Collaborative Quality / Continuous Improvement

Organizations that want to increase the level of employee participation in Quality / Continuous Improvement initiatives that include problem solving, decision making, planning, and similar organizational activities typically need some guidance as they launch. These general guidelines described a proposed process that provides a structure for quality improvement groups. We define collaborative quality / continuous improvement as any group process that is intended to analyze information, make decisions, create plans, implement plans, or monitor performance. A critical ingredient for success is that the leadership team reviews, approves, and uses these guidelines together.

What You Can Expect

Implementing a new quality-focused group process to solve meaningful operational issues will create powerful pressures on and within your organization. Some of the most significant pressure areas are:

  • Information/Data -- The quality group will require access to information that they do not normally receive. Barriers to information flow from above, below, and across the organization can keep the group from effectively and efficiently resolving the issues.
  • Communication -- The group will need to clearly understand their mission and the expected outcome of their efforts. They must also grasp the background and relevant assumptions behind the stated goal. In addition, there will be pressures from all sides for increased communication during the process. It is particularly important to carefully manage these communication issues.
  • Decision Making -- This process will tend to push decision making down one or more levels into the organization. Executives and Managers, as well as participants, may be very uncomfortable with the new roles they must assume. The participants may be hesitant until the required training and support are in place.
  • Structure/Roles -- Executives, managers, supervisors, group participants and other work groups will find they are required to think and act differently. The group will need an appropriate amount of freedom, authority, and support to effectively complete their tasks.

These and other organizational systems and processes will be impacted as you initiate quality / continuous improvement groups. It is critical to the success of these groups that the leadership team recognizes and resolves developing organizational issues before they damage the group process.

The process will also create opportunities, as well as pressure, for broader organizational change. As you, the group participants, and others become more familiar with effective, structured group process and more efficient meeting management, a desire to extend the principles of this process to additional areas of the business will probably develop.

Our process follows a structured format including:

Step 1: The Steering Committee - A leadership group should act as a steering committee to facilitate the group process. The steering committee should include the appropriate managers and possibly non-managers with the knowledge and respect within the organization to carry out their role. The members of the leadership group/steering committee should have the authority to decide and act on behalf of the area of the organization they represent.

Step 2: Select Operational Issues - Managers, supervisors, employees, higher management, analysis of complaints, or other means may present proposed issues to the steering committee. The steering committee should develop criteria for selecting issues and reaching consensus regarding the issue(s) appropriate for the group process.

Step 3: Develop the Expected Outcome - The goals and boundaries of the process must be clear to the group. The steering committee should develop a charter for the group.

Step 4: Select the Participants - Selection of the individuals who will form the quality group is also a critical step. The selection process should include a carefully considered set of criteria.

Step 5: Provide Adequate Time, Resources, and Information - The problem resolution groups will perform most effectively if they are provided adequate time to complete their work, freedom from their normal work load during meeting and post-meeting research times with little or no penalty, and access to all relevant information and experts required to accomplish their tasks.

Step 6: Facilitator - Research and experience has shown that it is difficult or impossible to effectively fill the roles of participant and meeting facilitator simultaneously. This is particularly true for new groups and in situations where the issue is emotion-laden and difficult. In such cases it is usually most effective to engage an internal or external facilitator who has no direct or indirect stake in the outcome of the process. The facilitator need not be an expert in the subject matter but must be skilled and experienced in group facilitation and knowledgeable regarding quality improvement and problem solving and decision making models and techniques.

Step 7: Provide Structure for the Group Process - The steering committee should ensure that a proven, structured problem solving/decision making process is available to the group and that consensus is the method used for making important decisions. If a facilitator is engaged, agree on the process to be used.

The guidelines outlined above have proven to be successful when diligently followed. It is important to understand that this approach is non-traditional in most organizations. The systems, processes, and management styles within the organization often create powerful resistance to the success of Collaborative Quality / Continuous Improvement groups. If the members of the steering committee are committed to the process and alert to the inevitable resistance, the process can be amazingly effective.

The Mayer Group, Inc.