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Managers do not have to be a waste

Recent research by Statistics Netherlands shows that the number of managers in the Netherlands is decreasing. Some people think this is a healthy development because they believe that many managers do not provide real added value to their end customers. Ph.D. student Desirée van Dun from the University of Twente concludes in her doctoral thesis that managers do not have to be an extravagance as long as they apply lean leadership. For busy managers her doctoral thesis (dutch) can also be watched in 15 minutes. She has produced a YouTube video of each chapter. Van Dun therefore has a first in the Netherlands.

Desirée van Dun, Business Administration and Communication Science graduate at the University of Twente, examined effective management and team dynamics in organizations that apply lean principles under the supervision of Prof. dr. Celeste Wilderom (Department of Change Management & Organizational Behaviour, faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences, University of Twente). Lean Management concerns the continuous improvement of work processes so that these add as much value as possible for the end customer.

Lean is applied in virtually every industry and in many organizations. Nevertheless, lean does not lead to higher performance in the workplace in all organizations. Lean leadership is the missing link: To achieve continuous process improvement, good collaboration between team members and their managers at different organizational levels is important.

For her doctoral thesis, Van Dun performed four different studies: a literature study, an observational study of six Lean middle managers, a questionnaire among 429 members and team leaders of 25 lean teams, and five case studies of lean teams that perform well. Lean teams are workplace departments, such as invoice processing teams and production teams, which continually improve their own work processes with lean tools. For three consecutive years, Van Dun followed five lean teams that performed very well at the start of the study. For this, Van Dun collected data by means of shadowing, video observation, (group) interviews, questionnaires and the compilation of the objective performance metrics of the teams.

What emerged? Lean teams that perform well have specific team dynamics that consist of specific patterns of behaviour, feelings and thoughts. Van Dun: "As well as sharing information and monitoring performance, team members must feel safe to express themselves and discuss disagreements. And they must also be involved in the organization's objectives. So quite a lot is required!" Managers can stimulate effective team dynamics by listening carefully to their employees and by clearly and consistently communicating the organization strategy of continuous improvement. The research also demonstrates the importance of a clear organizational structure, consistent HR policies and sufficient time and resources to continuously improve. Van Dun: "When there is unrest in the organization that persists for a long time, for example during a reorganization, then this has a negative effect on the lean team performance in the workplace in the long term."

Senior management plays an important role in the success of lean teams in the workplace. The developed lean leadership profile of specific behaviour and values ​can help HR professionals to enhance their selection, training and promotion methods, and thus the leadership within their organizations.

Internal and external lean consultants also benefit from the research. Their interventions should be more focused on the development of lean leadership behaviour, rather than on the 'roll out' of a permanent 'lean toolbox' among different teams. Based on her research, Van Dun therefore developed her own different interventions for the development of lean teams, including the coaching of managers and teams in lean behaviour, and a 'lean team self-scan'.

Desirée van Dun is an organization specialist at House of Performance. In her consulting work, she helps several large Dutch public and private organizations to improve performance in the workplace. In addition to her research and consultancy work, Van Dun regularly publishes short Dutch articles and YouTube videos on her web blog.

Van Dun's Ph.D. defence

Desirée van Dun (faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences, Institute for Innovation and Governance Studies) obtains here doctoral degree on Friday 11 December 2015 at 12:45 hours in De Waaier building, University of Twente. Her doctoral thesis Improving Lean Team Performance: Leadership and Workfloor Dynamics is available on request. Her doctoral thesis can also be watched in 15 minutes (Dutch).