by Jerry Sobrowski, Six Sigma Master Black Belt

Vector illustration of a business teamCulture is often defined as a set of rules and standards shared by members of an organization, which – when acted upon by the members – produce behavior that falls within a range that the organization considers proper and acceptable. A lean organization fosters a company culture in which all employees continually improve their skill levels and production processes.

The challenges of establishing and sustaining a Lean culture can be viewed similar to the stages of team development. Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first came up with the memorable phrase “forming, storming, norming, and performing” in his 1965 article, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” He used it to describe the path that most teams follow on their way to high performance. The same can be said about organizations as they embark on their journey to a high performance lean culture.


In this stage, people in the organization are anywhere from anxious about the new initiative to excited about what lies ahead. As a leader, you play a dominant role in this stage by assuring the goals and standards of excellence are communicated and that you have developed an implementation plan that addresses both the technical elements and organizational development aspects of a Lean implementation.


Here, people typically want to push back or challenge the initiative. You can actively involve others and create the mutual respect needed to sustain this extraordinary effort by striving to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. Work on making each person feel capable and powerful. Identify the major barriers that need to be overcome in order to achieve the Lean vision, and help everyone move past those barriers. Make sure people have the tools needed to do the job!


At this point, most have bought into the initiative. Start small. While Lean may seem like a radical shift, the dynamics of successful Lean transformation rely on continuous small pushes on the flywheel of change, creating momentum, and a cultural movement. Use Lean Thinking to look for innovative ways to improve the organization. Experiment and take risks. Risk taking involves mistakes and failures. Accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.


Make adjustments and develop a plan to sustain the efforts and to continue to make an impact. Continue to breathe life into the Lean vision and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future. Keep hope and determination alive, recognize contributions that individuals make. Celebrate accomplishments and make people feel like heroes.

Tuckman later added a fifth stage called “Adjourning”. No, we are not talking about stopping – on the contrary. Accomplishing extraordinary things is hard work and the last thing you want to do is stop. As a leader you are responsible for encouraging the hearts of others, and for keeping the vision alive. Your challenge here is to continue to nurture an atmosphere of trust and human dignity, where others feel comfortable to challenge the status quo, and achieve extraordinary results.

Jerry Sobrowski is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and spent most of his career at LORD Corporation. He holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from Gannon University.

Side Note:  Jerry Sobrowski will be the facilitator for the Lean Together™ Working Group which will launch on January 17th and is designed to be support for companies looking to create and/or sustain a continuous improvement culture. The group will meet monthly (3rd Tuesday) and consist of non-competing manufacturing companies. The 2-hour, semi-structured, sessions are based on concepts found in the popular book, 2 Second Lean, by Paul A. Akers. Sessions will include plant tours, observing live team meetings, sharing best practices, and more. For more details about the program and how to enroll, contact Molly Reichard at or (814) 898-6888.