Continuous improvement is the new catch cry in many companies. These days it’s common in larger organisations to see dedicated teams of continuous improvement specialists working to improve processes and structures.
There is so much change going on in organisations today that it can get exhausting. Rather than just doing your day job, you also need to be involved in continuous improvement activities. This should make the organisation reduce costs or increase revenue. Ultimately, this makes the organisation more profitable.
So your organisation is more profitable. Who cares?
It’s fairly common to see cynicism amongst employees in many companies. Why should I care if my organisation is more profitable? Sometimes it can be hard to see why this matters. After all, many people in growing organisations don’t see much benefit. It is more likely that executives, senior management and shareholders would reap the rewards.
Of course, if your organisation is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, then it matters. The organisation needs to exist for people to get paid. But for many employees, that’s as far as their level of care goes. And it’s easy to see why.
Why continuous improvement matters for your team
I believe it’s important for leaders to take continuous improvement back to a team level. At the team level, you can more easily engage individual team members. You need to make team members care at the ground level.
Taking improvement to the team level enables you to promote its benefits to team members more easily. Let’s see how.
Continuous improvement stops your team from stagnating
Stagnant teams are dying teams. I’ve led teams in organisations where team members weren’t interested in improving or changing anything. “This is the way we do it”, they would say.
At the time of writing, the economy where I currently live has been suffering. As a result, every company I’ve consulted to or worked within in the last five years has been going through some sort of “transformation”. The aim of these transformations is often to improve, but often involves a large degree of cost cutting.
One benefit of improving your team is that it gives the perception of a strong and motivated entity. The last thing you want heading into a corporate restructure is to be leading a team that is considered to be full of slackers or people who do things the way they were done twenty years ago. Your team should be improving when times are good. Not just when times are bad. This will help to prevent stagnation.
Former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch famously said “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”. While Jack was referring to organisations in this context, this statement applies equally well to teams within an organisation.
Continuous improvement provides opportunities for skill development
Generally, improvement means some sort of change. Maybe you work smarter, or you use more sophisticated tools and techniques. Whatever the case, continuous improvement gives team members opportunities to develop their skills.
You can use continuous improvement as a way to provide development opportunities for your team members. This doesn’t only apply to operational teams. Project leaders can also delegate unfamiliar tasks to team members who have an interest in developing new skills.
Not only can this be motivational for team members, it also helps their career prospects. Don’t limit skill development opportunities to those that would only benefit your team. Help employees think broader. What do they want to do in the future, which may take them away from your team?
Continuous improvement provides short term goals and reduces boredom
For some teams, work life can get pretty boring if there is no change. Every week blends into the next as the cycle continues. Improvement opportunities can provide welcome relief from the monotony of the daily grind.
This enables setting of short term goals which can motivate teams to achieve things they normally wouldn’t in their regular roles. Not only can this provide skill development opportunities, it can create a burst of motivation that improves morale and engagement.
Continuous improvement promotes an environment where people speak up
Another benefit of improvement within a team comes from creating an environment of open dialogue. Improvement means change, and change comes from ideas and feedback. When it becomes clear that the team is looking to improve, it becomes more likely that people will speak up with their own ideas.
This can improve the level of ownership and accountability within a team. Once people make suggestions and see some of them make meaningful improvement, they tend to feel more invested. This can improve morale, engagement, enthusiasm and may entice your team members to start holding each other (and you!) more accountable.
Continuous improvement opportunities are helpful for teams, and not just because they benefit the whole organisation. To help your team become more engaged with improving the way you work, it’s a good idea to sell improvement to them at the team level, rather than in an organisational context.
It’s important to make continuous improvement opportunities meaningful to individuals. You’re more likely to get people enthusiastic about what you’re trying to achieve. Sure, this will help your organisation, but organisations don’t do anything by themselves. They are simply structures, comprised of real people who make them work.