No further Cowboys: Its Teams for Change
Despite being a Lean and Six Sigma Black Belt for two and a half years, I have come to a heartbreaking realization: one can never be good at everything.
This is not what my teachers predicted about me. My Yellow, Green and Black Belt education comprised of a diverse program including a week on statistics and Minitab, in addition to change management, project management, the scores of tools used in DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control), DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify) and Lean. I appeared for tests on everything and passed, so I was praised by the faculty and got my Belts. Before I have any idea, I was associated with multiple projects for different business units.
This is when I began to notice the problem – I couldn’t do it all. One boss told me I am short of project management skills. Since I forgot the Minitab tricks I learned in class, I had to purchase and read books on Minitab.
At that very moment, I was admired for my creativity in finding solutions and for hearing well to what the business leaders actually wanted. I am superior to average at accumulating cross-unit teams and discovering experts that happily consult with me for free. I’m a natural systems thinker.
I noticed that others seemed to have skills that were the inverse of mine. One person, I worked with was a wizard with Minitab and another made beautiful PowerPoint slides. Among our team of four, each of us brought something different to the table. Soon we were asking each other for help – but our tollgate templates had only the space for the Black Belt’s name.
Then one day I was present at a lunch-and-learn webinar in which a Black Belt demonstrated a project that united a healthcare payer with a claims clearinghouse and a hospital system. The project got the three parties to the table and delivered huge savings across the three businesses.
I was so fascinated that I phoned the Black Belt and requested him to present the story at a conference. While speaking with him before his session I came to know that he had added some data analysts to his stable of Black Belts. “We just didn’t have time to do everything,” he commented, adding, “I needed the Belts in the big meetings.”
Instantaneously, it dawned on me: I had been trying to do everything for everyone. I wished for a team like the one I had heard described. Maybe, I thought, the team could include an interpersonally skilled relationship manager, a statistician, a data analyst, a project manager, and a creative individual to develop the presentations. Some or all of these could be Belts.
My guess is that some Lean and Six Sigma teams have developed this collaboration over time. But I also bet each project bears one name in the blank for Black Belt, reflecting the cowboy – good at everything – mentality that we generally share across our industry.
The cowboy Black Belt model has other limitations.
How often do we encounter objections from the front lines when we first cross the threshold of the Gemma? One good reason for this may well be that those on the floor see by our outfits that we are all cowboys. This self-important, good-at-everything attitude is repellent to others who envision our arrogance and feel our disdain.
Projects may also suffer due to the fact that the Belts do more of what they are best at and less of what they are not. For example, I’ve seen tollgates with tons of valuable content that bores the team to death. I’ve seen spectacular statistical analysis ignored because no one understands it. And all of us would have witnessed creative changes implemented that take the process in the wrong direction. Contrastingly, in every case, the Belts were doing most of what they did best.
The alternative to this is a team model of change facilitation. The team can entail of all Belts, or few Belts and non-Belts. My present team has communicated about taking on its 1st project manager, for example. I also think that a data analyst might be a good addition. Perhaps we could add a marketing or a public relations professional who would assist us to exemplify our ideas better. A financial expert could probably recognize our savings better than the rest of us.
Then nobody would have to act like cowboys who are experts at everything. More significantly, we may possibly help each other. The best thing is, our teams would deliver superior results, probably faster than before. We all are most content – and most industrious – when working with our strengths, so possibly retention might improve.
Now, there’s too much of being a cowboy; it’s time for a change and being in a team!!