The recent article, What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, did not, contrary to the subtitle, reveal “surprising truths.” Their findings have been around for more than 60 years and are the basis of Lean. Instead of spending millions of dollars and three years navel gazing, Google should have simply looked across the Bay towards Fremont and the former Toyota-GM joint venture there called NUMMI.

‘Stealing shamelessly’ is an honored Lean practice and is embodied in the Lean Knowledge Transfer Value ‘Inside Out.’ This means not having a bias towards creating content yourself and, therefore, avoiding the expenditure of time and energy. Utilizing existing content avoids the Lean waste ‘Delay’ and accelerates learning and performance improvement.

What Was Right Under Google’s Nose?

NUMMI (short for New United Motor Manufacturing Inc) opened in 1984 and was Toyota’s first foray into assembling cars in North America. Instead of building their own plant, Toyota decided to use an existing one and their choice caught everybody by surprise. Fremont was one of the worst plants, if not THE worst, in the GM system. It had been shuttered for several years and the UAW contract required that Toyota rehire the laid off workers. GM executives and car industry analysts predicted disaster.

However, by 1986 NUMMI was one of the best plants, if not THE best, at GM. At the time, I was a graduate engineering research assistant at the GM assembly plant in Framingham, MA and saw the results play out over two years. Every metric, from safety to quality to cost to union grievances filed, improved dramatically. The poisoned relationship between UAW and management (Toyota management, not GM management) was healed.

The Twin Pillars of Lean

How could a transformation of this magnitude, one that had eluded GM for decades, happen in a scant 2 years? The answer, quite simply, was the Toyota Production System (TPS aka Lean). Based on the twin pillars of ’Respect for People’ and ‘Continuous Improvement,’ TPS applies to everybody everywhere (from customers to employees to suppliers) and are the touchstone for every tool, method, policy and procedure used in their enterprise.

The end result is not just better products and services, but the creation of an employee-centered improvement process that  allows everyone to use their knowledge, talents and experience to make work life better and deliver real customer value quickly. This is was exactly what Google was striving to learn how to do! Google spent three years studying teams and their performance and trying to find correlations. It’s ironic that a company specializing in ‘search’ would miss a solution right under their nose.

Be Open to Outside Content

How open are you and your organization to learning from others, especially outside your industry? Too often people are blinded by a ‘Not Invented Here’ mentality and reject great ideas out of hand. People say ‘We’re NOT making cars here, you know.’ or ‘That might work in cars, but this is a hospital.’

People spend time, money and resources to reinvent the wheel or, worse, build one that’s not even as good. Great organizations actively look for ideas outside their industries and incorporate them into their products, services and practices. For example, Apple’s wildly successful stores were designed around the hotel concierge.

Be a Curator, Not Just a Creator

In L&D, embrace ‘Inside Out’ by searching for great content that already exists before you try to (re)create it yourself. It may be sitting in another department or business unit just waiting to be used. Content on the web is just about limitless and sites like YouTube are especially useful because people post learning videos on just about everything.

Now, is the quality super high? Probably not, but balance that against the hundreds of hours and effort you’ll save. And, remember, while you’re creating your super high-quality, customized content, people who need to know something are going out and searching for the information; they don’t wait anymore. With all the resources and content available, L&D needs to see themselves as content curators, rather than content creators.

Feel free to share your examples of ‘Inside Out’ in our blog comments or give me a call at 303.819.6662 to talk confidentially about your particular situation.

Want to learn more about applying Lean to L&D and Training? Check out our Lean KT Certification Programs here.

Let’s Ride!

Todd Hudson, Head Maverick