Sunday, October 1, 2017

Taking a Walk in Someone Else's Shoes

Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :the capacity for this.

It is difficult t argue the fact that the most successful teams work very well together. And not just within silos, but seamlessly across functions or "departments". Our customers don't really care if you have a world class engineering department if you can't ship an order correctly. They aren't impressed if they get their order when they want it if they have to lodge the same complaint over and over. As a customer yourself, I'm sure low prices makes you smile, but not being able to talk to a human quickly when you have a problem or question probably makes your blood boil.

The last thing we need is to have is a collection of departments that are constantly pointing their fingers at other departments whenever a problem comes up. 5 Why can quickly become 5 Who. Managers spend hours and hours playing referee and peacekeeper. 

I actually led an effort to require every single person in our company to work for a morning or an afternoon in every other person's job. We called this effort "Walking in Each Other's Shoes". The intent was for people to gain a better understanding of what their peers were "up against". 

Then we started our lean journey, did some kaizen events, and then stumbled onto using temporary, cross-functional, self-directed work teams and A3 thinking to do hundreds of improvements every year. More importantly, that meant there were thousands of opportunities for people to learn to work seamlessly together. How do you make great TEAM players? Get people to work on lots of teams!

One of my core beliefs is that if people are together a lot, "respect for people" and empathy will follow. Another core belief is that people are smart and people care. People WANT to do a great job and contribute to the prosperity of their peers.  Nobody gets out of their car in the morning intent on screwing things up! The more people are together, especially working together to make improvements, the more they realize "I'm OK, YOU'RE OK". Pre-conceived notions die, trust and appreciation builds. 

Figure out ways to get people from different functions together more and more. Huddles, GEMBA walks, and A3 meetings and closings are examples of ways how you can make empathy standard work. 

God knows our nation could use a little more empathy right now.


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