To build an agile organization: Go and See, Ask Why, Show Respect

Building our capabilities to develop our people every day, designing an organization to challenge and enable every employee to continuously improve the work that creates value for customers– that is our true north as leaders in agile organizations.

Our challenge is to create challenging workplaces that demonstrate our respect for people. We want to create transparent, open and trust-based workplaces where people are intellectually challenged to improve the value-added work, and where people feel ‘physically and mentally safe’ – not afraid to ask for help and specially not afraid to test their ideas to solve customer and consumer problems.

Workplaces where they can go further and propose constructive changes to improve and hit the organization and teams’ objectives and key results (OKRs).

Respect for people by continuously challenging the intellects must be our guiding belief. Wasting someone’s time is wasting a LIFE. And no one has that right.

Respect for people and constant challenging to do better—are these contradictory?

Respect for people means respect for the mind and capability. You do not expect them to waste their time. You respect the capability of the people. Americans think teamwork is about you liking me and I liking you. Mutual respect and trust means I trust and respect that you will do your job so that we are successful as a company. It does not mean we just love each other.” Sam Heltman, Senior VP of HR, TMM North America, one of the first five Americans hired by Toyota».

Leaders in agile organizations behave based on important lessons we have learnt by developing people in improving value and hit aligned objectives and key results.

From the customer’s point of view, self-organized teams are the only ones in a company who truly add value to the product and/or to the service. These are the people who touch and transform the value, the people who develop the solution; and the people who deliver the product or service that the customer pays for.

This is not a discussion about whether other people’s work is as important or if we value them or not. This just means putting the focus in what is ultimately meaningful to the customers and consumers, the one who pays the bills.

So all the others, including us, and all the other systems, other processes and activities are there to support the success of a core purpose: The growth of self-organized teams to understand what value means for customers, and to practice daily Kaizen to satisfy them.

The role of leaders

In agile organizations, value is created by self-organized teams, who are enabled by leaders.

Therefore, this is the role of the leader. To continuously work for people at workplace removing organizational barriers, and strengthening their skills to innovate, to eliminate losses, solve problems, eliminate the NON-value added work, and improve the value-added work.

As a leaders, we need to answer one key question: How do we help our people to become relentless value creators that hit their Objectives and Key Results and learn fast from value-driven iterations? Simple! By focusing in the coaching process from Fujio Cho:Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect.

Continuous cycles of trying and reflecting through this process will help you to turn it into a coaching habit.

Go and See

The key is to go and See is the fundamental practice of leaders willing to build an agile organization.

Go and see is our prior responsibility as leaders. To work together with self-organized Teams at workplace in order to understand the work and challenges that they face. This means being able to understand the customer requirements where the value is created, where the customer experience is delivered, and where the customer expectations are satisfied.

The goal is to grasp the actual situation by understanding when, where, how and why our front-line capabilities are falling short. It is critical to see the problems actually occur to understand who needs to develop specific skills (including us) and what can be done to prevent those gaps in capability development.

Going to the source to see, extends to deeply understanding what customers expect from us. This is a critical element of the leadership culture.

Leaders must demonstrate this ability by profoundly understanding how work gets done at the Gemba level.

A couple of years ago, I was with the management team of Toyota UK with Jeff Liker. We were talking about the importance of customer understanding during the dialogue of setting objectives and key results through the organization. There, Tony Walker (Deputy Managing Director of Toyota UK) made a remark that explained very well how the Go and See culture underpinned everything they do.

“Managers at Toyota don’t work on the strategy without a deep understanding of what is happening at Gemba.”- Tony Walker, Toyota

Working with Toyota

Likewise, Toyota deeply believes that superficial impressions of actual situation lead to ineffective definition of the purpose at all levels. On the contrary, factual knowledge and a deep understanding of the situation enables the determination of the purpose. This will drive the desired value-learning conditions at workplace.

As Toyota does, the way of High-Performance Organizations is to provide extraordinary focus, direction, and purpose while providing maximum flexibility. Whenever there is a value-based ‘why’, no one tells anyone exactly what to do but they set a tremendous reliance on the individual initiative.

This means leaders creating purpose-driven workplace conditions that encourage self-organized teams to feel responsible to improve their daily work. At the same time, this is about challenging, to continuously think hard about how to get the desired conditions and how to go further by spreading the gains to the next level.
For this, high-performance organizations use “constancy of purpose” throughout the organization, which lays the groundwork for consistent leadership as well as the environment of mutual trust for learning.

This means leaders living the purpose and being developed through continuous improvement on the Genchi Genbutsu principle.

To create this “constancy of purpose” five simple reflection questions using OKR will help us:

  • What is the value-driven purpose of our Gemba?
  • Are the OKRs defined by the self-organized teams supporting this value-driven purpose?
  • Are the managers enabling self-organized teams to hit their OKRs?
  • Is everyone working to improve processes, systems; and to develop capabilities according to the OKRs defined?
  • What can I do to enable the organization, the workplace processes, the teams and the individuals to continuously solve customer problems and hit the OKRs?

Ask Why

A fundamental responsibility of leaders is to become coaches who help solve those problems that keep the individuals away from fulfilling the value-driven purpose defined in the OKRs.”

This means working together with self-organized teams at workplace to build their capabilities to solve problems and to continuously improve value-added work to meet customer needs.

In this sense, leader’s role is to engage employees to change anything that is needed to consistently deliver value to customer, motivating them to go further every time and taking initiative during this endless process.

For this objective, leaders do not direct solutions but they listen to the teams and ask the right questions during actual practice; they coach people at the workplace to repeatedly ask ‘why’ about the situations and about their strategy for action; they lead and guide them (through questioning) towards the correction of deviations from the ideal state to finally ensure that everyone is autonomously coming up with answers on what to do and how to do it; and they channel people’s energy into focused actions and good work habits.

Add problem solving

At High-Performance Organizations each justification for decision making and problem solving is rooted in actual practice and is a result of actual activities. It applies to each and every decision, ensuring true organizational learning at every step.

Leaders’ important responsibility is to coach people so that they can develop their own capabilities to see and expose deviations, understand why the deviations are there and decide what actions must be taken about the root causes so that these deviations from fulfilling customer needs do not happen again.

“It is in Toyota’s DNA that mistakes made once will not be repeated.” – Akio Toyota

With this daily attitude at workplace, leaders coach all levels of the agile organizations to create a problem-solving culture and a continuous improvement orientation that supports the initiative of self-organized teams, to become entrepreneurial owners of their challenges – to continuously satisfy the customer.

Of course, this coaching process is only possible when it exists a deep respect to your collaborators, a mutual trust and a deep understanding of the purpose, process and people skills and competences.

Show Respect

Showing Respect is not our third responsibility but our guiding principle in everything we do. It’s not about solving problems and creating value, but more about teaching people to become problem-solvers and value-creators. Through showing respect to our people, we respect our customers and our company at the same time.

Leaders show respect through developing themselves to develop people so that they are insightful innovators who spark up with ideas and solutions.

This means that…

This development of outstanding individual work also includes the development of capabilities to perform effective teamwork which means learn how to coordinate the work, motivate, and work with each other. Excellent individual performers are required to make up teams that excel.

The individual and teams implemented improvements and the skills developed at the workplace are the vital evidences of teams’ effectiveness, employee encouragement and leadership respect.

Here is where the ultimate role of leaders comes: Leaders are the “builders of learning organizations” that develop the knowledge for the deep understanding of customer needs and also the people’s capabilities to perform the work required to improve.

It is never about fulfilling the tasks of a process: “I set the purpose”, “I developed my people”, “I spent time to help solve a problem”… No!

The practice of Go and See, Ask Why, Show Respect must be at the heart of everything we do. It guides the way we think, behave, make decisions, and act in all aspects of the business: Spending the majority of our time at the workplace understanding the value-added work, enabling the entire organization, developing and engaging the people – in order to hit the OKRs defined and that translate in superior value to our customers and stakeholders.


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