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How Playing Catchball Develops Trust in Your Improvement Culture

Posted by Greg Jacobson

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Mar 31, 2016 8:30:00 AM

catchballSteven Covey once wrote, “Trust is the glue of life. It is the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” This is as true for work relationships as it is for personal ones.

Relationships between managers and employees and those between peers form the basis for company culture. When trust is lacking, a healthy culture - especially one founded on continuous improvement - cannot thrive.

The Lean technique of Catchball is an excellent way to develop, strengthen and deepen trust throughout an organization. The concept is simple. Regardless of who initiates a project (although it's most commonly a manager), that person articulates the purpose, objectives, and other ideas and concerns and then ‘throws' them to the other stakeholders for feedback, support, and action. The repeated use of this approach develops and demonstrates trust in several directions.


When an idea is initiated by an executive, manager, or supervisor and then given to a subordinate for action, the leader is making a show of trust in the employee. Most people want to do a good job and they want approval and recognition from those higher in the org chart, so they will work hard to prove that the trust was not misplaced.

The more often a leader leverages the Catchball technique with success, the easier it becomes to practice this type of delegation. This helps eliminate the Lean waste of human potential.


Since the “ball” in Catchball can be passed in any direction, it offers the opportunity for people to see how their peers might make their ideas even better or help achieve a breakthrough when progress stalls.

When peers trust each other to keep commitments and respond quickly to requests for input, improvement work happens more rapidly. People don’t want to disappoint their team members and will go the extra mile for those they believe are working toward a common goal.


Trust between management and employees is a two-way street. Managers must trust employees to execute well on the ideas they receive, but employees must also trust management to listen to their feedback, act on great ideas, and recognize them for the success they achieve. Catchball allows managers to put their money (or time, as the case may be) where their mouth is and demonstrate that employee input is welcome and valuable.

A successful business is made up of individuals with different levels of experience, different backgrounds, and different skill sets. The key to success is leveraging what each person has to offer in a harmonious and efficient way. For this to happen, everyone must have faith in each other. Catchball is an easy to implement, yet effective tool for making that happen.

 Webinar Recording: Making Time for Continuous Improvement

Topics: Lean

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