Effective Work Team Job Preparation Best Practices

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

The following article comes from my book, “Error Proof – How to Daily Goofs for Good.” You can buy the print or eBook at Amazon.com.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

I was destined to cross paths with the notion of effective work team job preparation long before I began to do the work I do today.  I am a life-long Boy and Eagle Scout. If you know anything about the Scouting program, you might remember that our motto is ‘Be prepared.’ A motto is more than an expectation – it becomes part of who you are.

When it comes to effective work team job preparation, both meeting content and delivery are key. All too often, we focus more on the content. The content is what needs to be said. Often, the delivery of that content is just as, or even more, important.

As a Scout, this importance was never more obvious than during the Philmont pre-trek shakedown. The shakedown is a process every crew gets to experience prior to their departure for a ten-day trek out on the trail.

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How Much Daily Job Preparation Do Your Work Teams Need?

Before Philmont Scout Ranch allows groups of ten eleven to seventeen year-old youths loose in the mountains of New Mexico, the Philmont staff takes these people through a very structured job preparation (pre-trek) process. Each crew member must spread the contents of his or her backpack out on their ground tarps for inspection. Rangers then use a checklist to identify missing items of importance (such as rain gear) and to remove unnecessary items (candy bars and pocket video games).

What practices do you personally use to plan your day, each day? Do you simply just wait for your brain and body to ‘boot up’, or do you use some type of process to help you ‘prime your personal energy pump’? Now, apply these questions to your work teams. What types of preparation process do they go through to get ready to serve their customers each day?

Effective and structured daily job planning helps drive strategic alignment, customer focus, team engagement, and task ownership. Poorly executed daily job preparation can have the exact opposite effect. When we fail to plan at all each day – in other words, we just show up and begin to work – the chance for process errors of some type significantly increases.

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How Much Daily Work Team Job Preparation is Necessary?

In the movie ‘Gung Ho’, Michael Keaton plays the role of an American car executive who wants to fit in with the Japanese auto making culture. Daily warm-up exercises are a key part of this culture. This seems quite foreign to Keaton, as they would to most American executives, even today. Many work team leaders I know would not go a day without them, however. The work their people do from the start requires such a warm-up in order to support their error free goals.

One of the key elements of Jack Stack’s Open Book Management strategy involves the use of daily huddles to share performance information, reinforce strategy, and capture improvement ideas. Prior to technology improvements and shifts in communication approaches, teams in American football would huddle before every play to make sure everyone knows their support role for the next play.

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Somewhere Between ‘Just Clocking In and the Blue Angels’

The best practice example I personally like to use to get the ‘How much preparation do we need?’ dialogue going is the one that the Blue Angels flight teams use prior to their air shows. Another example I find to be helpful is the pre-attack preparation scene Lee Marvin leads in ‘The Dirty Dozen’ movie.

In both cases, the team leader engages each team member both verbally and physically. Also, the team goes through each key step of the work they will perform multiple times.

With these examples in mind, what do you consider adequate work preparation to be at the start of a workday? Somewhere between ‘just clocking in and the Blue Angels’ lies the right amount of daily preparation your work teams need to become more error proof.

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What Factors Help Determine Job Prep Needs?

Factors that affect job preparation content and delivery include the potential risk level of the job, the complexity of the task itself, the experience of the person who will perform the task, and the potential impact that the work environment might have.

We also have to consider the ‘fitness for duty’ factor for each work team member. The team may require time and effort at the start of each shift to boot up their brains, along with muscle warm up activities. This need may be magnified as the team starts a new week or hitch. As fatigue increases, the need for more effective job preparation increases as well.

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Two Key Elements of Effective Work Team Job Preparation

My experience has led me to identify four key strategies to improve how your teams prepare for work. As you improve each leader’s ability to get their work team’s focus in alignment, you will also reduce the daily potential for error as the team performs their work. Here are the first two:

Checklist / cue card use – The ‘work instruction form’ that the best ‘huddle’ leaders use varies significantly in design. Some of the cue cards are merely a list of prompts, such as the wristband worn by professional quarterbacks. Other job aids are step-by-step checklists on 3×5 cards where each employee initials the card as the leader reviews each step. The use of colors and icons helps reduce the need for a singular language for multi-lingual teams.

Pre- and post-job meetings – Teach all group leaders how to use a form-driven, formal approach to prepare their teams for work before each shift. Team meetings may not occur daily, but each leader possess formal group huddle / meeting process facilitation skills.

Two Additional Strategies for Effective Work Team Job Preparation

Team facilitation and group dynamics training – Determine the degree that each work team leader practices, or doesn’t practice, these skills each day.  Calculate a rough estimate of the amount of money you lose daily due to low engagement trainers, off-agenda meeting tangents, unresolved group conflict, and poorly selected improvement projects. Use practice-based training to upgrade this critical skill set.

Simulations – If you use a formal process daily to prepare your teams, you probably don’t need to practice process execution via simulation.  Simulation should be part of the process training session. You should also consider the use of simulations if you work in a high-risk environment. In either case, formal evaluation, such as table-top reviews, should occur after the simulation.

These approaches work best when you use them in combination with each other. The degree that you employ the use of a given set of system stacks depends on the amount of risk reduction you desire.

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Would You Like to Improve Your Daily Work Team Job Preparation Practices?

If you have questions or would like help to improve your daily work team job preparation efforts, message or email me at kevin@greatsystems.com. We can set up a time to talk further about these options and which one might best meet your current assessment and improvement needs.

Keep improving!

Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

www.greatsystems.com      kevin@greatsystems.com

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