Develop Leaders Who Live Your System

Table of Contents

Success Starts with Leadership

When we begin to work with companies, they want us to tour their plants and see what they’ve done with lean. The story typically goes like this: “We started down our lean journey seven years ago. We had a consultant help us put together some training materials, and we did a project in each plant. The project focused on some kaizen events lead by the external consultant. Each plant was asked to appoint an internal facilitator to learn and keep the process going. We have one plant that went all out and has become a model in our company. We have other plants that have not done anything beyond the initial events led by the consultant.”

When we query about the differences in the plants that caused this large variance in the success of the lean programs, the answer is almost always the same: “The plant manager of the model plant was very passionate and had great people skills. She and her team were absolutely committed.” Unfortunately, another part of the story is often: “She then left for another opportunity, and the plant has slipped back.”

It is clear that the difference between success and failure starts with leadership. This starts at the top, but ultimately the process is carried by those in the middle supporting the value-adding employees. In many organizations these “middle level managers” are seen only as a necessity to keep things in order.

People who assume these positions are often looking at them as a “step up the ladder,” a temporary requirement, or rite of passage on the way to more important and lucrative opportunities. Certainly it seems that more talented or ambitious people have no desire to stay “in the trenches.” Given the inherently long development period of leaders deeply skilled in TPS, this creates challenges within Toyota and other companies.

Unfortunately, in many companies today the front-line leader (middle manager or supervisor) is often viewed as a “traffic cop,” or worse, as a “babysitter.” True leadership, it is believed, must come from higher levels, where intelligent decisions can be made and passed down. The supervisor only needs to attend to minor problems and to keep everything under control. This shortsighted view creates a belief that the front-line leaders are an indirect cost—and thus should be maintained at minimal levels. Supervisors are thinly spread and the responsibility is far reaching (we’ve seen supervisors who had responsibility for over 60 people spread over multiple shifts).

Toyota has a completely different view regarding front-line leaders and places a much greater importance on them. They are viewed as crucial elements of the Toyota Way, and they must live up to much higher expectations than in most companies. Because it’s expected that the group leader (supervisor) will personally develop and mentor every team member in the group, the ratio of group leaders to team members is most often one-to-20, or possibly as high as one-to-30.

In this chapter we will review some essential skills that leaders must possess or learn, and we’ll look at the leadership structure at Toyota. In Chapter 20 we will focus on top leadership, but in this chapter the focus will be on the neglected middle level, sometimes negatively referred to as the “frozen middle.” The buck stops at this level, where leadership from the top is translated into action. The middle managers get frozen because they are often stuck between the edicts and visions of the top and the realities of production on the front-line war zone.

Importance of Leadership Within Toyota

Toyota has a relatively flat organizational structure without many layers of management. Leaders do play a key role in the success of the company, but excessive layers of leadership are not necessary because the leaders develop and mentor others to do many of the tasks often done by leaders within other companies. While Toyota has few layers the span of control of leaders at the bottom of the organization is very small leading to more work group leaders than in competitors. The Toyota philosophy is to disperse responsibility to the lowest level possible. There is a high expectation for production associates, team leaders have a large scope of responsibility, and a group leader runs a “minibusiness.” Because all leaders are expected to have a high level of responsibility, the selection and subsequent development of leaders in your organization should be one of the most important considerations.

Often, companies focus on developing leadership “duties” or “responsibilities” rather than on expectations. This is similar to attempts to implement lean tools rather than lean philosophies. People want to know, “What does a team leader or group leader do?” rather than “What are the objectives or expectations of leadership?” As a result, assignments are made to leaders such as, “Answer the andon when it goes off,” or “Chart the data and post it on the board.” These activities are necessary to support the system, but they are peripheral, not the essence of leadership.

At Toyota the front-line production leadership is primarily comprised of team leaders—hourly production workers with important responsibilities for direct support of the production line—and group leaders, who are salaried supervisors supporting the functions of the entire group. Team leaders and group leaders have three basic responsibilities:

  1. Support for operations
  2. Promotion of the system
  3. Leading change

The group leader has a crucial role in the implementation and continued development of the Toyota Production System. A large number of people report to group leaders, and thus they have influence over the outcome of many people’s work and progress. The group leader must take an active role in this process if it is to be successful.

The group leader role is much more than that of a “supervisor.” The expectation is that the group leader is out in front, leading the way. Of course, the specific details of the group leader role may vary from area to area depending upon the process needs. But all leaders need to be flexible and willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve the desired results. The group leader position requires an ability to interpret the needs at a high level (the job responsibilities and company objectives) and to transfer that to the team to accomplish the daily objectives (leadership ability, teaching ability, and job knowledge).

The expectation of leadership at Toyota is to effectively develop people so that performance results are constantly improving. This is accomplished by instilling the Toyota culture in all employees, by continuously developing and growing capable people, and by focusing efforts on strengthening the Toyota Production System. A leader’s effectiveness is based on four key performance results:

  1. Safety, including ergonomics, reduction of injuries, and improving workplace design
  2. Quality, including training, process improvement, and problem solving
  3. Productivity, which encompasses consistently satisfying the customer demand and the management of resources
  4. Cost, which means satisfying the three other criteria while controlling and reducing total cost

The assumption is that improvement in overall performance in these areas means that people’s skills and abilities are improving; however, there are secondary indicators as well, such as the training plan of a group (which indicates leadership importance of skill development), the employee survey (morale), the suggestion system participation level in a group (leadership support for employee activities), and the attendance record (morale).

TIP: Focus on the Desired Outcome, Not the Daily Tasks of Leaders

Signs of effective leadership include high morale and consistent achievement of objectives within the group. The focus of leadership should be on growing people. The leader must accomplish his or her daily duties, but the real job is to develop people capable of accomplishing greater results. In effect, everyone within the group must be capable of the leadership role, even if it is only to lead their own daily activities. The leader helps to develop the correct structure for this, and also provides coaching and activities that will provide opportunities for growth.

Toyota Georgetown Production Leadership Structure

Toyota places a great deal of importance on the production-related leadership. These leaders directly support the value-adding activities, which is the central core of the organization. Toyota uses an “inverted pyramid” model for leadership, where the leaders of the organization (normally at the top of the pyramid, where they are supported by the workers) are pictured at the bottom to support the majority of the organization. We have shown the organization structure in Figure 10-1 in relation to reporting responsibilities, but in terms of support, the organization is inverted.

Production employees are assigned to groups of between 20 and 30 people, according to the needs of the work area. A group leader is responsible for the group and typically has the greatest number of direct reports of any level of management (although the team leaders are a major part of the group support structure). The group leader is the first level of “management” and is a salaried position (in the United States). Within the group are smaller teams, generally of five to seven people. The exact number varies, based on the area. Each team has a full-time team leader, which is an hourly position with a slightly higher pay rate than that of team members. These two positions—group leader and team leader—have direct responsibility for all production-related activities in the plant.

President Vice President

General Manager

Assistant General Manager

Production and Maintenance Assistant Managers

Group Leader

Team Leader Team Members

Department Manager

Staff Assistant Manager


Associate Staff

Assistant Staff

Figure 10-1. Toyota Georgetown organizational structure

Above the group leaders are assistant managers, who are usually responsible for between four and six group leaders and are assigned to both shifts equally. All assistant managers report to one department manager. The assistant manager has direct daily responsibility for production activities and spends much of his or her time on the floor. The manager has direct responsibility for production activities, but does not tend to the daily issues. The manager is involved when issues become larger, and must be contacted in the event of any major failure in production, especially a potential shortage to the customer.

Based on the number of employees assigned to a department (e.g., assembly has more people), an assistant general manager has a different number of managers reporting to him or her. This would generally be between two and four, depending on the size of each department. A general manager often has responsibility for a “functional area,” which might be all of the vehicle production, or the engine plant, or staff functions. Generally managers are not involved with the daily activities on the production floor. But they are expected to prowl the floor regularly looking for opportunities to teach and coach.

Finally, there are vice presidents and one president.

This may seem like quite a bit of management, but in actuality the quantities of leaders at higher levels diminishes rapidly (about one upper leader to three to five lower leaders). This leadership structure supports several thousand associates. The Georgetown facility had nearly 7,000 total employees at one time, the largest facility in North America. This organizational structure was not in place from the beginning. When the plant was started there were fewer layers. There were no assistant managers, and no layers between the manager and president. Most likely this was done to allow the development of high-level leaders from within the organization, and to add responsibility as the plant grew. During the plant start-up, each member of the leadership team had a Japanese trainer assigned to support and teach them the Toyota Way. Upper level managers each had a Japanese peer who shared in the decision-making responsibility. As the ability levels grew, the need for continued Japanese support diminished, and after several years the number of Japanese managers permanently assigned had fallen to less than 2 percent.

Toyota Georgetown Staff Leadership Structure

The office staff or engineering position structure is similar to the production structure, except there are usually no group or team leaders. This structure is also similar to that used by many companies, though there are few position titles. The office staff includes “assistant staff” and “associate staff,” who have responsibility for nontechnical jobs, and “specialists,” who have specific technical skills and are responsible for production engineering, facilities maintenance, safety and environmental compliance, accounting, human resources, and other assignments requiring a technical degree.

Small teams of assistant staff and specialists report to an assistant manager, and several assistant managers report to a departmental manager. In the case of a production department, the manager can have responsibility for both production and staff employees. Some departments with a great deal of technical support may have a separate manager for the staff employees.

Requirements for Leaders

Toyota borrowed some of their philosophies on leadership from material originally developed in the United States by the War Manpower Commission.1 Many of the skills that were taught by Toyota were specifically mentioned throughout the Training Within Industry (TWI) material on Job Relations, Job Methods, and Job Instruction (see Chapter 11). TWI identified five characteristics necessary for leaders, and we have added a sixth, which may be the most important—willingness and desire to lead. As strange as that may sound, we do see people in leadership roles who don’t have a desire to lead and are only filling the role as a path to another job. Without a desire for leadership, any of the other skills will go largely unused.

These are the five characteristics of a leader as defined by TWI, with a sixth added by us:

1. Willingness and Desire to Lead

This first characteristic may seem obvious, however, there is a difference between a desire to have a job or position and the desire to truly lead. The remaining characteristics are necessary to be a great leader, but a person need not possess all of these characteristics when they first get the job. They only need to have the desire and willingness to learn and to develop the other skills. The role of the leader today is much different than the role of “supervisor” in the past. The leader must motivate and inspire people to achieve great things.

2. Job Knowledge

This refers to the specialized kind of information and skills required to perform the work in an area. Leaders should be knowledgeable about the materials, machines, tools, and production steps. They should also possess the technical knowledge of each operation in their area, and know the correct way each operation should be performed. Without this ability, the leader cannot ensure that the work is being performed correctly to standards. This requirement is often missing from leaders outside Toyota, with the implied assumption that general management skills can overcome a lack of in-depth job knowledge.

3. Job Responsibilities

A leader must know his or her role. That is, they must keep abreast of company policies, procedures, health and safety regulations, plans and interdepartmental relationships. Leaders must understand the policies and procedures, communicate them to their team members and ensure that they are followed.

4. Continuous Improvement Ability

A leader must constantly analyze the work of the area, looking for ways to combine, rearrange, and simplify tasks to make better use of materials, machines, and manpower. The major part of a leader’s role is to encourage his or her people to develop continuous improvement in thinking and action. The majority of people within the organization report to the group leader, and therefore most of the improvement and benefit comes from the group leader promoting activity within the team. It is more important to have many small daily improvements than to have few major improvements.

5. Leadership Ability

A leader must be able to work with team members so they accomplish the company goals. The leader must be able to “translate” the overall company objectives into specific activities that their team must perform in order to be successful. Like a coach, they develop the “game plan” and assist the team in how to carry it out. They must provide support and coaching to team members. The leader must have the ability to plan and schedule for training needs, as well as to follow up and ensure that training is successful.

6. Teaching Ability

One of the leader’s primary duties is to teach others. No matter how much skill or knowledge a person possesses, without teaching ability the leader is unable to pass it on to others. If skill and knowledge is not passed on to others, the organization will not grow and prosper.

TIP: Some Are Born Leaders, Others Can Learn the Skills

It is true that everyone possesses different skills, and it seems that some people are born for leadership. In truth, with desire, coaching, and practice, leadership skills can be learned. Michael Jordan did not make his high school basketball team, but with internal drive and continued practice, he became one of the greatest players ever. This is true of leadership skills. It may not be possible to change a person’s basic nature (being an introvert or extrovert, for example), but it is possible to learn skills and to maximize the desired characteristics, while minimizing the less desirable (this is task specific). There are many leadership “styles” that can be effective, and each leader can learn to use his or her own skill set to the best advantage. The only element that cannot be taught is desire.

Group Leader Responsibilities on a Typical Workday

For the production group leader, the workday is broken down into three distinct phases, each with a particular focus. For the leaders, the day begins prior to the shift and the start of the production line. They must ensure the readiness of all resources—people, machines, and material. The second phase of the day consists of activities and responsibilities to be performed during production, and the third phase comprises the end of production and after the shift. We won’t go through the whole day, which you can see in outline form in Table 10-1, but we’ll go through the first phase of the workday for group and team leaders, prior to the shift.

Time Team Members Team Leaders Group Leaders

Min. Prior to Shift Start

Designated team members and team leaders responsible for equipment start-up Must arrive 30 minutes prior to shift start
• Perform

equipment startup procedure

• Perform

equipment condition checks

• Verify readiness of hand tools and work area

• Cycle machines for production readiness

• Perform first article inspection

• Verify material supply levels (raw materials)

• Report any problems or abnormal conditions

• Assure production readiness prior to shift start

• Ensure the arrival of

start-up team members

• Review TL shift-toshift logbook

• Follow up on any issues from previous shift

• Audit performance of start-up process

• Respond to any problems with start-up

• Verify condition of line from previous shift

• Collect production instruction kanban

• Verify daily production requirement

• Determine changeover needs from kanban

• Assure production readiness prior to shift start

• Review daily attendance


• Receive calls for absences

• Make adjustments to staffing

• Notify assistant manager of attendance

• Review G/L shift-to-shift logbook

• Follow up on any issues from previous shift

• Contact maintenance if necessary

• Respond to any problems with start-up

• Report potential production stoppages to assistant manager.

• Implement production contingency plan if necessary

• Audit performance of start-up process

• Verify condition of line from previous shift

• Be in work area 5 minutes prior to shift start

• Verify start-up, attendance, no problems

Shift Start • Verify work placement for first period

• Report to assigned job location

• Be ready to work when the shift starts

• Fill in for any absent TMs (Online TL)

• (Offline TLs duties)

• Assure smooth start of production

• Assure that all TMs are punctual and in place

• Assure TM compliance with safety

• Assure TM compliance with standardized work

• Verify sufficient TL coverage for production

• Reassign offline TL as needed

• Assume TL duties if necessary

• Verify all TMs are in position on time

• Record any unplanned absences or tardies

Table 10-1. Daily Activities of a Toyota Work Group

Time Team Members Team Leaders Group Leaders
Shift Start to

Break Time

• Perform regular job duties

• Follow standardized work

• Collect data regarding production as required

• Perform changeovers as instructed

• Activate andon when problems occur

• Respond to andon calls from TMs

• Respond to any equipment stoppages

• Report any problems to GL

• Review production results every hour

• Record results on tracking board

• Perform quality audits every hour

• Review scrap and rework containment area

• Review production and material kanban status

• Schedule any equipment changeovers

• Respond to problems reported by customer process

• Record any issues in TL shift-to-shift logbook

• Respond to andon calls from TMs

• Respond to any equipment stoppages

• Report any major problems to assistant manager

• Review production results every hour

• Review scrap and rework containment area

• Respond to problems reported by customer process

• Walk through work area to review status of:

TM safety compliance and unsafe conditions Quality of product Material/Process flow— Ensure that standardized work is being followed. Pay particular attention to shortages or excesses of production (these are indications of problems). Material inventory levels 5S condition

Hazardous waste storage and disposal

Table 10-1. (Continued)

The group leader (GL) is expected to arrive at work at least 30 minutes prior to the start of production. The leader is expected to set an example in all areas, but especially in promptness, attendance, and commitment to the success of the team. By reviewing the large attendance calendar, which is posted and shows all scheduled vacations, visible to the entire group, the GL is aware of any scheduled absences, and has established a plan for those on the previous day. Team members are required to call in any unscheduled absences 30 minutes before the shift. The GL then evaluates the staffing and determines what adjustments to make. The attendance is called in to the assistant manager, who has a visual attendance board for the entire department.

Time Team Members Team Leaders Group Leaders
Normal Production (No Problems) • Training for TL role (set up by GL) • Stay within close distance of work area

• Update production tracking charts

• Support continuous improvement activities

• Prepare for Quality Circles

• Verify stock of consumable supplies (gloves, safety supplies etc.)

• Reorder supplies

• Cross train TMs

• Training for GL role

• Notify TL if necessary to leave work area

• Attend daily Quality and Production meeting

• Support continuous improvement activities

• Process TM improvement suggestions

• Complete paperwork and assignments

• Prepare information for communication meeting

• Record any issues in GL shift-to-shift logbook

• Work on continuous improvement activities

• Initiate contingency plan for major production problems

Break Time • Breaks may be staggered if production problem

• TM must finish current cycle before break

• 10 minute break period

• Some people play cards, PingPong or other activity

• May follow up on improvement suggestion

• May visit with friends from other areas

• Must return to break area for communication meeting.

• Breaks may be staggered if production problem

• TL must attend to any line problems

• 10 minute break period

• Same activities as TM

• Respond to any production problems

• 10 minute break period

• Follow up with TMs on any requests

Table10-1. (Continued)

Time Team Members Team Leaders Group Leaders
Communication Meeting

(5 minutes at end of break)

• Must be in break area for meeting— paid time

• TMs may make announcements or requests

• TL conducts meeting in absence of GL

• TL conveys information for teams

GL communicates pertinent information related to:

• Company news or changes

• Production, safety, and quality issues

• Information relevant to the group

• Continuous improvement review and changes

• Hand out suggestion awards to TMs and TLs

• Any other news or information

Production Restart • Verify position for job rotation

• Report to assigned job location

• Be ready to work when the line starts

• Assure smooth start of production

• Assure that all TMs are punctual and in place

• Assure TM compliance with safety

• Assure TM compliance with standardized work

• Assure smooth start of production

• Verify all TMs are in position on time

Lunch time • Same as morning break

• TMs may have Quality Circle meeting

• Group PT activity may be held

• Resume

production same as break time

• Same as morning break

• TL may lead a Quality Circle meeting

• Resume production same as break time

• Same as morning break

• GL may attend Quality Circle meeting

• Other lunch meetings as required

• Resume production same as break time

Table10-1. (Continued)

Afternoon Communication Meeting • Same as morning communication meeting

• Resume

production same as break time

• Same as morning communication meeting

• Resume production same as break time

• Same as morning communication meeting

• Announce daily overtime requirement (may vary by area)

• Overtime work assignments

End of Shift • Complete production requirement

• Prepare work area for next shift

• Complete production paperwork if required

• Complete daily 5S requirement

• Verify work completion with TL

• Ensure that production is completed

• Verify end of day production levels

• Gather production paperwork from TMs

• Prepare end-of-shift production reports

• Complete TL shiftto-shift logbook

• Ensure that production is completed

• Complete end of shift performance tracking charts

• Complete GL shiftto-shift logbook

• Coordinate any repairs with maintenance

• Attend monthly shiftto-shift meetings

• Complete 5S of GL work area

• Final walk-through of work area

Overtime if Required • Mandatory production overtime

• TMs may stay overtime to work on Quality

Circle or continuous improvement activities with permission of GL

• Mandatory production overtime

• Support TMs if necessary

• Mandatory production overtime

• Support TMs if necessary

• Attend departmental safety and quality meetings

Table10-1. (Continued)

Many production areas have equipment that needs to be set up or cycled prior to production, to ensure equipment readiness. The GL is responsible for scheduling people to begin early and perform equipment verification checks.

Any problems are reported to the GL so they can be corrected prior to the shift start (readiness is very important because of the connected flow). Also, materials are checked and any shortages or problems corrected. This process is normally conducted within 30 minutes. (Note: At Georgetown, following extended shutdowns for holidays, several people came to work the previous weekend to test-run equipment. It is imperative that the equipment always be ready when needed.) Team leaders (TL) are an integral part of the preshift preparations, and generally at least one TL from the group is scheduled to arrive early every day. Areas with greater amounts of equipment may require additional support during this time. The team leaders ensure that any sheets needed for gathering production data are replaced in the work area, and that all tools and supplies are available to the operators.

Also, the GL and TL each have shift-to-shift logbooks. Because of the time gap between shifts—two hours between first and second shift, and six hours between second and first shift—direct communication is not always possible, so written messages regarding safety, quality, equipment issues, issues or problems from the customer, and any other information is shared here. (Note: if you use logbooks, be sure not to put personal or confidential information regarding employees, or complaints about the work of individuals or shifts, in a place open to everyone.) Any process-related problems reported by the prior shift are investigated and corrected immediately. The logbook is a very important communication tool between the shifts.

During the 30 minutes prior to the shift, the GL greets other team members as they arrive at work and observes any potential issues. Group leaders should ask each team member in turn how they are doing to detect any problems, physical or emotional. If some members have not arrived within five minutes of the shift start, the GL may notify the TL of the need to make some staffing adjustments.

Creating a Production Leadership Structure

Many people make the mistake of comparing the Toyota leadership structure with their own, or to that of a traditional industrial organization, and mistakenly assume that the team leader is “like a floater” or “like a lead man” or “like a utility person.” They also assume that the current supervisors’ duties are similar to those of group leaders. While these positions do have some similarity, the differences are far more significant. The team leader does “float” and fill in for team members as needed, but only to support standardized work, since standardized work is not possible if the positions are not filled at all times. A team leader can perform all jobs in the team, and in that way is a “utility” person. In fact, team leaders may perform a job due to illness or some type of absence, but

the primary essence of the job is to support and develop the team or group. If the team leader is working full or even part-time on a production job they cannot support the team and cannot respond to andon calls.

Given the centrality of this team structure to TPS, how can organizations pursuing lean duplicate the functions of this leadership structure in a very different environment? The first question is, “Where do the people come from?” It is not desirable to add cost by adding people. To build the leadership structure, we recommend starting with your current situation and finding the resources within your existing staffing.

Essentially, your staff levels were established to meet production needs. Within that plan there is “excess” to cover for both planned and unplanned absences, and many other issues, which create the seven wastes. We know, for example, that the average employee absence rate for vacation is 10 to 15 percent. When a person is on vacation there is a reduction of available labor time and production generally suffers. When the operation is fully staffed (everyone is at work), the available labor exceeds the actual requirement, and the operation is able to “catch up” from the previous shortage. Because the operations are not standardized, it’s usually possible to move people around and to do without certain operations when an absence occurs. In environments where this is not possible, companies commonly employ “floaters” to fill positions. The floater may have additional duties, but his or her primary responsibility is to fill in for absences. When there are no absences, this person is generally not utilized, and in some cases that we’ve seen, can spend the day reading the newspaper! In any case, the current structure has excess built in, with the expectation that people will be absent and staffing levels will average out somehow.

Additional indicators such as overtime work are used to determine whether it’s necessary to add people. This is a false assumption because in a nonstandardized operation each person is not fully utilized. In fact, each person is likely to have between 10 and 25 percent (or even more) of their time available. The lack of standardization and isolation of processes makes it impossible to capture this time and to create a new structure.

We don’t recommend charging into a Toyota-style leadership structure but to start by working on the operation—stabilizing, creating flow, and so on. We typically suggest the establishment of the leadership structure after the implementation of standardized work because only then can we understand the resource requirement and consolidate the portion of each person’s available time until one person is released from the operation. For example, if each person has 10 percent excess available time and additional waste is removed from the operation, for every four to five people there will be one “extra.” When improvements are made, the excess time is captured, and people may be removed from the operation. You may ask, “If I’m working so much overtime now, how can you say

that there are ‘extra’ people in my operation?” The fact is, there is a considerable amount of waste in every operation (including Toyota), and efforts to reduce the waste will result in a reduction of needed resources. In this case, the first objective is to build a process capable of meeting the customer’s needs without overtime. Successive improvements may be necessary to create excess people so the leadership structure can be created.

After the initial establishment of standardized work, it’s possible to get a clear picture of the next possible improvement. Ask yourself, “If I could keep the same number of people I currently have, but by changing the structure and how they’re utilized I could achieve 25 percent improvement in productivity, would that be desirable?” This would be the goal of establishing the leadership structure. Not just to have team leaders because Toyota does, but to create a structure that allows you to achieve improved results in safety, quality, productivity, and cost.

We have never seen an operation that did not have enough people within the existing staff to create a leadership structure (and we have seen quite a few operations). This is the power of waste elimination and standardized work. You must continue to make improvements until you can consolidate the waste and create the opportunity. When confronted with this challenge, the Japanese sensei would often say, “No problem.” This did not mean that it would not take considerable effort to accomplish; it simply meant that the amount of waste in any system is so great that it is always possible to do.

Selecting Leaders

In Japan, Toyota employees that enter the company at the team member (hourly) level in production will remain in that position for a minimum of 10 to 15 years. Then, if they’re qualified and interested, they would advance to the team leader rank. Another 10 to 15 years as team leader provides the skills necessary to be a group leader. This is the final position for many, although a few rise to the rank of general foreman (roughly equivalent to an assistant manager). The general foreman is responsible for supervising and coordinating activities of group leaders. It is rare (though it does happen) for someone from the manufacturing ranks to cross the division to the engineering or upper management side. This system works with a company that is mature in the Toyota Way, but most companies starting out on the lean journey do not have the luxury of this much time. And even Toyota, outside Japan, often cannot retain employees long enough for this slow gestation period. During the start-up of the Georgetown plant and other Toyota plants outside of Japan it was not possible to take this much time to develop leaders prior to start-up. The new leaders required more

direct mentoring until they developed capability of their own.

What we typically see in the United States is a fresh college graduate thrust into a line leadership position with little training and almost no mentoring or guidance. This problem is compounded by the fairly quick turnover time—two years seems to be a long tenure—and the fact that there is no system in place to step into. Every new leader must “learn the ropes” and develop methods for handling the day-to-day issues. We have all seen the turmoil created when a new leader steps in and places his or her own stamp on things by establishing new expectations and procedures.

The alternative is to promote from within when possible, but frankly, it’s difficult to find capable willing candidates because of the challenges of the position. People who work in the company can see that the supervisors are not given the necessary tools or resources, and the hassles of the job are not worth the pay differential (in some cases the “promotion” leads to lower overall pay since overtime pay is lost).

So what can you do? The first step is to realize the importance of the group and the team leaders. These positions must be seen as more than stepping-stones or positions that no one wants. To better understand the skills that Toyota believes are important for leadership, the following case example describes the initial screening and hiring process used for the Georgetown Kentucky plant start-up.

Case Example: Screening Process for Group and Team Leaders at Georgetown

There is some advantage to starting a new plant. You get to start fresh. You get to select the most capable people possible for the jobs. You don’t have any history to erase or change. There are disadvantages as well. There is a limited base of experience. The training needs are huge, and you might not end up with the right people for the jobs. Thus, everyone started fresh, but without the necessary skills.

The selection of team and group leaders was so critical for the plant start-up that an extensive and specific selection process was developed. Toyota had committed to hiring manufacturing employees from within the state. Applications quickly poured in from across Kentucky, totaling over 100,000 (this number continued to increase, but the initial pool was around 100,000). To narrow this large pool of applicants to those who possessed the basic skill set, a series of filtering processes were used.

Applicants participated in a general aptitude test, lasting about two hours, which was used as the first screening tool. A select group (we are not privy to the actual numbers) was advanced to the next level. Toyota was looking for both manufacturing and maintenance, “skilled trades” people, so those with a maintenance background were scheduled for

the NOCTI (National Occupational Competency Testing Institute) test, a written technical skills test lasting six hours, and they then proceeded down a parallel path to that of manufacturing candidates.

The second major screening process was called a “day of work”—an eight hour assessment process that was facilitated and monitored by trained screeners. The focus for original candidates was to identify potential leaders, and the emphasis was on basic leadership skills. (Later, when the hiring focus shifted to team members (line workers), a major portion of the “day of work” included a simulated workplace with four hours of “work”—real physical labor.) The “day of work” included individual activities as well as team activities, with the purpose of evaluating each candidate for a specific skill set. The skills included:

  • Technical knowledge (basic manufacturing practices)
  • Technical skills and aptitude (use of basic tools)
  • Problem solving (including problem identification and solutions, both individually and with a team)
  • Team membership (ability to function on a team)
  • Team leadership (ability to lead a team)
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication skills (verbal and written)

The top layer of candidates were skimmed off, to advance to the next step of the process, which was an additional leadership assessment.

This assessment was eight-hours long (perhaps part of the test was to determine how badly a person wanted the job and whether they were willing to give this much time to the process). The activities were similar to those on the first day, but focused specifically on leadership. Those who did not make this cut were considered later for team members, or even team leaders. This advancing group was on the “fast track” because of the need to fill the group and team leader positions first. The skill set screened during this test were:

  • Advanced problem solving (actual case example with written test)
  • Training ability (actual training of a screener)
  • Organization skills and time management (ability to plan, prioritize, and delegate)
  • Facilitation skills (leading a team activity)
  • Team membership (this was always observed throughout the process)
  • Individual leadership (a case example exercise)
  • Team leadership (ability to lead a team)
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication skills (verbal and written)

Finally, those who passed were scheduled for an interview. This was not an ordinary individual interview, but a group interview. Representatives from each manufacturing department reviewed candidate scores and applications, and those who were interested in a candidate participated in the interview.

The questions were specific in nature, asking for actual examples from past experience. This process was referred to as “targeted selection” because the aim was to identify and target specific skills and behaviors from the past experiences (see Chapter 11 for additional examples of this process). The idea is that specific examples of past behavior and ability will be a good indicator of future performance and ability. These were not simple questions like, “How do you think you did on that project.” They were oriented to past action. Questions such as, “Tell me about a time when you recognized a problem on your job.” “What was the problem?” “How did you recognize the problem?” “What did you do?” (Specifically—such as, “Who did you tell?” and “Did you offer a solution?” and “If so, what was it?”) These questions were designed to determine a person’s propensity to identify issues, and to be proactive and solution-oriented. They also look at “protocol.” For example: “Did you notify the appropriate people or act without guidance?” “Did you work with others or simply work alone?” (Neither was necessarily the best answer to this, but generally people who worked well with others were preferred.)

Skilled trades applicants who passed the NOCTI exam (to test technical knowledge) also completed the day-of-work assessments and were scheduled for additional specific practical tests, such as welding, electronics, electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic skills. These were actual hands-on tests to verify technical skills.

The total time for this process (not including driving time) was approximately 40 hours. Then, if Toyota was interested in making a job offer, a thorough physical and drug screen was done (another four hours!) prior to an actual commitment.

Developing Leaders

You may not be able to devote the amount of time Toyota devoted to the leadership selection process (Toyota did receive aid from the State Employment Service as part of the incentive package), but you should be able to draw from the ideas. The role of the leader is more than that of someone who knows the “job” and can do the duties. The leader must possess additional skills. If you

can improve your selection process to identify the people with the best skill foundation, you can also establish a mentoring process to continually grow your leaders.

The development of leaders is not significantly different from training operators. The first step is to define the job and the necessary skills. Standardized work for leaders can be developed based on “core competencies” of the job. For example, a leader must be capable of continuous improvement. It is possible to teach a method by utilizing problem solving as a foundation, or facilitating quality circle activities. A leader must understand his or her job responsibilities. Specific duties that must be performed can be outlined. Potential leaders can be given responsibilities that will test and develop their skills in any area.

The necessary leadership skills and abilities have been identified in the previous pages. Each individual skill, activity, or duty must be identified and placed on a matrix just like a multifunction worker-training timetable (see Chapter 11). Next, the trainee’s individual capabilities in each area are assessed and gaps are identified.

A specific training plan should be developed based on his or her needs. For example, for a person who has trouble facilitating team activities, more emphasis should be placed on developing that skill. They may be asked to start by leading small team activities and then move into more important activities as they develop skill and confidence.

In some cases external training may be required or necessary. Toyota has core training requirements for each leadership position (see Chapter 11), and this training may be done by the company or may include workshops or seminars. Internal development is the responsibility of the current leader. This is accomplished by daily mentoring and by allowing the “student” to assume some responsibilities with guidance from the leader (not just delegating). Honest assessment of performance and continuous feedback from the leader is necessary.

The Job Instruction Training methodology (Chapter 11) can be used as a model for leadership training as well. First the trainer (the leader) will tell, show, and demonstrate the desired skill or behavior several times. Then the student is given an opportunity to try it, with coaching from the trainer. The trainer will gauge the performance and, when ready, the student may perform some tasks on his own. The trainer will continue to monitor progress and gradually reduce the guidance.

This is a lengthy process. It is not a matter of a two-week training course and then handing off the job. If the leader works continuously to develop his or her people, they should always be prepared for the eventual need for additional leaders. If they wait until the need arises, there will not be enough time. This process must be a continual ongoing process.

TIP: If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail

Leadership development is based on a plan. Using the key characteristics of the Toyota screening process as the job requirements, and the abilities of leaders as defined by TWI, develop a needs assessment for potential leaders. Define specific activities and training for each of the skills, and establish a timetable for when the training will be completed. If you are unable to make a plan and to teach others the skills necessary to do your job, you will not succeed in one of the primary responsibilities you have as a leader.

Succession Plan for Leaders

The leadership development process should be based on a succession plan. Every leader should develop subordinates so that there is always a smooth transition when leadership changes are made. The primary reason for developing subordinates, however, is to strengthen the system and to have each person capable of their highest potential. This is a great advantage to you as well, since the more people who are capable of leadership tasks, the less you’ll have to worry about every detail. It is also wise for the overall strength of the company to have people with the necessary skills to step into leadership positions. We recommend that a minimum of two people at each level be prepared and ready for advancement at any time. More than that would be ideal, but two would be a minimum.

Poll your people, and ask them who would like to be developed for leadership positions. Make sure that everyone who expresses an interest is considered. Sit down and discuss the plan with each person, and explain the personal sacrifices that will be required during the training process. Find out what their interests are and what they think their strengths and weaknesses are. Never assume that their skill levels are acceptable unless you’ve had firsthand experience with them in a specific situation.

It may be wise to at first work with those who have the fewest gaps in ability, so that at a minimum someone is ready. But always give all individuals an equal opportunity for development over the long term. This is similar to the training plan for Job Instruction Training—always look at the immediate need, and determine the least amount of effort that will fill that need. Once the immediate need is fulfilled, continue working with others to develop greater breadth of capability.


Sometimes It Helps to Put the Shoe on the Other Foot One advantage of developing people for leadership positions is that they have an opportunity to see what it’s like being the leader.

They are likely to discover that it’s much more challenging than they imagined, and they may gain a greater appreciation for what you do. In addition, you may gain allies who help others understand your challenges, so when someone complains that “they [management] never listen to me,” they’ll know there’s more to it than meets the eye. People who understand the challenges are also more forgiving when mistakes are made. Don’t be afraid to develop some of your “troublemakers.” You may end up gaining a strong ally in the process.

Reflect and Learn from the Process

The ability to grow and develop leaders from within your organization is critical to the development of a lean culture. Toyota invests a tremendous amount of time and effort in the development of leaders because leaders support the system. The following questions will help you evaluate your commitment to developing the talent within your leaders.

  1. Reflect on the capability of leadership within your Evaluate the methods used to grow and develop leaders. Identify and list three things you’ll need to do within the next year to improve your leadership development process.
  2. Develop a measurable performance expectation for your leaders that is based on:
    1. Effectiveness in developing people (how many people, what skills, by when)
    2. Ability to solve problems and make process improvement (results based on process measures)
    3. Ability to lead change
    4. Leadership and promotion of the company culture
    5. Ability to grow other leaders
  3. Evaluate the depth of your leadership bench. How many people are ready to step into each leadership role in your organization?