February 16, 2022 | Mark Paradies

Teamwork for Improvement (Improvement Team)

improvement silo

Dysfunctional Improvement Teams

Does your company have:

  • A Lean Implementation Team
  • A Six Sigma Program
  • A Quality Improvement Team
  • A Safety Improvement Steering Committee
  • An Asset Reliability Improvement Team
  • An Operational Excellence Team

Is that a good list or does your company have even more improvement teams to add to the list?

Here is a question…

Do you have too many improvement teams?

How could you have too many?

Instead of improving the company’s performance, all these teams are focused on improving performance in just their silo.


  • Focus on a particular kind of improvement (safety, quality, equipment reliability, …).
  • Use different types of tools.
  • Speak different languages (different program jargon).
  • Require completely different training.
  • Compete for similar resources.
  • Don’t cooperate to gain mutual benefits.
  • Don’t have a common set of measures.
  • All want management’s limited attention.

The crossed purposes of these programs drain management’s attention and energy. Plus the duplicate programs require duplication of training and effort.

The Results of a Dysfunctional Improvement Team

The following is an amalgamation of real results that I’ve seen and used to make a hypothetical example. Perhaps it sounds like a facility where you worked in the past? Or maybe a company you read about? I guarantee it isn’t meant to represent an actual company or facility. But it does represent what can happen. Here is the example…

Crisis Management Creates a Crisis

At this example facility in the past, the quality of this facility’s products had been good. It wasn’t the industry leader, but it was competitive. The site occasionally had customer complaints, late deliveries, parts out of specifications, and rework, but the factory was good at responding to trouble (crisis management).

The US-based company was running a tight ship because industry margins were declining due to overseas competition. The facility’s management was focused on cutting costs by reducing headcount, reducing training, and cutting other overhead costs. The facility wasn’t investing in improvement and didn’t notice that its competitors were implementing improvement initiatives. The facility had tried a lean initiative but gave up because management thought that it was too complicated and not producing a good return on investment (ROI).

Eventually, they noticed the quality gap. How? They LOST THEIR BEST CUSTOMER.

The customer was nice. They gave the company a chance to try to win their business back. But the customer’s point was they could get better quality at a lower cost from the facility’s competitors.

What did the facility’s management do? They responded to the crisis and implemented an emergency quality improvement program. Everyone would focus on getting the product out the door on time, on spec, and at the same cost.

But several months later it happened. The company had a fire. The fire led to an explosion. It damaged a significant portion of the plant. Several people were severely injured and one was killed. The OSHA regulators showed up to inspect and issue fines. Senior management sent a team to investigate.

One of the causes of the fire was the failure to perform maintenance on a piece of equipment. There was a large maintenance backlog because maintenance personnel had been laid off to cut costs. The cheaper maintenance contractors hadn’t started their maintenance program on that particular piece of equipment.

Another cause was a human error when responding to the fire that let the fire spread. This delay caused the explosion.

What were the immediate actions that corporate management took?

  1. The Plant Manager was relieved and transferred (and eventually left the company).
  2. The Ops Manager and Maintenance Manager were fired.
  3. Many of the staff were laid off as the damage was evaluated.

Two months later the facility was permanently closed and the remaining employees were fired.

Why did this happen?

Poor performance. The industry had moved along to higher levels of:

  • Quality,
  • Equipment reliability,
  • Human performance,
  • Safety, and
  • Operational excellence

The company/facility focus was on cutting costs to compete. They had achieved short-term gains resulting in cost containment and a slight increase in profits. In the longer-term quality, safety, and equipment reliability suffered.

The facility “suddenly” found itself in trouble. The company’s COO said:

If anyone would have told me the impact that cost-cutting was having
or asked for funds for a well-thought-out improvement program,
I certainly would have provided the money needed.

Instead, management had focussed on the crisis of the day. (First, cut costs, then, improve quality.) They didn’t look at the overall facility performance.

Senior management thought they had no choice but to fire the managers responsible, shut down the heavily damaged, non-performing plant, and lay off the workers at the shuttered facility. But did they learn anything?

How to Prevent This Failure

To improve quality, safety, equipment reliability, and financial performance, the company/facility management needed to start improving BEFORE the crisis. They needed to:

  • Improve quality, safety, equipment reliability, environmental performance, production reliability, schedule performance, and cost control by investing in better equipment/equipment maintenance and in human reliability.
  • Find the root causes of performance issues across all the different departments.
  • Strategically invest in performance improvement that would yield improvement across the company and facility (not just quality or finance/cost).
  • Focus on being one, two, or more steps ahead of the competition rather than being in crisis management mode – reacting to the latest crisis.
  • Become a high-performance, high-reliability organization.

They needed a long-term investment that would provide short-term and long-term results that could make their products a superior choice because of reasonable costs (perhaps not the cheapest, but competitive), high quality, and consistent on-time deliveries while having a safe workplace with happy employees. And they needed to do this with a cost-effective program that didn’t duplicate effort and training.

Typical Approach – Typical Results

When someone makes a mistake (a human error), they aren’t planning on causing:

  • An explosion
  • An equipment failure
  • A schedule slippage
  • A part out of specification
  • An environmental spill of hazardous chemicals

It’s just a mistake.

What are the typical corrective actions for a human error?

  • Tell the operator to be more careful!
  • Retrain the operator.
  • Write a procedure (make it longer).
  • Or … Discipline the operator (or if it is a contractor, fire them) to set an example for everyone else.

Do the corrective actions above sound familiar?

What if a piece of equipment breaks?

  • Get it fixed ASAP by replacing the equipment or part.
  • Keep more replacement parts on hand to make repairs faster.
  • If it is has failed 10, 20, or more times, maybe a vendor could make a recommendation (or the vendor should be replaced).

These are the approaches I have seen used at many facilities. These facilities have a crisis management or blame vision (for more about the crisis management and blame visions, read Book 1: TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Leadership Lessons).

The management and employees run by crisis management are living in the reactive mode. Reacting to failures one at a time. At a minimum, the company should be using advanced root cause analysis that:

  • Uses a systematic process.
  • Guides people to the root causes of human errors and equipment failures.
  • Accurately finds the real, fixable root causes of incidents.
  • Helps people find effective corrective actions to stop repeat failures.
  • Can be used reactively but also can be used proactively.
  • Helps management understand what needs to be done for short and long-term improvement to be achieved.

What is advanced root cause analysis?

TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis is advanced root cause analysis. It provides the fundamentals of root cause analysis plus more! It provides a systematic, guided process for incident investigation (no matter what kind of incident we are talking about – safety, quality, process safety, equipment failure, schedule slippage, operational errors, or unintentional environmental releases).

Go Beyond Being Reactive Improvement Teams

To go beyond being reactive, your improvement teams need to go beyond advanced root cause analysis. Someone needs to develop a program that:

  • Has a team approach that is coordinated across the various silos of the organization.
  • Uses the same tools and language across all programs.
  • Management fully supports the program because it is integrated with their long-term improvement vision
  • Provides a focus for management’s improvement attention.
  • Has both reactive and proactive elements that are designed to prevent major accidents and continuously improve performance across all the silos.

But how do you develop this team approach to improvement?

Demolish the Improvement Team Silos

Demolishing the silos is probably the hardest part of developing an effective team-based approach to performance improvement.

Why? Because everyone has their own turf (their silo) and no one wants to reach a compromise because they believe their approach is best. However, if they aren’t using advanced root cause analysis, their approach isn’t the best.

Therefore, there must be one leader that is in charge of all programs that chooses the advanced root cause analysis tool that will work for all departments, including:

  • Production
  • Maintenance
  • Quality
  • Health, Safety, and Environment
  • Finance
  • Human Resources

Then you would organize the improvement organization across the organization.

Here is an example structure of an improvement team at a large manufacturing plant…

In this case, the Plant Manager is the team’s sponsor. Reporting to the sponsor is the Improvement Team Leader (a full-time job). Each of the participating departments has a representative that could be the Department Head or their designated representative that can make commitments for the Department Head. 

The participation by Production, Maintenance, Quality, and HSE reps seems obvious. But what are the roles of the Finance and Human Resources reps?

Finance helps develop the indicators/measures across all the programs. This includes money spent and money saved.

Human Resources is usually involved in some training and all disciplinary measures. Unwarranted discipline should be avoided and this should be part of the role of HR.

The Improvement Team Leader may have a small staff including:

  • A Trending Technician
  • Facilitators (full time, part-time, or both)
  • A Technical Writer
  • Admin/IT Support for Software

How is this improvement program implemented? That’s covered in Book 2:


TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Implementation – Changing the Way Your Company Solves Problems.

By forming a team and using the same root cause analysis tool across all the improvement efforts of your company or facility, you:

  • Establish a single tool for everyone to be trained on.
  • Establish a single system for management to understand (including a single style of incident presentation for production issues, schedule and budget problems, safety incidents, quality issues, or equipment failure reports).
  • Provide a single “language” for communication between improvement teams, management, and employees.
  • Establish a single framework for all your human performance and equipment failure analyses.
  • Make trending and reporting on improvement progress understandable and reliable.

It is amazing how much standardization can help an improvement initiative. And it is amazing how TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis can work across:

  • Human Performance Issues,
  • Quality Issues
  • Fatalities, Serious Safety Incidents, and Safety Precursor Incidents,
  • Equipment Failures,
  • Production Problems,
  • Budget Overruns, or
  • Schedule Slippages (just to name a few).

Imagine how much wasted improvement effort can be saved. Imagine how much easier it will be for management to stay informed and manage the improvement initiative.

Developing a Proactive Improvement Team & Program

Can you imagine the structure of the team at your facility? Have you already organized this type of team? If not, start developing one now.

What kind of training do people need to apply TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis proactively (in an audit, an observation, or an assessment)? Here is Marcus Miller and Emily Pritt talking about the upcoming TapRooT® Summit…

Would you like more ideas to develop the proactive aspects of your improvement program? Then you should consider attending the Quality, Operational Excellence, and Asset Reliability Track at the 2022 Global TapRooT® Summit. The link below provides more information about this track:

Register for the Course and the Summit Today!

Don’t wait! The seats in the Audits & Proactive Improvement Using TapRooT® Course are limited. CLICK HERE to register for the course and the Summit.

Bring Your Improvement Team to the Global TapRooT® Summit

One additional idea. If you want to get more information about improving human performance to add to your proactive improvement program, you should have someone attend the Stopping Human Error pre-Summit Course.

That presents yet another idea to consider …

Maybe you need to bring an improvement team to the Summit?

Bring your Improvement Team to the 2022 Global TapRooT® Summit

Then you could have people attend the:

Total the attendees up. That’s nine people attending a course and the Summit. If you sign up one more person for a course and the Summit (that’s 10 people signed up at the same time), you will SAVE $600 OFF for each improvement team attendee. That’s $6,000 SAVED.

PLUS, did you know that the Summit comes with a GUARANTEE?

Guaranteed Summit

Attend the 2022 Global TapRooT® Summit. Go back to work
and implement your roadmap to success. If you don’t save
10 times the cost of your attendance at the Summit,
let us know and return your Summit materials and
we will refund 100% of the Summit registration fee.

This guarantee shows how certain we are that you will learn valuable best practices to take your team’s performance—and that of your whole organization—to the next level.

Don’t wait! Get your team REGISTERED today.

A happy Improvement Team ready to make improvement progress happen.
Courses & Training, Equipment Reliability / Equifactor®, Human Performance, Implementation, Operational Excellence, Quality, Safety, Summit
Show Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *