Megan McArdle of Bloomberg View recently wrote about the benefits of a high level of trust—among individuals, companies, and even government— in Denmark:

[The high level of trust among people] allows Danish labor to be more productive than workers elsewhere. An economy’s labor productivity, after all, is its output divided by the number of hours worked. Supervision and enforcement are in some sense wasted labor; they don’t, by themselves, produce extra output. So if you can get rid of the people who are paid to stand around ensuring that people do their work and don’t cheat, and instead redeploy them to make something or perform a necessary service, productivity will go up. When labor is highly productive, employers can afford high wages.

It seems to me that one of the great benefits of lean tools is the way they increase the level of trust among people in an organization. Functional and divisional silos will never go away, of course, but the tools we deploy tend to reduce the mistrust that corrodes the relationships between them.

Value stream mapping, for example, gets people from different departments to sit on the same side of the table (literally and metaphorically) so that they can see a process from the same perspective, rather than from their entrenched positions. People in a value stream mapping exercise don’t point fingers at each other—they point fingers at the work.

Toyota kata does the same thing. At a new client I’ve started working with, kata coaches are working with learners in all different departments, enabling them to see how work gets done in other functional areas. It doesn’t matter whether or not the work they’re observing was passed from the coach’s department. Seeing the learner struggle with problems creates understanding, empathy, and eventually trust.

In fact, most lean tools foster trust in the same way. You can’t draw a spaghetti chart by yourself, but when your supervisor maps your steps, she gains a deeper appreciation for the burden of your job under the current layout. Or when you level the workload on a production line, you’re forced to think about the burden of a person’s job in the context of his productive capacity.

At the most fundamental level, the entire ethos of “going to the gemba” is the essential tool in building trust. Seeing your colleagues and your employees struggling with their actual work, instead of just complaining about them in a conference room, is the soil in which trust—and respect—grows. A3 problem solving is so powerful precisely because it institutionalizes this activity.

As Megan McArdle points out, we don’t have Denmark’s level of trust. Given the size and heterogeneity of the US, it’s unlikely we could ever develop it on a national level. But we can certainly do so in the smaller environments of our companies by using the lean toolbox.

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