Six Sigma Team Dynamics: The Elusive Key to Project Success

Six Sigma Team Dynamics: The Elusive Key to Project Success


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A full, expert discussion of the last major component of Six Sigmaimplementation
George Eckes' first two books on Six Sigma-The Six Sigma Revolutionand Making Six Sigma Last-dealt with Six Sigma from a strategiclevel and from a cultural level, respectively. Six Sigma TeamDynamics covers the last component of Six Sigma-improving teamprocesses. The successful completion of Six Sigma depends on teamsworking together and applying a proven methodology that defines,measures, analyzes, improves, and controls the process. These teamdynamics and the roles and responsibilities of all constituenciesare the last remaining key to successful Six Sigma implementation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780471222774
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 10/29/2002
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.22(w) x 9.45(h) x 0.98(d)

About the Author

GEORGE ECKES is founder, President, and CEO of Eckes & Associates, Inc., a Colorado-based consulting group specializing in results-driven continuous improvement, Six Sigma training and implementation, organizational development, and change management. EAI's recent clients include JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Cisco, and General Electric, among others. He is also the author of The Six Sigma Revolution and Making Six Sigma Last, both from Wiley. Visit his Web site at

Read an Excerpt

Six Sigma Team Dynamics

The Elusive Key to Project Success
By George Eckes

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-22277-1

Chapter One

Six Sigma Team Dynamics

The Elusive Key to Project Success

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly." John F. Kennedy

This book is like no other book on Six Sigma. While much has been written on the topic of this predominant management philosophy that has swept the globe in recent years, much is still a mystery for those organizations attempting to achieve results similar to organizations such as General Electric and AlliedSignal.

Six Sigma is first and foremost a management philosophy. As such, it begins with the strategic component. In our first Six Sigma book, The Six Sigma Revolution: How General Electric and Others Turned Process into Profits, the strategic component was covered in Chapters 2 and 9. We discussed the importance of linking process identification with the Strategic Business Objectives of the organization. We addressed the importance of management beginning data collection on key processes, how to create and maintain a Business Quality Council to sustain Six Sigma as a true management strategy, and how to select high-impact projects. The rest of that book discussed improvement methodology at the tactical level, explaining the techniques a project team must use to achieve the type of successes most commonly associated with Six Sigma.

In our secondbook, Making Six Sigma Last: Managing the Balance Between Cultural and Technical Change, we addressed the cultural component of gaining acceptance to Six Sigma. We discussed how to create the need for Six Sigma and deal with the four major types of resistance to Six Sigma. We also reviewed how to create an organization's Six Sigma vision and how to modify and measure the Six Sigma culture so that Six Sigma is more than just a cost savings initiative.

In this, our third book, Six Sigma Team Dynamics: The Elusive Key to Project Success, we return to the tactics of Six Sigma, but with a key difference that has not been addressed by any other Six Sigma text: How teams work together to achieve Six Sigma improvement.

In our previous books, we explored the reasons that project teams fail. Data collected by Eckes and Associates has documented that the majority of the time project teams fail, the primary root cause is poor team dynamics. Although conducting multiple regression analysis or determining the F ratio for the statistical significance of a process variable may be difficult to learn the first time it is attempted, these skills can be honed in a relatively short period. A more common stumbling block is how a team conducts its work, and the dynamics of the team. Thus, it is our hope that we can review the keys to improving what, for many, is an elusive target-having groups of individuals work together to achieve what they could not achieve alone.

These team dynamics are not necessarily technical in nature. They include knowing the responsibilities of each member of the project improvement team, including the team leader (known as either the Black Belt or Green Belt), the internal consultant (known as the Master Black Belt), the team members themselves, as well as the project sponsor (known as the Champion). In addition to team responsibilities, team dynamics include knowledge and application of basic facilitation skills. While there are many books on facilitative leadership, our third book focuses on facilitation using a Six Sigma approach.

In addition to team responsibilities and facilitative leadership skills, project management skills are another factor affecting the team dynamics of Six Sigma teams. We address these project management skills and the importance of using them as teams progress through the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC) methodology.

Many teams have participants who exhibit maladaptive behaviors. Later chapters address this problem and how to reduce or eliminate these behaviors. Specifically, we focus on the importance of the Champion and the various responsibilities this pivotal role has in Six Sigma team dynamics. As we have done in both previous books, we finish with a chapter on the pitfalls to avoid as teams seek to improve their team dynamics.


One definition of a team is: two or more individuals associated in some joint action. In the business world, these joint actions should have some mission or objective that achieves results. Most business-related teams, however, reflect the dictionary definition of a group-any collection of or assemblage of persons or things. This is even more so with the host of teams attempting to achieve Six Sigma improvements through the use of the Process Improvement methodology (DMAIC), or the Process Design methodology, Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify (DMADV). Many groups of individuals who call themselves a team end up failing miserably using either the DMAIC or DMADV methodology. Often, the reason behind their failure is poor team dynamics.

For our purposes, a team is defined as a group of two or more individuals engaged in some joint action with a specific mission or goal. Team dynamics are defined as the motivating and driving forces that propel a team toward its goal or mission.


One of the Six Sigma seminars I teach is called Facilitative Leadership. The desired outcome of this course is for participants to develop and hone their abilities to lead teams and run meetings more effectively. Years ago, I purchased a business simulation video that I use to begin the facilitative leadership training with teams. Created by Human Synergistics, the business simulation is a survival exercise. I show a brief video of a pontoon plane that has just crashed in a subarctic, uninhabitable region of Canada. After a brief review of the situation logistics, I review a list of 15 items available to assist those who were on the plane in their survival efforts. The participants in the class become the survivors of the plane crash. Without group discussion, I ask each individual to rank order and record in the booklet provided the 15 items he believes would help him survive, beginning with the most important item. These items include among other things, razor blades, sleeping bags, snowshoes, and a bottle of rum.

Once the participants have completed this first assignment, I then tell them that they will have 90 minutes to obtain agreement as a team with regard to how the 15 items should be ranked in order of importance to their survival. Once completed, the answers are compared to an expert's rating. In the nearly 10 years I have been using this simulation, the same two things generally happen. First, the team's ranking, as compared with the expert's ranking, is almost always significantly better than any individual's ranking, even in those cases where a participant has had camping or survival experience. Second, even though the teams achieve superior results, they accomplish their results with unusually poor team dynamics. We have made the following observations:

* They do not identify a leader.

* They do not establish roles and responsibilities and they do not discuss what each participant "brings to the party."

* They do not establish a set of goals/objectives.

* They do not establish an agenda for managing the 90 minutes allotted to complete the assignment.

* They do not establish a method to determine how they will reach agreement.

* They do not establish a set of ground rules for running their meeting.

* They do not use quality tools.

* They exhibit maladaptive behaviors for which there are no consequences.

* They waste an extraordinary amount of time getting started.

Any good consultant knows that when using a business simulation, the debrief of the simulation is far more important than the simulation itself. This is especially true for the survival exercise. During the debrief, I first query the participants on what they learned from doing the exercise. Without prompting, the discussion quickly moves to the dramatic improvement of the team's performance as compared to the individual's performance. Thus, the exercise has achieved its first goal: To demonstrate the potential advantage of teamwork. Although we live in a society that was created on the basis of individualism, most great achievements in our nation's history have come about through teamwork. Can you imagine what our country would be like without the teamwork shown in the Manhattan Project? Or the accomplishments of NASA over nine years in its successful effort to place a man on the moon and return him safely to earth? Even the most jaded participants are somewhat startled when they see such a dramatic difference between their individual performance and the team's performance in the simulation.

Even more dramatic is what I do at the end of the simulation debrief. Once we have established the success of teams versus individual performance, I then provide feedback on the team's performance by reviewing the observations from the previous page. My feedback has not always been well received over the years. Even when the feedback was not challenged, the participants would inevitably pride themselves on the fact that the results of their team's efforts were greater than any individual performance. To make my point, I started videotaping the team's performance (with their permission, of course). I then would roll to the spot on the videotape where my feedback applied. Team members were often aghast at some of their behaviors. Let's now examine some insights that explain the need for future chapters of Six Sigma Team Dynamics: The Elusive Key to Project Success.

* They Do Not Identify a Leader

A common mistake teams make is the failure to recognize that in any team endeavor a leader must either be identified or emerge. In our survival exercise, a leader is usually not immediately identified, but generally comes forward within the first 10 minutes or so. In this particular simulation, the person with the most outdoor survival-type experiences usually emerges as the leader.

Six Sigma teams must have leadership. In fact, two key leaders are required for the project team. One leader is the strategic leader, known as the Project or Team Champion. In Six Sigma parlance, the tactical team leader is called either the Black Belt or Green Belt. The Black Belt is a full-time Six Sigma expert who leads three to four project improvement teams a year, while a Green Belt is usually a midlevel manager whose Six Sigma leadership is a part-time position in addition to his or her other managerial duties. Although the Project Champion is not a full-time team member, nevertheless he or she plays a crucial role in the success of the team. The Champion is involved in all stages of the team's work: before the team is formally created, during the team's four- to eight-month project, and even after the team disbands. Chapter 2 of Six Sigma Team Dynamics: The Elusive Key to Project Success addresses the various responsibilities of the Champion before the team starts its work. Additionally, Chapter 2 also addresses how the Champion and Black Belt/Green Belt must work cohesively to achieve team success.

* They Do Not Establish Roles and Responsibilities, and They Do Not Discuss What Each Participant "Brings to the Party"

I have loved baseball since I was a small boy. Since becoming an adult, I love it even more-and on different levels. Baseball is made up of teams. Many general managers anxious to make their next season a success, actively pursue big name players and end up paying them vast amounts of money. In the past several years, the Los Angeles Dodgers have pursued players like Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield, and Shawn Green. These stars haven't done badly, but the Dodgers have not even flirted with the playoffs in the past few seasons.

Compare the Dodgers with the 2001 Seattle Mariners. In the past three years, the Mariners have lost three superstars. First, flame-throwing southpaw Randy Johnson left the Mariners, then Ken Griffey Jr. went back "home" to the Cincinnati Reds, and during the off season Alex Rodriguez, arguably the best young shortstop in baseball, signed a $250 million contract with the Texas Rangers (wow, and you thought Six Sigma consultants were paid a lot).

Yet, in 2001 the Seattle Mariners had the best regular season in baseball. As their manager, Lou Pinella, indicated in an interview, the players on his team know "what they bring to the party" and each knows his roles and responsibilities.

Whether the topic is the survival exercise or project team building, understanding the various roles and responsibilities of the team is critical to its success. We cover the roles and responsibilities of the team members beginning in Chapter 2 and continue throughout the remainder of the book.

* They Do Not Establish a Set of Goals/Objectives

In Six Sigma teams, recognition of the goals of a project team is important. While Six Sigma is a long-term objective of an organization, project teams must set technical and process goals as part of their work. In Chapter 3, we discuss the need for teams to establish goals and objectives around how their work is done. We introduce the concept of the "what" (the content) and "how" (the method) of Six Sigma project work.

Many Six Sigma teams make a common mistake early and often. The mistake is focusing totally on the "what" of their work. This is understandable. Project teams are chartered to achieve process improvement in a four- to six-month period. They also recognize that Six Sigma is receiving considerable attention within their organization and are anxious to get results. Thus, the understandable focus on the "what" of their work. However, Six Sigma project teams must understand that they cannot achieve these results using the same methods they have historically used to conduct business. The kind of project results many Six Sigma teams hope to achieve require understanding and mastering "how" the work gets done. Chapter 3 explains the necessity of gaining greater appreciation for this topic.

* They Do Not Establish an Agenda for Managing the 90 Minutes Allotted to Complete the Assignment

In our survival business simulation, most of the work of rank-ordering the items that would aid in survival occurs in the last 15 minutes of the exercise. In similar fashion, most of the work to be completed in a Six Sigma project is done in the last few weeks of the four- to six-month endeavor. True, that final push undoubtedly and overwhelmingly helps them achieve a successful result. However, the teams that do a better job at managing their time invariably achieve even better results.


Excerpted from Six Sigma Team Dynamics by George Eckes Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Six Sigma Team Dynamics: The Elusive Key to Project Success.

The Roles and Responsibilities of a Six Sigma Team.

Team Effectiveness: How the Lack of Facilitative Leadership Results in Six Sigma Failures.

When Six Sigma Meetings Go Bad: Facilitative Interventions and When to Use Them.

Managing the Six Sigma Project.

Dealing with Maladaptive Six Sigma Behaviors.

Completing the Six Sigma Project: The Never Ending Responsibility of the Champion.

Pitfalls to Avoid in Creating Six Sigma Team Dynamics.

Appendix A: Alpha Omega Call Center DMAIC Templates.

Appendix B: 95 Questions Champions Should Ask Their Project Teams.

Appendix C: The Champion's Responsibilities.


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