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Team Leaders – Fulcrum of the High Performance Operation

Posted: 04 September 2018

Team leaders are the first line managers in manufacturing operations, arguably they are the most important tier of leaders in a manufacturing business.

by Andy Redfern

Team leaders are the first line managers in manufacturing operations.

They deal with immediate downtime problems.

They set the expectations with operators on targets and pace.

They are usually responsible for ensuring manufacturing processes run at the correct speeds.

In short, they are the fulcrum between business leadership and operational performance, arguably they are the most important tier of leaders in a manufacturing business.

Leaders of high-performance operations understand this. They recognise that team leaders are the first line leaders and the key influencers of manufacturing performance.

Many of our clients achieve success by leveraging the potential of their team leaders.

For example, one UK medium-sized industrial products manufacturer we worked with achieved a 20% increase in factory productivity in just three months.

How? Three shift leaders were empowered with a clear mandate from the company Chairman to own the factory performance and deliver improvement.

The team leaders were provided with real-time data on the performance of each manufacturing line, a structured daily review and a financial incentive.

The results were rapid and revolutionary, the team leaders became confident and demanding of their team and the supporting departments.

The impact online efficiency was rapid and the result for the business was positive.

But as well as supporting and motivating team leaders, it is also important to choose the right people for the job in the first place.

All too often, team leaders are selected on the basis of them having had the longest service or having been the best operator.

When interviewing for a team leader position, one client asked the candidate, who had worked as an operator in the factory for many years, why he thought he was suited to the job.

His reply was: “I thought it was time to take it a bit easier.”

This is a great example of when the expectation of what great team leadership means has not been made clear.

The clients who see a positive difference will focus on: providing team leaders with fact-based performance measures, investing in training or, where necessary, changing the people involved, to ensure the impact of team leaders on the business is not underleveraged.

For example, one of our clients had a disruptive operator working in a machine assembly plant.

As an operator, he didn’t fit the bill, but as a team leader, he was charismatic and energetic.

He helped his team achieve performance standards that had never previously been met and won bonuses for his operating team.

So if you can’t just choose your team leader based on their qualities as an operator, how do you find the right one?

Here are some characteristics that are common to all great team leaders:

  • They have the respect of the operators and can have difficult conversations to influence their behaviour
  • They understand how their team’s performance can influence business goals
  • They will deal with immediate problems and know when to escalate without letting go of responsibility
  • They can prioritise and understand what really matters, be it speed targets, keeping lines running, or motivating operators to perform well
  • They will own their team’s performance and push back to be demanding of supporting functions to achieve high-standards, including maintenance, planning, supply chain and as uncomfortable as it may be, upward management
  • They will know when to be strong and when to lend a sympathetic ear
  • They use facts and data to support their decisions

On a site tour, the impact of a good team leader is usually apparent immediately. Operators will be attentive and aware and have a sense of shared purpose.

Often, if I spend more than a few minutes on a production process, a good team leader will show curiosity, introduce themselves and ask who I am.

Now I’d like you to ask yourself how does the team leadership rate in your high-performance operation?

Do you feel you are getting the most out of your workforce and manufacturing assets?

If not, where does the responsibility for setting the standards rest? Who is incentivised to lift the capability?

How many of the daily problems and performance issues would be eliminated if your team leaders’ capability was lifted?

At Chartwell Consulting we help our clients achieve great results and high-performance operations. Much of our focus is in immediate technical improvement and problem solving, but sustained results are achieved by helping clients lift the capability of their teams.

To find out more about how we can help you do more by improve your team leaders or increase your business performance, click here to contact one of the Chartwell Partners.

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