKETSU (Standardize): standardized to maintain the conditions established with the first 3 “S”;
  • SHITSUKE (Sustain): enforce and improve the standards of space organization.

What is the Job Instruction Methodology?

Job Instruction (JI) is part of TWI (Training Within Industry), a training methodology developed during World War II in the United States. The main objective of JI is to provide a structured method for training employees in their tasks, ensuring they acquire the necessary skills to perform the work efficiently and consistently. The Job Instruction method is divided into two phases: preparation and training.

What is the 3C Methodology?

The 3C problem-solving methodology, also known as 3C’s Problem Solving, is a structured process for identifying and effectively solving problems. This methodology consists of 4 steps:

  • Case: problem definition;
  • Cause: analysis of the problem’s causes;
  • Countermeasure: Identification of corrective actions;
  • Validation: Verification of solutions.

What is Kobetsu KAIZEN™?

Kobetsu KAIZEN™ is a structured problem-solving methodology. The term “kobetsu” means “specific” in Japanese, and “kaizen” means continuous improvement. The methodology is structured in 9 steps:

  • Definition of the challenge;
  • Verification of the current situation;
  • Definition of the target situation;
  • Investigation of root causes;
  • Design of solutions;
  • Testing of solutions;
  • Update of the action plan;
  • Confirmation of results and standards;
  • Evaluation and deployment.

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