Last week I was speaking about my new book at a company that has a well-developed internal improvement team. In most engagements, the team embeds one of their lean experts within a department, and for the next year or two, that person works within the business to improve operations, while gradually easing herself out of her role. When that posting is complete, the person moves on to another department. 

This company views their office as the equivalent of kaizen training wheels. Their job is to help the various functional departments learn the skills, tools, and mindsets needed for lean and support them on their journey until the department can do it on its own. Their job is not to assume responsibility for improvement, or do all the heavy lifting, for the department. Cardinal Health, which uses a lean six sigma methodology, takes a very similar approach, in which people from the LSS team rotate in and out of functional departments, helping them improve processes, but not owning the improvement projects -- until eventually, the LSS expert finds a permanent position within the business units.

By contrast, many organizations use their internal improvement team as a crutch. In these organizations, the team parachutes into a department for a week/month/year, fixes the current problems, and then moves onto the next challenge. The emphasis is on rapid results, not on skill development -- and I'd argue, on episodic, rather than continuous improvement. When new problems arise, or when the company decides that the department must do still better, it has to wait until the continuous improvement cognoscenti with their belts and decoder rings are able to slot them into their schedule.

Training wheels help you develop new skills so that you can continue to ride on your own. Crutches make life easier today, but don't develop new capacity or capability. How does your organization operate?