We’ve had the opportunity to work on improvement with tons organizations over the years, and almost every single one has a certain thing in common.
They are full of employees who really want to do a good job and help the company improve.
In organizations not dedicated to improvement, employees that care about organizational efficiency and customer satisfaction are left frustrated and angry. They're likely to even leave the company when their efforts to improve are not supported or are ignored. It’s sad how often the people who are in the best position to create more value for the customer are not empowered to do so.
One very simple approach that has been adopted by many successful companies to turn this situation around is the Lean concept of “catchball.” One excellent work on the subject is “Value Stream Management for the Lean Office,” by Don Tapping and Tom Shuker. In it, they describe catchball this way:
“Catchball is simple. Regardless of who initiates a project, that person articulates the purpose, objectives and other ideas and concerns and then “throws” them to the other stakeholders for feedback, support and action.”
Catchball is much like a game of catch. Only one person has the “ball” (aka idea) at a time, and it is always clear who has responsibility. The idea moves from person to person with deliberation and care.
Of course, ideas float around in organizations all of the time without any formal process. What sets organizations that use catchball apart is that they engage in the practice with intention and mindfulness about what they are doing; catching the ball is a big deal. All of the “players” take pride and personal accountability for their role in bringing good ideas for change to life.
Catchball leads to increased employee engagement in a number of ways. The practice makes it clear that employee contributions are valued and welcome. By assigning well-defined responsibility, it prevents ideas from falling through the cracks. It also reinforces the notion that everyone is playing for the same team and that everyone benefits from positive change.
Whether you are in manufacturing, healthcare, software, or another space, success is easier to achieve with happy employees who know exactly how they can help make things better for themselves, their co-workers and their customers. Catchball is a great first step on the road to continuous improvement for any organization.