What Makes Workshops Work

Just over a month ago, I found myself in Japan on a private Study Mission to Japan with 16 managers from a non-traditional company who were trying to implement Lean in an insurance and sales organization. At the beginning of the week I asked them, “Raise your hand if your organization is running workshops?” Every hand went up. I then asked a more specific question, “How many of your organization’s workshops are running well?” Not one hand lifted from their armrests. “This is why we are here,” I stated. “To learn from the best and get input into running the best workshops and better businesses. We really needed to learn a lot this week; to leverage this time in Japan well.” How about you, are you running workshops in your organization and are they running to your aspirations? If not, then keep reading as there are a few magnificent gems for you to take away.

This particular Study Mission I directed the group to seek out the difference between the front-line execution and the executive direction and purpose, to see if they could feel how strong the link was in the organization. So began our mission of discovery for this sales organization. At the core of these business’s success: They are developing people and empowering them to solve problems. The key is how to develop the structure to ensure that empowerment is possible. Remember, you can only empower if you provide the foundation to release people from the bondage of the current state.

We visited with a group from TOTO in Tokyo, Japan and met with the President, Mr. Murakumi. We asked him, “What do you expect from your workers?” “Only one thing,” he answered. “C-Kaizen.” Well what does that mean? It does not stand, as many people believe, for continuous improvement—it is much more complex and integrated than a simple slogan. C-Kaizen is a requirement of employees.
TOTO has a unique employee situation (70-80% of TOTO workers are contractors), which allowed for some insightful conversation about managing people. Most of TOTO’s workforce is from the team leader position and higher. Each team leader supervises 5-10 workers. What is amazing is that TOTO gets Kaizen ideas and implementation out of employees that are not full-time, nor even part-time for TOTO—they are contracted employees through temporary work agencies. So how is it that TOTO can produce some of the best bathroom fixtures and bath systems when employing this type of workforce? Well they do it through a cultural foundation. This is the company’s responsibility.

Think of it like this: for a company to be successful, as a member of value, it needs to provide the resources and systems for its people to be empowered to work and work well. Therefore TOTO has developed a company system to ensure the highest leverage and freedom of its workers.

Workers trust management
Recognition is given every 3 weeks
There are prizes for C-Kaizens
People share ideas cross-functionally, and
Share with, at minimum, 5 different team members

As you can see, the obligation is first placed on the organization to establish the right environment to grow and nurture success. Simply stated, our organizations hire people, not the other way around. Once this is established we can then ask our expectations of our employees: “C-Kaizen”. Change, Control, Communicate, and Challenge from each and every one of our employees. So how do you leverage this opportunity? Again the answer is the same: you need to create the right workshop environment and team interaction to attain your organization’s expectations. TOTO has done an excellent job with this as w